BSO in the Berkshires

Boston Symphony Orchestra gets a sunlit series of performance spaces for its Tanglewood campus

William Rawn Associates have expanded Boston Symphony Orchestra's Tanglewood campus with four new, climate-controlled structures. (Robert Benson)

The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) may boast one of the most luminous performance halls on the East Coast thanks to a recent $32.5 million expansion at its Tanglewood campus in Lenox, Massachusetts. William Rawn Associates (WRA) has added three spaces spanning 24,000-square-feet to the Linde Center for Music and Learning, all flexibly designed as a nod to the firm’s seminal 1994 Seiji Ozawa Concert Hall, also on site. 

The last time the 524-acre campus (where BSO has spent its summers since 1937) was put on the map was when WRA designed and completed the award-winning venue years ago. Now, with a new performance and rehearsal pavilion, as well as a 150-seat cafe that doubles as a cabaret room, the center will support BSO’s year-round program, the Tanglewood Learning Institute. Not to mention that these structures are the first climate-controlled buildings on the bucolic campus.

Twilight image of two story structure with performance lighting up interior, and pavilion leading to other structures

The performance pavilions put nature and democracy at the forefront of the design, according to WRA. (Robert Benson)

In an interview, William Rawn and Clifford Gayley, both principals at WRA, said their “modernist impulse” is evident both in their 25-year-old Ozawa Hall, as well as in the four contemporary spaces built last year. Most importantly, though, their buildings feature clean, simple lines and were designed with a similar sense of place like the other structures on campus that were designed by modernist architect Eero Saarinen. “Saarinen’s work promotes a sense of simplicity, almost elementary,” said Rawn and Gayley, “a real sense of transparency and a connection between the inside and the outside.”

WRA’s 21st-century vision for Tanglewood aimed to echo that sentiment. Using a primary material palette of glass and wood, they were able to integrate stunning views of the Berkshire Hills from the multi-studio pavilion, cafe, and patio while also allowing light to energize the interiors. The largest of the spaces, a 270-seat performance and rehearsal area called Studio E, can house over 90 members of the BSO during shows. At more informal moments, a 50-foot-tall retractable glass wall on the stage side can open the space up to the elements, and allow visitors to walk in to listen to the practice sessions. Two of the three studios also have this feature. 

Image of walkway pavilion with wood slat on ceiling

A serpentine pavilion leads visitors throughout the new part of campus, connecting the café to the rehearsal and performance spaces. (Robert Benson)

According to Rawn and Gayley, this informality of setting—combined with the intensity of the music—is embodied in the new architecture. “There’s a sense of democracy, an egalitarian feel, that everybody is welcome,” they said. “The sense of connection between a rehearsal studio that has a barn door opening out, or Ozawa Hall, with its open back wall that allows the music being made to waft out onto the lawns.”

Image of large oak tree shading glass-walled cafe with people eating inside and on lawn

Large oak trees on the site inspired the architects to open up views of the surrounding Berkshires. (Robert Benson)

Reed Hilderbrand built out the seamless landscape surrounding the Linde Center and added over 120 trees, 300 shrubs, and 10,000 square feet of woodland ferns and perennials. A large birch grove was planted in a courtyard garden in between the new structures and WRA created a windy pergola alongside the cafe.

Related Stories