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Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the triumphant return of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 at Tanglewood

The BSO, Tanglewood Festival Chorus and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas perform Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 at Tanglewood. (Courtesy Hilary Scott)
The BSO, Tanglewood Festival Chorus and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas perform Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 at Tanglewood. (Courtesy Hilary Scott)

Beethoven's epic Ninth Symphony has long been a traditional fan favorite at the Tanglewood Music Festival. Since 1997, it's ended every season but one at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home in the Berkshires. That is until the pandemic hit.

Tanglewood's lush grounds were shuttered in 2020. The venue re-opened last year for a condensed season, but the BSO couldn't perform Symphony No. 9 because of safety protocols. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus members were unable to sing the work's climactic final movement to prevent the virus from spreading through the air.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the BSO during a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. (Courtesy Hilary Scott)
Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the BSO during a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. (Courtesy Hilary Scott)

Their angelic voices were back in full force, joined by four soloists, this past weekend for the triumphant return of Symphony No. 9. Beethoven was losing his hearing as he composed the ground-breaking work in 1824, and by the time it premiered, he was deaf. Now, it's one of the most beloved and performed works in the classical canon.

Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and bass baritone Dashon Burton with the BSO and Tanglewood Festival Chorus during a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 at Tanglewood. (Courtesy Hilary Scott)
Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and bass baritone Dashon Burton with the BSO and Tanglewood Festival Chorus during a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 at Tanglewood. (Courtesy Hilary Scott)

The BSO's hour-long concert was especially poignant because celebrated conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, who's been diagnosed with brain cancer, was at the podium. He led the musicians and audience on a gripping journey that earned standing ovations.

More than a few tears fell, which seemed to release years' of pent-up sadness, fear and hope — but also joy and gratitude that, I believe, everyone felt on a cellular level.

Michael Tilson Thomas (center) stands with the BSO and Tanglewood Festival Chorus during a standing ovation from the audience. (Courtesy Hannah Scott)
Michael Tilson Thomas (center) stands with the BSO and Tanglewood Festival Chorus during a standing ovation from the audience. (Courtesy Hannah Scott)

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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