Arts concert review

MITSO’s first concert of the 2018–2019 school year!

A stunning performance inspired by Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday

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Adam K. Boyles conducts the MIT Symphony Orchestra for its first performance of the 2018-19 school year Oct. 19.

Benjamin Britten: “Four Sea Interludes” from Peter Grimes,
Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 99,
Randall Thompson: Symphony No. 2
MIT Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Adam K. Boyles
Kresge Auditorium
Oct. 19

I think the MITSO chose Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes to show off  — the pieces were technically challenging, thrilling, and immediately blew back the audience. The orchestra attacked each interlude with a fierce vivacity that bled into every bow stroke and breath. Just getting cozy and enjoying the show was literally impossible — whenever the music slowed, rolling like gentle waves, a thundering uproar from the lower registers would jar you back to the moment. The dynamic range of the orchestra was frankly very impressive. Kresge seemed to vibrate, literally, with the energy on the stage.

After that electric initial performance, Boyle took a moment to explain that, in honor of Leonard Bernstein’s hundredth birthday, a piece that the man himself conducted was an appropriate ode to the Massachusetts-born composer. Then Boyle broke down the Symphony No. 99 by Joseph Haydn. The Father of Symphonies wrote No. 99 in England — a piece which is notable for a few reasons, one of which being the use of the clarinet. Theretofore, Haydn had never written for the clarinet, but did in this symphony as a nod to his old friend, Amadeus Mozart. Boyle detailed each movement of the symphony, which he related with such enthusiasm and gusto, as if he was describing each flavor of a four-course meal.

MITSO’s performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 99 was definitely a delightful treat. I felt entranced. The violins were delicate yet bright as they tiptoed into the higher reaches of the staff, and the brilliant warmth of the ensemble imparted a sense of relief. It was easy to imagine being carted through a green countryside in the Commonwealth, on a warm summer day on the way to a cottage or garden estate. That feeling of being transported leagues away from Kresge continued until the last movements, when a lilting waltz began and, in time to the sways of the musicians, you could feel that dance in your bones. Each member of the orchestra was so absorbed in the music, from the bassists to Boyle on the podium. All in all, it was such a mesmerizing and beautiful rendition, and I felt like it was over much too soon.

MITSO’s performance of Symphony No. 2 was characterized by a feeling of balance and completeness. The Allegro movement on the whole contained a rounded, jazzy theme. The orchestra’s overall sound was vigorous and full of overlapping layers — often with several sounds playing one after the other. The horns showcased an ominous tone that hadn’t been seen prior to this piece. The entire section felt very “new-world-esque,” and it seems likely that Thompson drew inspiration from Leonard Bernstein’s music in West Side Story.

In the Largo movement, the serene C major that underlined the section appeared less overtly jazzy, but rather more like a ballad. The orchestra sounded morose and pensive, with the stable base instruments providing support and the woodwinds highlighting the mysterious melody. Legato throughout, the Largo finished on a harmonious note.

The Vivace section was dominated by a fast 7/4 rhythm that resembled the French impressionist, comedic-type style. The jazziness of this movement shined — especially the whimsical middle part. Throughout, the Vivace proved rhythmic, playful, and adventurous.

Finally, the Andante movement of E Major sounded largely American in spirit. Moving onto the Allegro subsection, the piece becomes more childishly fun, though still maintaining its patriotic sound with its slow and steady pace. Through the hopefully bright sound brought out by the woodwinds, the Allegro was both joyous and curious, yet slightly more traditional than the previous movements. MITSO’s grand ending was indeed very virtuosic; dynamic contrast was apparent and controlled, and the finale kept its jazzy tones.

All in all, MITSO’s performance, though not without flaw in the professional sense, still provided much entertainment as well as musical and stylistic fulfillment.