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Civic civil

The Civic Symphony Orchestra of Boston, conducted by Max Hobart, Jordan Hall, November 24. Event in The Tech Performing Arts Series.

For 60 years the Civic Symphony Orchestra of Boston has provided a training ground for musicians beginning professional careers. Although many of its talented performers move on to more famous orchestras, it is more than just a stepping-stone. Under Conductor Max Hobart, it is an impressively accomplished orchestra in its own right.

Last Sunday the orchestra teamed with cellist Ronald Thomas for a concert featuring American composers. The first piece was John Knowles Paine's Overture to Shakespeare's "As You Like It," composed in 1875. Paine was the first Professor of music at Harvard, and the first of the talented group of American composers that arose in Boston between 1875 and 1925.

This piece, like the overture to Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream, was not composed with a stage production in mind, but simply to capture in music some of the joyous spirits of Shakespeare's comedy. The music shows the influence of Beethoven and Schubert, although the themes are unfortunately, not strong enough to make the piece memorable; it was pleasant but little more.

The second selection was Romance for Cello and Orchestra by Edward MacDowell, written in 1887. This was a short, pensive, lyrical piece, well-played by both orchestra and soloist.

Aaron Copland's El Sal'on M'exico, inspired by Copland's visit to a Mexican dance hall in 1932, was played next in honor of Copland's 85th birthday. Copland took three Mexican folksongs and combined them in a colorful and frenetic pastiche. The orchestra kept the pace up nicely and did a great job with the Mexican percussion instruments.

After the intermission soloist Ronald Thomas performed Dvorak's great Cello Concerto in B minor. (This almost qualifies as American music, since Dvorak wrote it while he was in New York in 1895). Although I have heard this piece many times recently (most recently as background music during the movie "Hail Mary"), it never gets boring.

The orchestra was marvelous, playing with great coordination. The soloist was also good, but he had some problems with his tone. It sounded a little buzzy, especially early on. During the tuning before the third movement, one of his strings snapped and was replaced; after that his tone was better. Thomas was obviously enjoying himself, but he got so excited in the last two movements that his breathing could be heard, as could the sound of his fingers moving up and down the strings.

This was a very enjoyable concert, and I am sorry the Civic Symphony only plays four shows a year.

Joe Shipman->