LENOX – The performing arts industry has been in a slump lately, but one of Berkshire County’s top attractions has managed to weather the storm.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra announced Tuesday that 289,810 listeners attended 204 performances last season, Tanglewood’s first full slate of events since the pre-COVID season of 2019.
The season total was down 7% from 2019, when 311,596 spectators attended 248 performances. Because there were 44 fewer events last summer than three years ago, attendance at individual concerts was up 12% from summer 2019, according to the BSO tally.
The drop in overall attendance, while relatively mild at Tanglewood, reflected a more severe and widespread trend in the performing arts, not just in the Berkshires but across the country.
The Eagle examined the state of the performing arts industry earlier this month and found that the largest venues in the county had seen, on average, a 30% decline in ticket sales and attendance. compared to 2019.
This report did not include attendance figures for Tanglewood, as the season was not over.
Tanglewood’s pre-COVID attendance peak was in 1998, with 386,870 people walking through the doors, according to Eagle records. The finalists were in 1997 (376,533) and 2012 (375,776), the 75th anniversary season.
The lowest listener count prior to 2019 was 318,439 in 2013, when James Taylor skipped his almost annual Tanglewood shows during an extended break from touring in order to finish work on his studio album, “Before This World”.
The highest-attended Tanglewood event of 2022 was the BSO Gala celebrating composer/bandleader John Williams’ 90th birthday, attracting 16,887 listeners, according to a report prepared for The Eagle by the orchestra’s press office on based on box office statistics. There is a cap of 18,000 ticket sales per a long-standing agreement with the towns of Lenox and Stockbridge.
This capacity limit followed a July 17, 2002, performance by James Taylor, with 24,470 tickets sold for his performance with John Williams and the Boston Pops. But unofficial estimates at the time, including one from Stockbridge Police Chief Richard “Rick” Wilcox, put the real number at more than 25,000, including hedge-hopping gate breakers.
Since that night, responding to concerns from Stockbridge and Lenox officials about congested roads before and after the performance, Tanglewood has rigorously enforced an attendance cap of 18,000 for a single gig.
Taylor’s appearance in 2002 broke the previous record of 23,039 in 1999 for Tanglewood on Parade, according to Eagle records. In 1969, a performance by Jefferson Airplane, The Who and BB King drew more than 22,000 listeners, according to reports published at the time.
This summer’s salute to the famed film and concert hall composer included a brief podium appearance by Williams leading the “Indiana Jones” march and a host of celebrity guests, including live appearances by Taylor , superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, famed violinist Itzhak Perlman, who hadn’t performed at Tanglewood since 2011, and saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
Williams led the Boston Pops for 14 seasons beginning in 1980, remains its award-winning bandleader, and is also artist-in-residence at Tanglewood. He has composed some of his most famous film scores for several weeks in the Berkshires almost every year since his appointment as Pops bandleader.
The anniversary year event drew national network television coverage. Boston Globe guest critic W. Anthony Sheppard, professor of music at Williams College, wrote of “the composer’s chameleon-like ability to inhabit distinctly different personalities. … The concert reminded us that partying had long been his musical forte. Williams succeeded Aaron Copland as the go-to composer of American ceremonial music.
Also in the top 10: The screening of “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” by George Lucas, with the full score performed live by the Boston Pops led by their leader since 1995, Keith Lockhart.
Three additional BSO concerts on the charts featured Ma, Perlman and the traditional season finale, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 “Ode to Joy”, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.