Spouse in the House
It’s a scramble being married to a summer performer
Summers are a juggling routine for Miriam Bolkosky. Navigating her own career as a freelance cellist, her husband’s schedule as a trumpet player with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and twin four-year-old boys who already play cello and bass, Bolkosky describes how difficult it is to find anything in the Stockbridge home they have rented for the past five seasons. “There are boxes everywhere,” says Bolkosky, unable to keep from letting go of a sigh. “No matter how organized you try to be, something always ends up missing.”
For many like Ben Wright, Bolkosky’s husband, the BSO is a destination orchestra. Once ascending to its ranks, musicians are usually in it for life. With this dream comes a contractual obligation to play Tanglewood in the summer—not such a bad deal, as many of us know.
Spouses also must make a long-term commitment. While a majority of BSO families are quick to praise the Berkshires for its tranquility and easy living, there are the real challenges of finding housing, child care, and maintaining a partner’s career. With 96 orchestral musicians who relocate, there are 96 different and creative ways that players and their families find their groove in the Berkshires.
“I used to live on the Pike,” says Bolkosky, who has played with the Boston Pops and the National Lyric Opera. “I would go back to Boston three times a week.” After 12 seasons of twisting her schedule around her husband’s, she scaled back. “I want to be fully present wherever I am,” she says. Now she returns to Boston just once a week on days that her husband has off, and she offers her students lessons over Skype.
For harpist Jessica Zhou’s fifth season, she returns to her Pittsfield rental with her 11-month-old baby Jasmine and without her husband, who co-owns a café in Boston. He commutes to the Berkshires while Zhou keeps up with the demanding orchestra schedule. In Boston, the BSO plays one program a week. “At Tanglewood, we play one program once; however, we have three different programs a week, so I’ve found that a lot harder.” Zhou is grateful that her mother relocated from California to help with Jasmine, but her eye already is on next summer’s day care. “The Lenox Children’s Center is where everyone in the BSO enrolls their kids,” says Zhou. “There’s already a wait list.”
There is one way of ensuring your partner equally appreciates Tanglewood—marry a BSO member. That’s the path violinist Cathy Basrak took with her timpanist husband. They loved their idyllic summers of barbecues and picnics, bike rides and farmers markets, so they did what many BSO members do and built a second home. Nine years and three daughters later, they put it on the market. “We overestimated our capability to come out non-season,” says Basrak.
While there are many ways to navigate Tanglewood, the families agree on one thing: Tanglewood makes them all more connected with one another. “Geographically we’re actually closer,” says Basrak. “We all have the same days off, so it makes it easier to schedule get-togethers.” Families swim at the BSO’s private beach at the Stockbridge Bowl, or picnic by the Shed. “All the moms and nannies will coordinate and picnic on the lawn during rehearsal, so there’s a musical background to their dinner,” says Basrak. “I don’t know that there are other orchestra experiences where the families come and are as present as they are here at Tanglewood. It is something that is extremely unique to this orchestra and this community.”
Cellist Mihail Jojatu agrees, adding that Tanglewood is part of what makes the BSO special. “We don’t have to travel through Europe to play at the best houses,” Jojatu says. “Tanglewood is as good as it gets.” Jojatu and his violinist wife purchased their country home last summer—the same house in Lee where they met 15 summers ago as students of Tanglewood. The Jojatus bring their children on holidays to enjoy sushi at Bizen’s in Great Barrington, ice cream at Lucky’s in Lee, and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge year round.
While Bolkosky bemoans the lack of cell phone coverage and late-night eateries after concerts, she loves that her boys are growing up running around Tanglewood. “There’s so much good,” says Bolkosky, “so you have to let go of the stuff that’s frustrating and create a different life for the summer.” Will her family return after her husband retires? She does not hesitate, “I think we’ll be here long after that.”