Almost every summer, the Boston Symphony Orchestra hosts a special season of live music performances. This has been held at the Tanglewood Estate in the Berkshire Hills in Lenox, Massachusetts, since the 1930s.
Listen to the world-famous Boston Symphony Orchestra play everything, from Mozart to the score of Harry Potter. You’ll also discover contemporary classical music artists while enjoying a picnic on the estate’s lawn. Between music shows, you can head out to the Berkshire trails to take in the natural scenery.
Read on for a sneak peek of what to expect from the program, which runs from June to August. I’ll share my tips and secrets for getting the most out of your Tanglewood experience.
What is Tanglewood?
The Tanglewood musical festival is named after a 210-acre estate between Lenox and Stockbridge in Western Massachusetts. Tanglewood has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for almost 90 years.
In 1934, a group of music lovers invited the New York Philharmonic to perform three outdoor concerts in the Berkshire region. In 1936, they invited Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra to perform. This event saw nearly 15,000 people in attendance.
The performance’s success impressed the owners of the Tanglewood estate. They offered the property to Koussevitzky and his orchestra, and the Tanglewood music festival was born. The Boston Symphony Orchestra has performed there almost every summer since.
The festival has dramatically expanded over the years. In 2022, Tanglewood welcomed around 350,000 visitors over the course of its two-month program. Guest performers include both big-name artists and up-and-coming musicians. Over the years, Tanglewood has hosted Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, The Who, and many more.
2023 Tanglewood Program
Tanglewood has released some details of its 2023 program, which will run from June 22 to August 27. Here are some of the highlights:
- The Boston Symphony Orchestra will perform Wynton Marsalis’ Herald, Holler, and Hallelujah, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 (July 7).
- The Boston Symphony Orchestra will perform Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte with Nicole Cabell and Kate Lindsay in the lead female roles (July 15).
- Keith Lockhart leads the Boston Pops in a symphonic version of Ragtime, a concert film presentation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Star Wars: The Story in Music.
- Guest artists include James Taylor and his All-Star Band, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, the Steve Miller Band, and Train.
This year, the festival is working with 29 living composers, and 48 artists will make their Tanglewood debut.
When Can I Get 2023 Tanglewood Tickets?
Tickets will go on sale via the Tanglewood website on March 9. Based on prices from previous years, ticket prices can range from $20 for lawn seats to almost $200 for the best theater seats.
You can buy tickets online right up until a few hours before any show, but expect all the best seats to be taken by then. Even if you must settle for lawn tickets, this is also a fantastic way to experience the festival!
Getting to Tanglewood
The Tanglewood estate is located at 297 West Street, Lenox, Massachusetts 01240. Free parking is available onsite on a first-come basis.
If you’re making your way from Lenox, Tanglewood is just 1.5 miles from the village center. Tanglewood is also about 40 miles from Albany. Private car hire is often your best choice, or you can check for shuttle buses during the festival season offered by the Berkshire Tour Company.
When driving from Boston, take the MA Turnpike (I-90) west to Exit 10, where you will enter Route 20 west. Merge onto Route 7 north and then turn left onto Route 183 south.
Driving from New York, take the Taconic State Parkway to Berkshire, which will take you to the MA Turnpike, Exit 10. From Connecticut, take the I-91 to get to the MA Turnpike.
Where to Stay
If you plan to stay in the Tanglewood area for a few days, there are a few memorable hotels in the local region.
Reside in an estate that matches Tanglewood’s grandeur at Wheatleigh. You’ll stay in a classic stately home with a heated outdoor pool and a multi-course French restaurant. You can also book a private tasting session in the hotel’s wine cellar.
To stay in Lenox, check into the Birchwood Inn, housed within a 17th-century tavern. You’ll find your room complete with a log-burning fireplace and bone China crockery for tea.
What to Do
Aside from snagging tickets to the best Tanglewood shows, there’s plenty for music and culture lovers to do in the area.
The Ventfort Hall Museum of the Gilded Age in Lenox is a Jacobean mansion from the late 19th century. Visit this museum to experience the decadence of the gilded age. There’s also The Mount, which was author Edith Warton’s home. It tells the story of her literary works, charity endeavors, and household management.
The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is a museum and active performance center for music, dance, film, and theater. It’s in Clarksburg, just a short drive away. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge recounts the history of American illustration.
If you prefer the great outdoors, there are many excellent hikes in the Berkshires. From Lenox, you can walk to the Parsons Marsh trail and Olivia’s Overlook at Yokun Ridge.
Not far south of Tanglewood is the Bish Bash Falls, the highest single-drop waterfall in the state. You can reach the falls via an easy hike. Use the AllTrails app to find the best local trails!
What To Bring
- Camp Chairs – If you have lawn tickets, bring your own chairs to the festival. It might be hard to watch the performances if you’re seated on the ground.
- Picnic Lunch – There are several restaurants and snack food stalls onsite, including an excellent ice cream stand. Still, you can put together something a bit more sophisticated and affordable. Many hotels in the area will prepare a picnic for you. You can also order pre-made meals to take away to your picnic spot.
- Cooler – Drinks are sold at the event but must be consumed in a small roped-off area. But you can bring a cooler with your own drinks. This is your best choice if you want to sip on a beer or wine while watching from the lawn.
- Comfortable Shoes – There are various lovely walks around the Tanglewood gardens to explore. Even if you’re just coming for the music, there’s quite a hike from the parking lot, and the ground near the stages can be uneven.
- Layers – While the days may be baking, temperatures can fall below 20°C at night, even in the summer. You’ll be thankful for some extra layers to keep warm.
- Pocket Flashlight – There’s often minimal lighting pre-show, which can make it challenging to find your seat. A flashlight is essential for watching an evening show on the lawn.
- Insect Repellent – Yes, there are definitely mosquitos! The grounds are treated weekly for mosquitos, but you can still expect to encounter a few.
- Poncho – It rains quite a bit during the summer in the Berkshires. Come prepared if you are caught in a light shower or a downpour during the festival.
Tanglewood Tips & Tricks
Wi-Fi and cell phone service at Tanglewood are limited, so be sure to download your electronic tickets beforehand. For most shows, you’ll have a choice between theater seating and lawn tickets. Lawn tickets are more affordable and offer a more relaxed environment. But be aware that you’ll be quite far from the stage and be prepared for potential rain!
If you’re planning to park at Tanglewood, arrive early! Competition for parking spaces is fierce, and there’s usually just one member of staff directing cars. The parking lot opens two hours before any performance.
The Tanglewood estate is a unique and picturesque location. Take some time to enjoy a walk around the grounds before your show starts. Also, check online for rehearsal sessions. You can drop in and listen to rehearsals for free without crowds.
Discover Tanglewood with Pilot!
Looking for other great music festivals in the United States? Check out our USA festival guide. Classical music fans should also explore the Bregenz Music Festival in Austria. If the Tanglewood festival hits the right chord with you, start planning your trip to the Berkshires with Pilot!