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Harbison, Symphony play with sophistication

MIT Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by Craig Smith.

Beethoven's Violin Concerto, Copland's Billy the Kid, Wagner's Overture to Die Meistersinger von Nrnberg.

Rose Mary Harbison, soloist.

Kresge Auditorium, March 12.

By Jonathan Richmond
Advisory Board

Rose Mary Harbison was riveting last Saturday night, and so was the MIT Symphony Orchestra, performing with oomph, class, and feeling.

Harbison grabs attention with her violin tone. It isn't syrupy, but it eclipses the sound of schmaltzy players. Hers is the power to convey a kaleidoscope of color with seeming ease. Suspense never lets up when she is on stage: her way of shaping music brings a seamless continuity to even the least legato of passages. There was more than great virtuosity to her Beethoven: there was an opening of new perspectives which made the depth as well as sparkle of perhaps the greatest of violin concertos all the more apparent.

The crescendos for Harbison's performance were composed by her husband, John who-Stockhausen style-provided two sets for the performer to choose from. The first movement cadenza that we heard Saturday clearly stood out from the surrounding music. John Harbison was imposing his mark; yet, it was striking and attention-grabbing in a Beethovenesque way, while providing a natural transition into the music which followed. It went well with the generally avant-garde style of playing of Rose Mary Harbison.

How was the MIT Symphony, under guest conductor Craig Smith? It was splendid. There were just a few very minor moments of not being quite together or not quite adequately pointing a crescendo, but otherwise it was disciplined, responsive, sympathetic. Serenity reigned in the middle movement, with sensitive playing providing fine support to the soloist while making statements of beauty and rapture in itself.

The orchestra topped even this level of sophistication in the Copland piece which followed. Most moving was the sublime string playing of those lyrical and reflective passages of Billy the Kid which mark out quintessential Copland territory. A sense of awe and timelessness prevailed during those charmed interludes, which couldn't be bettered by the best of professional orchestras.

Percussion was really in top form for the Copland, too, brilliantly timed and powerfully evocative. At the other end of the tension scale, we heard a delicately-colored flute solo of quite some distinction. And then there was that easy-sounding violin pizzicato, the magnetic lilt of the rhythmic dance, and a fiery and precise trumpet solo. All of the orchestra performed well, closely held together by Craig Smith in one of their greatest evenings of music making.

It might seem odd to end with an overture, but the choice of the Overture to Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nrnberg turned out to be a good one, and provided a climactic close to the concert. True, there was just a touch of fuzziness to the start, but that soon disappeared, making way for a very exciting build-up to the finale. Bravo!