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Concert band shines; Angle a harpsichord master



Conducted by John Corley.

Concert Choir prepared by John Oliver.

Works by Berlioz, Harris, Kazdin

and Kacinskas.

Kresge Auditorium, Nov. 23.


Harpsichord Recital.

MacGregor House, Nov. 24.


SATURDAY'S COLLABORATION between the MIT Concert Band and the MIT Concert Choir was an invigorating event. The main work on offer was Berlioz' Symphonie fun`ebre et triomphale, and the adrenalin never stopped. John Corley had his players in top form, evoking a rich miscellany of colors and projecting them with clarity and fire.

The mournful opening -- the Marche fun`ebre -- was majestic through and through. The brass sound was penetrating -- with trombones particularly pithy and pungent. Clarinets contributed a cool melancholy, while flutes -- sounding out resplendently from their circle at the front of the band -- were beautifully coordinated and wide-ranging in their textures and coloration.

Lawrence Isaacson's trombone solo in the Oraison fun`ebre was as precise as it was powerful; the brass as a whole managed crescendos so adeptly it seemed as if their sudden massiveness had descended magically out of the ether. Percussion was crisp and gripping. Corley joined his diverse instrumental voices together to create an atmosphere of mysticism as well as grandeur; the effect was profound.

Equally astonishing was the way Corley took his crew into the concluding Apoth'eose, the mood subtly shifting to become quite upbeat. Elizabeth Smith contributed a striking piccolo solo, her tiny instrument casting ricochets throughout Kresge. The MIT Concert Choir joined in climactically for the nationalistic -- and rather vulgarly militaristic -- text by Antoine Deschamps.

It was probably appropriate for the conclusion to be large in scale, but John Oliver must have twitched as his choir were muffled by Corley's heavyweights. The musicians, sitting right in front of the choir, probably had the best time of it, blasting their own hearts out while surrounded by song. As bass clarinetist Charlie Marge put it, "To hear that on stage: it was like angels' voices. It was electrifying." Perhaps next time Corley might make a little more use of the volume control, however, so that those of us in the audience can be enchanted, too.

The Concert Band performed three other works. Cimarron by Roy Harris opened the concert nicely, while Andrew Kazdin's Invention on Two American Folk Tunes was given a lively performance, too. Kazdin is an MIT alumnus, and there is something of the mischievous hacker to his music. The band clearly relished his inventiveness and good humor, and the audience did, too.

Transcendental Expressions by the Lithuanian Jeronimas Kackinskas was least successful, but not due to any fault of the band. The music is dense and difficult -- and the band dealt skillfully with its many demands, as did organist Louis Toth. But the music is also oppressive, evoking Stalinist images which were not in the least bit "transcendental." Opinions amongst the band players were mixed. Some disliked it as much as I did; others thought it could grow on the listener with repeated acquaintance. For me, however, once was enough.

I ONCE WENT TO ONE OF THE MANY posh little arts events they hold in Harvard houses to teach the little Harvies how not to burp while balancing your sherry glass with your caviar plate, and took eight friends from MIT along with me. The Engineers' eyes went out on stalks when they eyed the post-performance platters and, speechless, they took to the trough with gusto. The Harvies, in contrast, were oh-so-polite, and immersed in good-mannered conversation. I treacherously deserted the MIT mob to mingle with the high-society crowd, but my MIT identity eventually showed up, triggering a brief silence in the little circle where I was lurking. "Oh dear," said one of the fruity-voiced ladies. "But at least you have an accent."

Sunday evening MacGregor house

went in for something dangerously Harvardesque -- a cozy little musical soir'ee followed by cakes sticky and creamy enough to betray the slightest deficiency in etiquette -- but lacking in the pretension. Maverick harpsichordist Don Angle gave a terrifically clever and entertaining recital on the harpsichord. And everyone got their fingers thoroughly sticky with the desserts afterwards.

The concert was part of Stephen Lippard's Housemaster's seminar on Baroque Music and Performance, an intimate and laid-back weekly gathering enthusiastically received by its participants. "It gives you a lit of insight into baroque music," said Nick Levitt '94 of the seminar; "It's a small group and you get to know each other really well," said Nick Pioch '94; and [Lippard] "has to be nice to you because he's your housemaster," chipped in Deborah Douglass '94.

For this "class" Don Angle took his background in country-western, pop, and jazz to show an unusual side to the harpsichord. His recital wasn't only fun: it showed that the instrument of Bach and Handel can also shed new light on Simon and Garfunkel and the Beatles.

Angle began with a racy account of Philip Braham's "Limehouse Blues." As for Donaldson's "Carolina in the Morning," it's tongue-in-cheek lilt made it absolutely outrageous. Bernie-Casey-Pinkard's "Sweet Georgia Brown" used all 61 keys of the harpsichord in a virtuoso performance with a great beat.

Two Beatles numbers showed different approaches to interpretation. Angle's performance of "Something" carried all of the hallucinogenic drugginess of George Harrison's original; "Eleanor Rigby," in contrast, was transformed from the Lennon/McCartney lament to a hard-pushed piece of jazz. "Oh Susanna," was an exercise in pure cheekiness; Angle displayed remarkable agility in "Has Anybody seen My 'Gal."

"The Boxer" was my favorite, however, because, in addition to being naughty, it had eloquence. Angle played as a dancer with a mask who, lacking facial expression, has to conjure more resources from elsewhere. Angle's command of split-second timing allowed the harpsichord to escape its lack of sensitivity to touch and convey the whimsical feeling of Simon and Garfunkel's music, the clarity of rhythmic line constantly hitting home with an opacity denied the many modern instruments with more color at their disposal.

The rich desserts and amiable conversations after the concert were much enjoyed by all. This sort of intimate event which draws people together for a sociable evening of entertainment, chit-chat and food is precisely what has been missing at MIT. Let's have many more of them. And attendees need have no special accent to gain admission.