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Symphony achieves new heights

MIT Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by David Epstein.
Works by Hindemith, Copland, and Brahms.
Kresge Auditorium.
May 8.

By Jonathan Richmond

Advisory Board

The MIT Symphony Orchestra has never sounded better. This wasn't just as good as an average night at the BSO. This was as powerfully engaging and enlightening as a professional orchestra at its best.

Hindemith's music is not easy to play. But David Epstein got the complex textures of Three Pieces for String Orchestra from Op. 44 just right. There's a penetratingly pure string sound at the heart of this music, and it came through disarmingly. If the first piece was doleful, the second was darker yet, with excellent, disciplined bowing powerfully producing a plethora of subtle effects. There were some minute problems holding everything together at the opening of the third piece, but they were quickly dispelled, leading to a resplendent conclusion.

What a splendid contrast to go from Hindemith to Bernstein -- and dance episodes -- from On The Town at that. Epstein's band packed a good rhythm, with lots of color and oomph from the brass, humor circulating among the winds, and smiles to be had two-a-penny from each and every string. This was Bernstein to a tee -- every second suave, polished, yet carefree and wholly delectable.

The flowing, lyrical delivery of the opening of Brahms' Symphony No. 4 spoke of more good things to come. The clarity of playing was at its most valuable here, the climactic ending of the first movement extraordinary and gripping. From the gently flows of the Andante moderato through the splendor of the Allegro giocoso (marred just a tad by a few brief moments where some players ran ahead of the pack) to the excitement of the conclusion, this was a performance of illumination and depth. And this was an evening to remember, displaying MIT at its creative best.