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Anzolini Leaving MITSO For NEC on Sabbatical

By Jeremy Baskin

ASSOCIATE ARTS EDITOR

Tomorrow, the MIT Symphony Orchestra will play its final concert of the season. Such an occasion would not usually be an especially newsworthy event, but this concert will mark the last performance that music director Dante Anzolini will give with the ensemble before taking a year-long sabbatical.

Anzolini is to spend the bulk of his paid leave from MIT at the New England Conservatory of Music as the director of the orchestral program.

Timing is everything

In music, timing is everything; no famous conductors can afford to have bad timing on the podium. Yet, off the stage, it seems like Anzolini’s timing is somewhat askew. An assistant professor since his hiring in 1998, Anzolini was recently promoted to associate professor of music, and a comprehensive tenure review is slated to commence within a couple of years.

In spite of a contractual obligation that forces Anzolini to take a paid leave of absence next year or else forfeit his sabbatical outright, some members of the music faculty have privately expressed concerns about the timing of Anzolini’s leave of absence relative to his upcoming tenure review. Though professional activities outside MIT constitute a significant portion of the tenure committee’s decision -- these outside engagements are for music performers on the faculty what research is for most other professors -- some faculty find it somewhat odd to spend the year in a similar full-time position at another school.

Though Anzolini has been engaged at NEC for a one-year contract, the nature of that job is not one of tenure-track; the contract is simply renewed on a yearly or bi-yearly basis. His predecessor at NEC has resigned and has no intentions of returning to the post of director of the orchestral program.

The face of MITSO for 2002-2003

In Anzolini’s absence, the day-to-day logistics of the orchestra will be taken over by Director of the Wind and Festival Jazz Ensembles Frederick E. Harris, Jr. Each of the four MITSO programs next season will have a guest conductor: Harris, Institute Professor of Music John H. Harbison, Ludovic Morlot, and David Alan Miller.

Morlot is a young and promising maestro who has affiliations with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival. Miller, the music director of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, has appeared as guest conductor with many of the nation’s most prestigious orchestras, including those in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York.

A quick glance at each of next season’s four programs yields interesting conclusions. Each contains a symphony from the classical period (two by Haydn and one each by Beethoven and Mozart). There are no Mahler symphonies and no major 20th century works, À la Stravinsky’s Firebird or Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. The major work on each program falls within the standard canon: two works by Brahms, one each by Schumann and Beethoven. In a word, the signature of MITSO’s upcoming season is distinctly non-Anzolini in character, as he has tended to focus on 20th century masterpieces, Mahler, and other late romantics.

Beyond 2003: an uncertain future

All of this information leads to speculation about Anzolini’s future at MIT. There are no ambiguities about the fact that MIT is not a music school, whereas NEC is one of the most prestigious music schools in the region. Upon first glance, one might ask what kind of musician would not jump at the opportunity to direct an orchestral program involving four orchestras and music students instead of two extracurricular ensembles (MITSO and the MIT Chamber Orchestra) at a science and technology institute.

The choice is not so simple. MIT offers a tenure-track faculty position, whereas there is no chance for tenure as director of the orchestral program at NEC. As well, an NEC employee familiar with the situation noted that MIT has a less invasive central administration than NEC, which affords Anzolini a great deal more autonomy, including the opportunity to go on tours.

Most importantly, MITSO consists of players who -- despite an inordinate amount of coursework -- want to be in the orchestra and choose to make time in their schedules to be there. At NEC, like at other conservatories, instrumental teachers want their students to focus on learning solo repertoire. As a result, students tend to regard their orchestral activities as a chore.

“MIT students don’t have a lot of spare time to practice,” says Director of the Concerts Office Clarise Snyder, “but their hearts and minds are in it, and that makes all the difference.” Snyder, who manages all of the on-campus concerts, knows Anzolini well.

MITSO players ‘are brilliant’

Furthermore, Anzolini has a great deal of pride for MITSO, which he unequivocally asserts is superior to all other Boston-area college orchestras. “Could any of them have played Ives’ 4th Symphony as we did? No.” He bubbles over with pride when he speaks of the members of MITSO.

“They are intelligent. They are brilliant, and they use this,” Anzolini said, pointing to his head.

The respect and admiration is reciprocated, as Anzolini is popular amongst his troops in MITSO. He elicits nothing but praise from Snyder, who, as an alum of NEC and an employee of MIT, has been on both sides of the fence. “I think he has the potential to create something wonderful at NEC,” says Snyder.

Of course, he already has done so in a mere four years at MIT.

MITSO will perform Sanchez-Gutierrez’s Afterlight, Penderecki’s Viola Concerto, and Mahler’s First Symphony tomorrow night at 8 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. Tickets are $3 at the door.