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Chamber orchestra struggles, Zebrowski shines

MIT Chamber Orchestra
Kresge Auditorium.
Oct. 30.

By Anne Wall

Staff Reporter

The MIT Chamber Orchestra gave its first concert of the season Saturday night at Kresge Auditorium. Despite the dismal weather, the orchestra had a reasonable-sized crowd. The program featured works by Gustav Holst, Richard Wagner, and W. A. Mozart. The guest soloist for the evening was pianist Marek Zebrowski, who is currently teaching in the Boston area and on the faculty of MIT as well as the University of Massachusetts.

The evening got off to a lively start with Holst's St. Paul Suite, a jaunty little piece for strings based on various English folk songs. The orchestra was generally able to keep the mood in the lighter moments, but the more melodic and tuneful parts suffered from a lack of direction in phrasing. Intonation problems, mostly in the second violins, also detracted from the overall enjoyment of the piece.

Next came Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, which he wrote and dedicated to his second wife after the birth of their son. The music was supposed to be a lovely and gentle serenade, but intonation problems ran rampant and destroyed many of the effects. While there were many distracting problems in other sections, the flute and clarinets did quite well with their solo lines.

After the intermission Marek Zebrowski gave a musical and convincing performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, "Jeunehomme," K.271. Once again the orchestra had an especially hard time with intonation. The horns had trouble playing true intervals, the second violins were at it again, and the oboes provided further fuel for oboe jokes. The oboe sound was far too loud and harsh, cutting through the orchestra's and soloist's sound and disturbing the balance. In spite of trouble in the orchestra, Zebrowski gave a delightful and moving performance of this concerto.

Perhaps the most disconcerting behavior of the evening did not come from the oboe section. Concert etiquette seemed to be a foreign phrase to several concert goers. Many latecomers simply walked in right in the middle of a piece, without even waiting for a break in the movements. Perhaps the most uncouth performance came from a couple who walked in late with what appeared to be a pizza, went to the front of the auditorium, and promptly slung their legs over the seats in front of them and settled in as they were ready to take a siesta. One concert goer had her feet up on the railing in front of her. This behavior can be distracting to a performer, and is almost always distracting to the audience.

One must take into account that all of the musicians are full-time students at MIT, and therefore one can assume they don't get a whole lot of time to practice and rehearse. Perhaps some of the repertoire is too challenging, as well. Conductor Steven McDonald seems to be quite professional and musical, and perhaps under his further guidance the orchestra will have a good chance of improving as the year goes on.