Tanglewood: Some of the best seats are in the back

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LENOX — Children chasing one another behind the trees, wine and cheese passing between family spreads, a cloudless twilight finale capping a sparkling summer day — the ingredients for a rollicking picnic atmosphere on the lawn outside the Koussevitzky Music Shed were conspicuous at this summer's Tanglewood on Parade gala concert.

But when the music started, those distractions faded away for many as their focus shifted to giant video projections featuring a mix of close-ups and wide shots accompanying the sounds of Copland and Mendelssohn.

The lawn at Tanglewood is a lush, sprawling playground dotted with trees and lovely views of the Berkshire landscape — but not of the stage.

Thanks to a series of projectors mounted on the Shed's facade as well as in the rear of the Shed, audience members need only cast their gazes upward for video images of puffy-cheeked trumpeters, gesticulating conductors and, at times, the entire orchestra, projected on 140-plus-square-foot screens.

On the other side of the Shed, a group of men sat in a crowded white trailer, its windows covered to darken its interior. An air conditioning unit above them groaned. On the end closest to the venue sat Ralph Pascucci, the president and CEO of Myriad Productions. He was directing the crew responsible for the night's video entertainment.

"Ready two?" Pascucci asked one of the crew members managing eight cameras at the beginning of Copland's "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra."

"Two" was currently trained on pianist Garrick Ohlsson, who would be busy during this number. Other cameras focused on different sections of the orchestra — five on the woodwinds, seven on the violins — unless Pascucci directed otherwise. Then, the staffers would adjust the cameras using joystick-like devices on desks in front of them.

"Trombone and trumpet straight from the top," a voice to Pascucci's left reminded him. It was Tim Geller, Pascucci's score reader for the past 13 summers at Tanglewood. He was sitting in front of a music stand, glasses on, studying a book of the night's music with red markings. The relationship between score reader and director is vital to the successful video production of a classical music show.

"Tim is a navigator," Pascucci said earlier in the day. "We're going down the road, and he's saying there's a left turn coming up here, and then we decide when to turn."

That choice is what distinguishes Geller's role from Pascucci's. While Geller communicates the composer's intent, alerting Pascucci when he should focus on a different group of instruments or the conductor, Pascucci must decide when to deviate from his recommendations to make the video more visually entertaining. For example, if the woodwinds are featuring prominently in a composition for the fifth or sixth time, Pascucci might switch to a close shot of the strings, fingers dancing and heads jerking, or of the conductor.

"We have to strike the delicate balance between keeping the audience engaged and being faithful to the music," Pascucci said.

Christopher W. Ruigomez, director of concert operations and assistant director of Tanglewood, said Myriad Productions has handled that balance well since taking over Tanglewood's video board operations in 2000, transforming the lawn from a picnic area to a listening space for people who also picnic.

During an intermission on his first night producing at Tanglewood, Pascucci recalled a staffer telling him that people were shushing others on the lawn. "That made me feel good," Pascucci said.

"The lawn got a lot quieter," Ruigomez told The Eagle during a telephone interview. "People were listening and watching."

Ruigomez said some fans have even expressed their preference for sitting in the Shed's back rows, where they can see the indoor video boards, over occupying rows closer to the stage.

The enthusiasm for this level of visual presentation began in the late 1990s when Tanglewood brought in a different production crew to build screens and manage them for two weeks per summer, Ruigomez said. But Tanglewood wanted a more cost-effective program that could last the entire summer. Staffers were impressed by Myriad's work at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in New York, where Pascucci was using four cameras and four projectors. He said he could implement the same system at Tanglewood, and a longstanding professional relationship was born.

Pascucci, who has worked on NBC's Summer Olympics coverage and the "Today" show, among other prominent gigs, is a longtime classical music fan. He was bobbing his head to compositions by Kodaly and Tchaikovsky during that morning's rehearsal. Geller hummed along at different points, too.

"I love [Charles] Dutoit," Pascucci said as the renowned conductor began leading the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra through Kodaly's suite from "Hary Janos."

Pascucci must do his own conducting in the trailer, letting information about the music inform camera switches. He has six monitors in front of him; one of them displays viewpoints from all eight cameras. Though he can preset dissolving shots, Pascucci is more often making snap judgments about which instrumentalists to cut to during the performance.

"We do make mistakes," he said.

Fast tempo and meter changes are both consistent culprits for erroneous switches. When a piece speeds up, such as during the end of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," Geller and Pascucci are simultaneously giving instructions, with Geller calling out which instrumentalist should fill the screen and Pascucci calmly relaying camera numbers to his crew.

"If you get stuck in the present, you're dead," Geller said during the rehearsal.

During the beginning of Copland's "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra" that night, Geller didn't appear to be having any trouble with the piece's tempo or meter changes. "This is all woodwinds through here," Geller told Pascucci. He paused before adding, "We can go to first (a camera showing conductor Bramwell Tovey) if you get bored."

Pascucci, never shy about showing a conductor, needed more action from Tovey.

"I'll go to four when Tovey looks like he's going to start conducting something," Pascucci said later, referring to a camera capturing both Tovey and Ohlsson. A moment later, he was satisfied. "Here he comes," he said.

With the pace picking up, Geller offered a "tutti," or full orchestra call, a bit late and apologized.

"That's a wicked piece," he would say later.

Eventually, the crowd's applause filled the trailer, but Pascucci wasn't celebrating yet.

"Eight, eight, eight," he called to his crew, and his show went on.


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