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MITSO Spring Concert

Brilliant Musical Fireflies

By Bogdan Fedeles

staff writer

MIT Symphony Orchestra

Kresge Auditorium

May 11, 2002

Last Saturday, MITSO, directed by Dante Anzolini in his farewell performance, gave its second spring concert. The program included two fairly recent pieces, SÁnchez-GutiÉrrez’s Afterlight and Penderecki’s Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (featuring violist Marcus Thompson, professor of music at MIT), and the well-established Mahler’s Symphony No.1. The brilliant and lively performance of MITSO created a remarkable evening, delighting the enthusiastic audience gathered in Kresge auditorium.

Afterlight is one of the latest pieces of Carlos SÁnchez-GutiÉrrez, a modern composer originating from Mexico. The piece features very abstract yet descriptive music, inspired by a vivid narrative (by Carlos Henriquez) of a scene in which thousands of fireflies “dance” around the site of a tragic historical event. In the narrative, the fireflies are likened to the souls of the dead. Afterlight is the musical picture of that particular scene, suggesting the randomness of the flight of the fireflies with unpredictable rhythmic changes, sudden accents and dynamic contrasts.

MITSO’s performance was extremely expressive, evoking the dance of the fireflies through nicely shaped phrases and well-balanced tuttis. Remarkable were the virtuosic passages played by the first violin (Romy Shioda G), xylophone (Manu Sridharan G), and piano (Yukiko Ueno ’98) that intensified the sensation of an agitated, yet organized swarm of insects. I truly enjoyed MITSO’s rendition of this non-conformist piece. The composer, present in the audience, was also enchanted, and thanked director Dante Anzolini and MITSO while the audience frantically applauded all of them.

Krzysztof Penderecki’s Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, written in 1983, is a piece that misleads through its title. It features a viola soloist, who plays against the full orchestra, but that’s about all it has in common with the classical concerto. The piece unfolds as one long circular movement that offers little variation in the mood it creates. The very dry and chromatic treatment of the musical material makes expressivity an even bigger challenge for the performers. Yet, soloist Thompson delivered a remarkable, heart-felt viola solo. A careful intonation highlighted the viola’s beautiful timbre, which was rather hoarse and meditative in the low registers, yet outspoken and vibrant in the higher ones. Thompson’s brilliant technique made the piece flow naturally in its dense middle section. The orchestra played a more reserved role, yet took advantage of the short tutti episode to deliver a well-articulated, full sonority. The piece was a fulfilling experience, not only for the performers, but the audience as well. Thompson’s vibrant performance, assisted by a well-conducted orchestra, made this very modern piece extremely enjoyable.

Mahler’s symphonic works need little introduction, given their impact on the symphonic genre. His symphonies are milestones that require a great deal of maturity from the orchestras performing them. MITSO showed its maturity and high caliber, delivering a vibrant performance of Mahler’s Symphony No.1 in D major. Although the introduction seemed hesitant, in the low registers, it gained momentum and acquired a perfect balance maintained throughout the allegro.

The intonation of the main theme was very beautiful and expressive. The second movement featured richer orchestrations, but never sounded too harsh. The folk-dance character of the movement was conveyed in both in the more agitated, louder scherzo and in the more lyrical trio. The mocking atmosphere of the third movement came out descriptive and lively. The carefully intonated FrÈre Jacques on solo double bass (Erin K. Mathewson ’05) set the right balance between comedy and tragedy at the beginning of the movement. The orchestral build-up that followed was descriptive and expressive. Finally, the dramatic explosion of the finale sounded indeed molto appassionato. A fiery string section delivered a coherent, rapid accompaniment above which the brass section, with a full, well-intonated sound, played the thematic material. In particular, the strenuous, climactic ending of the symphony showed a good cohesion of the orchestra, which produced a strong, yet beautifully rounded sonority.

Overall, MITSO’s concert from last Saturday was a delightful experience, showing the orchestra’s potential in dealing with both very modern writings, as well as the classics, under the careful yet demanding leadership of the departing conductor Anzolini.