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Pique Dame, Israel in Egypt, MIT Symphony Orchestra highlight year's classical music: 14: 15

By Jonathan Richmond
Advisory Board
____Your critic only managed to attend a smattering of the year's classical music events but, of these, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's October performance of Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame, under the leadership of Seiji Ozawa,was clearly the highlight. With professional opera on a rolling diminuendo in Boston, the BSO has come to the rescue with some wonderfully dramatic performances, and Pique Dame equalled and possibly eclipsed their previous superlative incarnation of Strauss' Elektra. ____The opera was brilliantly staged in Symphony Hall. Solo performances were strong, but it was the music Ozawa drew from the BSO which above all gripped listeners and took them to a special world. The sound was powerful, but possessed of a song-like storytelling eloquence, full of subtlety and detail. The brass soared to heights of erotic frenzy; the strings entered the high drama, too, but provided a seamless legato line of fate upon which the characters rode to their destiny. ____Nicholas McGegan brought his Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra to Symphony Hall in March, and used it to present the sunniest side of Mozart imaginable. When he returned to lead the BSO the following month, the results were less than happy. McGegan had replaced Roger Norrington, whohad fallen ill with skin cancer. Norrington looked fit as a fiddle for his return to conduct the BSO last weekend, however, appearing radiant as admirers gathered around him in the conductor's room following a fresh and invigorating program of works by Berlioz, Martinu and Mendelssohn. Norrington continues to have a special knack for making the music produced under his baton dance, and it was great to see him back in such good form. ____Faced last August with the choice of attending an afternoon performance of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, conducted by Christopher Hogwood, at the Sydney Opera House, and going for a cruise on Sydney Harbor, your critic must admit to choosing the latter. ____The choice appeared to be validated by the dismal performance of the Handel & Haydn Society under Hogwood in October, when he seemed to promise Boston no more than another undistinguished year of pleasant but ultimately boring "music to pick your nose by." Hogwood's recent concert production of Clemenza in Symphony Hall therefore came as a pleasant surprise. The singing was beautiful and full of depth, while the Handel & Haydn Society Orchestra rose to new levels of profundity. Piquant wind instruments stood out against the ensnaring legato of the strings, the naturally-cast emotions sent out speaking the truth that is Mozart's music, and refreshing and inspiring the soul in the process. ____To make up for the flop performance of Mozart's Requiem Hogwood had led earlier in the season, the BSO under Seiji Ozawa -- with MIT's John Oliver leading the Tanglewood Festival Chorus -- produced a Requiem of religious depth which was quite moving. ____Donald Teeters led the Boston Cecilia in another successful choral performance, this time of Handel's Israel in Egypt. Cecilia reached the emotional heart and soul of the music, the chorus ascending to especially majestic effect. ____For smaller-scale performances, the Cambridge Society for Early Music, with its intimate chamber-sized settings, proved to be tops. Bernard Brauchli's renditions of Mozart on three keyboard instruments in November were especially intriguing, and enlightening as well. LiveOak was another favorite, Nancy Knowles and Frank Wallace creating a transcendent evening of music from thirteenth century Spain in Lindsay Chapel of Emmanuel Church in February. ____There were several notable events on campus. Last month's sensitive performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 by Nina Miller and the MIT Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Epstein, showed that at their best the MIT Symphony is very good indeed. The MIT Chamber Orchestra has been faring less well, unfortunately. The orchestra sounded out of place in Kresge during their October concert, and showed a lack of cohesion and confidence as the evening progressed. ____John Corley led the MIT Concert Band in a splendidly adrenal account of Berlioz' Symphonie fun`ebre et triomphale in November. The Band was, possibly, just a trifle overenthusiastic: the MIT Concert Choir led by John Oliver tried to compete with them, but was squashed by the Concert Band, which won the event 5-0. ____The MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players provided some of the most entertaining, as well as touching, singing of the year. The April production of Mikado was delightful, but November's Yeoman of the Guard added poignancy to humor, with David Harrison bringing a sense of tragedy and humanity to the role of Jack Point in as powerful and professional a performance as one could desire. ____One of the most impressive on-campus arts events of the year, however, was in a dorm: MacGregor. Harpsichordist Don Angle turned up to provide a witty evening of popular tunes played on the harpsichord for the House Seminar taught by housemaster Stephen Lippard. A reception followed. Small, intimate events which get people together for enjoyable and sociable evenings of entertainment and conversation are much-needed at MIT. This innovation sets an excellent example, and should be emulated elsewhere around the campus. ____Gong award of the year award goes to Boston Phoenix critic Lloyd Schwartz. During a performance of music by MIT composer John Harbison by the Cantata Singers last weekend, the percussionist appeared to engage in a virtuoso performance on four frying pans. Come the intermission, Schwartz was spotted chatting with Globe critic Richard Dyer, the latter wearing his usual poker-faced impression. ____"Those were frying pans," weren't they?, I inquired of Schwartz who, afraid to display his ignorance in front of the great man from the Globe, ventured to suggest they were gongs. Harbison was luckily on hand to confirm that the instruments were indeed frying pans, good solid steel ones because, as he pointed out, aluminum just wouldn't produce the right effect. ____Perhaps a year from now, I'll be able to report that the musical problems of aluminum have been solved, so that recession-priced cookware can be used to serve up the latest musical offerings.