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MIT Symphony Orchestry filled with passion, energy

MIT Symphony Orchestra
Dalia Atlas, Guest Conductor.
Mahler's Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor.
Saturday, March 7.

By Allison M. Marino

From the opening Funeral March, to the sensual Adagietto, to the explosive finale, the MIT Symphony Orchestra performed with new-found passion and maturity, doing justice to Mahler's challenging Fifth Symphony.

MIT tackled the first movement with an energy that pervaded the entire concert, conveying the serious and bittersweet emotions of the Funeral March through many tempo changes and large, orchestral swells characteristic of Mahler's dramatic romantic intensity.

"Stormily," the second movement, had an angrier character, lapsing into dreamy introspection and grieving moods before returning to its outright stormy nature. MIT's dynamic range was large and exciting. Each section, when not playing a focal melody, was kept busy enhancing and ornamenting the main themes and variations.

A great orchestrator, Mahler employed virtually every piece of the orchestra, paying great attention to detail -- he revised the score several times until he was finally happy with it -- only a few months before his death in 1911. Mahler sectioned the immense symphony into three parts, grouping the first and second movements together, the Scherzo alone, and the final two movements -- Adagietto and Rondo-Finale -- together. MIT pulled off Mahler's expansive Scherzo (the longest he ever wrote) with style. This movement had many conflicting elements -- the darkness of the first and second movements, a growing happiness embodied in waltz-like sections, and a sad theme that evolved throughout the Scherzo. The overall effect was of partial resolution and transformation, preparing the audience for the Adagietto.

The Adagietto, with its gentle harp arpeggios and string melody, was performed tenderly and passionately. With the broad swells and delicate, extremely romantic themes, MIT captured the love in this movement. Mahler indeed wrote the Adagietto with inspiration, for he was in love with his soon-to-be bride, Alma Maria Schindler; he proposed to her by sending her the Adagietto manuscript. The orchestra successfully concluded with the Rondo-Finale, capturing the light, celebratory nature within its contrapuntal structure with the sensitivity and intensity of the first four movements. Resolved, the movement ended with a joyous, forte explosion.

Of course, the performance wasn't perfect, with a few cracked notes here and there in the brass, moments when the strings weren't together in the faster sections, and times when the tuning of the higher woodwinds was questionable. However, MIT far exceeded its past performances, making Mahler's Fifth Symphony come alive as a coherent whole. Enthusiastic comments filled Kresge as the large crowd of spectators filed out. Some eavesdropping after the concert revealed that orchestra members were also pleased with their performance. In fact, they seemed to enjoy playing Mahler, as evidenced in part by their absorbed expressions during the concert.

One questionable aspect of Saturday night's concert was the presentation of an ancient recording of Mahler performing a piano reduction of the first movement. Though interesting and perhaps instructive, the piano version seemed flat and lifeless compared to the orchestral performance. Mahler's recording didn't detract from the live symphony directly, but it was more of a curiosity than an experience. Its omission would have shortened the concert so that MIT could have revealed its heightened talent without the interruption of an intermission.