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MIT Symphony Orchestra Concert

Inspirational Folk-Themed Classical Music

By Bogdan Fedeles

Staff Writer

Last Wednesday, the MIT Symphony Orchestra, directed by Dante Anzolini, presented a marvelous program of classical music comprised of Janacek’s Lachian Dance No.1, Ravel’s Tzigane and Mahler’s Symphony No.4. Given the beauty of these pieces and the remarkable performance delivered by the orchestra and soloists Rachel Levinson ’01 (violin), and Pamela Wood (soprano), it was quite surprising to find this event rather under-attended; about three quarters of the Kresge Auditorium was empty. The only explanation I can think of is the placement of the concert in the middle of a week full of midterms. Fortunately, the concert will be repeated on Saturday, November 4, at 8 p.m. in Ellsworth Hall, at Pine Manor College.

Lachian Dance No.1 by Leos Janacek was the piece that opened the concert. Inspired by two folk tunes that the Czech composer collected while wandering in different regions of Lachia, the piece is a vivid musical description of Lachian splendid landscapes, where people are involved in traditional ceremonies. The tunes are essentially dances, a traditional wedding dance and a kerchief dance, combined in a harmonious way to produce a well-balanced piece. The MITSO gave a rather good performance of Janacek’s piece, but although the technique was almost perfect, it still sounded dry and tense, like a warm-up piece, without too much emotion compared to the other two pieces performed.

Ravel’s Tzigane was initially written as a rhapsody for violin and piano. When the piece became a success after the first performance, Ravel orchestrated the piano part, yielding the piece that was presented Wednesday. Tzigane was inspired by the tunes of the gypsies, and also by some Hungarian folk-tunes. It features a captivating yet very difficult violin part that soloist Rachel Levinson was able to brilliantly handle. Indeed, the soloist gave a very expressive performance, showing outstanding technique and virtuosity. The orchestra melded in with dissonant chords and an interesting bass line that harmonically supported the violin part. Overall, this piece was very enjoyable due to the very good performance.

After intermission, the heaviest part of the program, Mahler’s 4th Symphony, followed. Given its huge proportions (it lasts more than 1 hour), this symphony may get somewhat uninteresting at times; nevertheless, it is among Mahler’s most beautiful symphonies and the performance of MITSO clearly showed this.

The first movement features repeated notes motifs in woodwinds and a rather lyrical theme in the strings parts, unpredictably shifting in various keys or meters. However, the tonal sense of the piece is very strong -- hence the apparent comprehensibility. The movement is rather joyful and refreshing, even if it involves a rather complex orchestration, featuring various percussion instruments and a lot of parts for the wind instruments.

The second movement looks like a classical scherzo; it is rather tense and the melodic line is hard to follow. The horns introduce a short motif answered by the violins, which begin a very lyrical passage. At times this sounds like a slow movement, but the sudden changes in tempo and dynamics, together with the abrupt ending, remind us of the scherzo-like features.

The third movement, which is the slow movement of the symphony, is probably the most beautiful and the most lyrical. The theme starts in the basses and then is gradually amplified by the whole orchestra, creating a completely serene and magical atmosphere. The contrasting middle part creates some tension that disappears when the initial theme comes back. The ending of the movement features a sudden outburst of E major (this movement is in G major), which anticipates the brilliance of the ending of the symphony.

The last movement features a soprano part, inspired by a folk tune, “Wunderhorn,” which talks about the joys of heaven. The music here becomes rather uncomplicated and follows closely the lyrics of the original tune, culminating with music, which is the ultimate joy, this being essentially the conclusion of the last movement and the whole symphony. Pamela Wood, who sang the soprano part, delivered an excellent performance, full of passion and color. Her voice gave the lyrics the weight they deserve in the context of the final movement.

Overall, the whole orchestra, admirably conducted by Dante Anzolini, delivered an outstanding performance of Mahler’s 4th Symphony, completely enjoyable and impressive. If you didn’t go to Wednesday’s performance, I strongly recommend you go to the one on Saturday.