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classical review: Bidding Farewell to Dante Anzolini

MITSO...s Heartfelt Version of Mahler...s Seventh Symphony Marks a True Maestro...s Departure

By Tony Hwang

MIT Symphony Orchestra

Dante Anzolini, director

May 17, 2006, 8 p.m.

Kresge Auditorium

MITSO concerts typically have a somewhat decent showing, but on Wednesday, May 17, Kresge Auditorium seemed almost full. The audience was well-aware that this evening’s event held great significance: it was the final opportunity to see the talented music director, Dante Anzolini, conduct one of his signature pieces, Mahler’s “Symphony No. 7 in E minor.” For MITSO fans, it was an opportunity not to be missed.

The members of the orchestra, knowing that their delivery should be a fitting farewell to their beloved conductor, seemed to have more spirit and drive overall. They began the first movement, “Langsam — Adagio,” with a powerful demonstration from the winds and brass, while the strings provided a satisfyingly thick and low foundation. This movement progressed into tradeoffs of beautiful singing melodies from the strings that contrasted with bright fanfares from the brass. Perhaps the brass were too eager to impress, as their sound often drowned out other sections, but no one could doubt their stamina in the context of such a tiring piece to perform as Mahler.

The strings had remarkably good intonation on many chords and seemed more accurate at sustaining their sound. The harmonic construction of these chords was unique (built on fourths) and because of the precise tuning of the orchestra, created the desired sense of urgency. Anzolini fed off of this positive energy from his musicians, dancing animatedly on the podium.

The second movement, “Nachtmusic — Allegro Moderato,” was characterized by interesting switches between major and minor even within a melody of phrase. As stated by its title, “Night Music,” this movement explores Mahler’s interest in the emotions associated with nighttime. Not only did the modulation of key add to this effect, but also some interesting devices such as col legno (bouncing of the wooden part of the bow on the strings) in the second violins, harmonics in the cellos, and an isolated section of melody in the bass helped to create the atmosphere of whimsy. The strings could have worked on their articulation in this movement, as short notes were frequently not together. However, MITSO was able to capture most of the quick changes in mood.

A strangely dark and foreboding “Schattenhaft — Scherzo” was an odd segue into the second “Nachtmusik” section. This movement was more lyrical and even incorporated instruments such as the mandolin, guitar, and harp. And yet, the melodies often did not resolve, creating tension even within the midst of the serenade-like qualities of the movement. The winds presented some elegant solos to complement the mood, while the concertmaster occasionally peppered the sound with haunting solos.

After some loud shuffling from the audience (clearly restless from the lack of intermission, yet still engaged by the concert’s content), Anzolini raised his baton to finish off the symphony with “Rondo — Finale.” At first, the resounding chords of the brass and punctuation of the percussion made the movement seem more like a march than a rondo. However, Mahler’s movement structures have never been conventional, and after building to a triumphant chord in C major, he makes a surprise drop to a more serene A minor section.

MITSO kept the audience on the edge of their seats, executing the many crescendos that ended in an unresolved drop to yet another quiet section effectively. Each time this buildup and instantaneous decline was approached in a different way that prevented the movement from becoming repetitive. The orchestra ran on pure adrenaline, sprinting in the final stretch to the conclusion. The finale was met with great applause, and it was well-deserved. Anzolini, looking exhausted, turned and acknowledged Mahler by raising the score, and made his way off the stage. Yet the audience would not let him get off so easily, and in way of tribute, continued a standing ovation until Anzolini had walked on and off the stage five times to receive the applause. The maestro had earned nothing less.

Anzolini has been a great asset to MITSO and the Institute’s musical development. He has always been willing to sacrifice his time and energies for the betterment of MIT’s musicians although he recognizes that they are often too busy to put in the kind of effort that is found in conservatory students. As a former concertmaster of MITSO, I can vouch for his fantastic technique and presence on stage (during rehearsals and concerts) that raised MITSO’s level from just another college orchestra to a group capable of true musical expression. Anzolini never shied away from programming the most difficult orchestral repertoire (such as Mahler Symphonies), and led the orchestra through these challenges with the expertise of one who completely understands the music. He will be deeply missed by many members of the MIT community, and we wish him luck with his future musical pursuits.