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A Triumphant Fifth of Shostakovich

Flutist Stein Enchants With Ibert Concerto

By Jeremy Baskin

MIT Symphony Orchestra

Frederick E. Harris Jr., Conductor

Daniel E. Stein ’05, Flute

Dec. 12, 8 p.m.

Kresge Auditorium

More than anything else, MITSO’s current season is being defined by the mantra “another concert, another conductor.” On the Thursday before final exam week last semester, the orchestra gave its second concert of the school year under the baton of acting director Frederick E. Harris Jr. The program, of the standard “overture, concerto, intermission, symphony” variety, featured Berlioz’s famed Roman Carnival Overture, Ibert’s Flute Concerto, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.

Though Harris is a known quantity to the MIT community, he normally does not conduct MITSO and is filling in this year during Music Director Dante Anzolini’s absence. Harris has presided over the rebirth of the wind ensemble program at MIT and has brought both the MIT Wind Ensemble and the Festival Jazz Ensemble to previously unseen artistic heights.

This year, his challenge with MITSO has been somewhat different. The time in Anzolini’s absence has been used to introduce a somewhat different set of repertoire to MITSO’s members and audience; in addition, a high turnover in personnel in just one year has proved difficult in terms of establishing continuity from previous years. Nevertheless, great strides have been made this year, as evidenced by December’s concert.

Soul Emerges in Shostakovich Symphony

Dmitri Shostakovich is perhaps the most inspired, revered, and mysterious musical figures in all of Russian history. His personal struggles with the Soviet party, a constant battle between artistic expression and acceptance, are often pivotal elements of his compositions. The fifth symphony, one of his most well-known and beloved symphonies, was written in 1937 during the Great Terror, shortly after Stalin had stormed out of a performance of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. The symphony represents an appeal to the Soviet party for approval, yet it also contains rebellious elements. Military passages, for example, can sound of patriotism and protestation.

The soul of the music came through in MITSO’s performance. Right from the outset, the strings played with absolute involvement. Harris achieved great dynamic contrasts throughout the piece, though perhaps some of the slower and quieter parts were over-directed, notably the end of the third movement. Many individual solos deserve a mention, including Deborah Hayden, who played a difficult horn part with a great deal of poise (though it tended to be on the soft side) and trumpeter Sarah Barber ’04, whose leadership helped to keep a sometimes-shaky brass section together.

As for tempi, it’s always interesting to listen -- as the record market is always in a state of glut -- to the wide variety of tempi that conductors choose when directing pieces like this symphony, for Shostakovich, as did many of his contemporaries, went out of his way to clearly indicate tempo markings and moods for each different section of a movement. In general, the tempo choices that Harris made were internally consistent and were generally more successful at focusing the audience on the chest-beating, macho parts of the piece rather than the subtler, more lyrical parts. Some of the accelerandos appeared to be partly out of control, though the line between intensity and derailment is admittedly quite thin. Particularly effective was the seamless transition from the end of the slow movement to the explosion that begins the last movement.

Stein Stunning in Ibert

The first half of the concert can be summed up in this phrase: “You can take Daniel Stein out of Carnegie Hall, but you can’t take Carnegie Hall out of Daniel Stein.” Flutist Daniel E. Stein ’05, a co-winner of last year’s concerto competition, was the featured soloist in Jacques Ibert’s flute concerto. Stein, who was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in November 2001, proved to be nothing less than a consummate musician last Thursday. He kept the audience entranced -- no easy task, as he was performing a contemporary piece -- with a combination of technical prowess, refined musicality, and rock-solid composure. The orchestra performed admirably during this difficult piece, and the transitions between solo and tutti passages appeared extremely fluid. Both Stein and Harris should share the credit for these successes. The applause was so appreciative and forthcoming that after his fourth bow, Stein indulged the audience with a baroque encore.

The program began with a charged -- if not a bit rough around the edges -- reading of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, which featured a lovely solo by Stavroula K. Hatzios ’05 on the English Horn.