Alumni the Focus as BUTI Celebrates 50th Year

By Cristina Schreil

The Boston University Tanglewood Institute celebrated its 50th anniversary this season. The longtime summer-training program has helped more than 10,000 high-school-aged musicians over the years. Nestled in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains, BUTI commemorated the occasion with a special celebration held on August 6. The day included tours of its 64-acre campus, student performances, alumni panel discussions, and an anniversary concert at Seiji Ozawa Hall in Lenox, Massachusetts.

BUTI has run in tandem with the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Music Center since 1966, upon its founding by former BSO music director Erich Leinsdorf. For the 50th season, BUTI executive director Hilary Field Respass says there was a focus on highlighting the former students who are now in the BSO or are Tanglewood Music Center fellows. “The concert itself, we’re really working on emphasizing the value and the impact of the program, not necessarily through big star artists, but from inviting as many people as we can to come back and participate,” she says. She noted some of the season’s 300-plus students performed right alongside these professionals.


BUTI alum and BSO bassist Lawrence Wolfe with double bass BUTI students. Photo Stratton McCrady Photography
BUTI alum and BSO bassist Lawrence Wolfe with double-bass BUTI students. Photo by: Stratton McCrady

The August 6 concert featured works by Wagner, Bernstein, Handel, Brahms, and more. Three members of the Muir String Quartet—including BUTI alumnus, violist Steven Ansell—performed the first movement of Kodaly’s “Serenade” for two violins and viola. In addition to a medley for a 13-bass ensemble composed by BUTI alumnus Lawrence Wolfe—the assistant principal bass for the BSO—BUTI commissioned two works from alumni composers Nico Muhly and Timo Andres. Another BUTI alumnus, Ken-David Masur, assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted the Young Artists Orchestra. Field Respass asserts many at BUTI forge solid bonds. “Alumni, I’d say at least 95 percent [of the people] I talked to, the first words out of their mouths are, ‘BUTI, it changed my life,’” she says. She adds the institute is starting to see the children of alumni attending, creating an intergenerational network.


Alumni are not only featured in music performance; the pre-concert panel united alumni working in myriad aspects of the industry, including artist management and those on the boards of musical organizations. This aimed to show students different career paths. Proceeds from the concert benefited BUTI to be used for staff costs and scholarships, among other things. The 50th season, which began June 20 and ended August 13, saw more than 70 concerts, including recitals, chamber-music performances, and two full-length performances of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus.

It also featured new two-week-long workshops in violin, viola, and cello, which were created to supplement a long-held string-quartet workshop. BUTI enrolls around 100 string students over the course of the summer. Field Respass muses that the “magic” of BUTI is much more than the rigorous training, student talent, and top-notch faculty. Students have a particular advantage in being close to Tanglewood programming. “They can go every day and walk a mile down the street and hear what their lives could possibly be like, ten years, 20 years from now,” she says. “That sound of world-class music making is around them every day.”