Every summer since 1937 (with the exception of the war years of 1942-45), the Boston Symphony Orchestra has performed at a disarmingly serene place in Lenox, Massachusetts called Tanglewood. The 210 acre property, where Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote Tanglewood Tales, was donated by Mary Aspinwall Tappan (descendant of abolitionist Lewis Tappan), and it's quite possibly the most idyllic setting in the known universe to hear classical music. You can be there in less than three hours from NYC.
My family used to take me to Tanglewood as a kid, and I think it's an ideal place to introduce children to classic music. The sprawling grounds, which boast stunning views of the Berkshire mountains and Stockbridge Bowl, are wide open for exploration, and before the concert children can wear themselves out running around the topiary gardens. Until last weekend, I hadn't been back in years, and the place was just as magical as I remembered it.
It's also affordable—lawn tickets to the Boston Symphony Orchestra performances are usually $20 and go as low as $9 (this Friday!). Arrive when the gates open and bring a blanket, wine, and a picnic—be prepared to make fun of/envy other attendees' absurdly elaborate picnic setups, replete with tables, candelabras, fine china, and unironically popped collars. You don't need to go crazy like the other preppies, but if you didn't bring a chair and want one, Tanglewood rents them. And if you're a New Yorker accustomed to discreetly hiding your outdoor drinking like some degenerate, you'll definitely enjoy Tanglewood's utopian attitude toward outside food and drink. (Spirited in Lenox can meet all your wine, booze, cheese and cigar needs.) Also, bring a hoodie and an extra blanket because it tends to cool off at night.
The acoustics are astonishing, and even if you sit far back on the lawn you can still pick up every note. Over the weekend I heard two engrossing Mahler symphonies (the Fourth and First) and two sublime Mozart concertos, one for violin and one for piano. When the weather cooperates, there's no better place to be on a summer night if you're a music lover. You've got one more chance left this summer—the Boston Symphony Orchestra rounds out the residency this weekend with their traditional closing performance of Beethoven's Ninth on Sunday. Friday night's program features music by Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Beethoven's Seventh, with its famously transporting second movement:
If you can't make it this weekend, there are still more events at Tanglewood before summer ends, including the radio quiz show "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!" and the Donal Fox: Scarlatti Jazz Suite Project, which sounds cool. ($40 for that also lets you stick around for the Harry Connick, Jr. show that night if you want to bring your mom.)
(Courtesy Stu Rosner)
Getting there is easy if you own a car or have money to blow on a rental—just take the scenic Taconic State Parkway to the Berkshire Section of the NY Thruway. Last weekend I ended up taking Metro North to Danbury and renting a car from Enterprise, which will pick you up at the train station. It was a two hour drive to Lenox from there, but the car rental in Danbury was less than a third of the cost ($45/day) of renting in NYC. (Zipcar is another option, at about $100 a day.)
Finding lodging during the peak seasons of summer and fall is also a challenge if you don't have MONEY—if you do, there are a million Bed & Breakfasts that will charm the pants off you and everyone in your entourage. My girlfriend and I rented a room at the not that depressing Days Inn in Lenox on Saturday night for $150 by using Travelocity's Scooby-Doo Mystery Hotel gimmick, where you book the place at a supposedly reduced rate before you find out what it is. It was fine. The hotel was eminently habitable, albeit a tad dreary, and there was a sad little pool overlooking Route 7, but it's not like you're going to spend much time there anyway. You're going to be here, if you want to be:
(Courtesy Stu Rosner)
For more weekend getaways from NYC, check this out.