Arts concert review

Three ways to celebrate live music

MITSO’s first concert of the year celebrates a rebirth of MIT orchestral music

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Pieces performed at this weekend’s MITSO concert include Respighi’s Feste Romane, Bernstein’s Candide, and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major.
Kate Lu

Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide,” Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, Respighi’s Feste Romane
MIT Symphony Orchestra
Venkatesh Sivaraman ’20 on Piano
Conducted by Adam K. Boyles
Kresge Auditorium
Oct. 16

Celebration — a word associated with a variety of occasions — was expressed by the MIT Symphony Orchestra (MITSO) at the end of a long year-and-a-half without live music. The first MITSO concert of the semester brought forth infectious energy in Kresge Auditorium with a colorful palette of joy consisting of three motivationally similar yet executionally different pieces composed in the early twentieth century. Director Adam K. Boyles welcomed the audience with interpretations of and introductions to the works, which created a relaxing, informal atmosphere for the audience to enjoy.

Bernstein’s Overture to his operetta “Candide” opened up the evening with strong melodic lines and immense power from the large orchestra. The interactions between the string section’s playful pizzicato and wind instruments’ flurry of sound seemed to depict a scene of a bustling crowd at a gathering. The sweeping strings, highlighting the melody from the operetta number “Oh, Happy We,” sang out the sheer jubilation of the occasion, and the joy seemed to spread throughout the orchestra. MITSO really shone in moments like these, when instruments shaped melodic lines together in coherent, vivacious ways.

The second piece, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, welcomed back one of the winners of the MIT Concerto Competition, pianist Venkatesh Sivaraman ’20. The first movement took off with a whip-crack into a spiral of arpeggios and glissandos in the piano, a catchy piccolo tune, and a wash of string thumps acting almost like percussion. Sivaraman allowed the orchestra to shine in many parts, but also knew exactly when to bring out the piano, especially its lowest and highest registers. The tempo of this movement was moderate compared to many other renowned interpretations, but this allowed the jazzy sections to dabble in the soulful blues of the melodies, bringing out the unique sensuality of the piece. The second movement was equally emotive, if not more so, the unaccompanied piano evoking a scene of a lonely waltz in a grey apartment. The serenity slowly called for lustrous harmonies in the orchestra, and the violins cushioned the music in a soft cloud of muted open harmonics. The short third movement rejuvenated the percussive energy of the first movement and hurled into a frenzied excitement at the finale. The standing ovation and cheers from the audience were certainly a fitting epilogue to this musical journey.

The final Feste Romane started drastically differently than the Ravel, with fanfare trumpets in the balcony announcing the deadly imperial Roman circus. The symphonic poem pictured different rituals of Rome in one continuous motion without breaks between the movements. The multitude of percussion instruments, rare emphasis on lower strings, and featured soli evoked different images in each section of the piece. Through this storytelling, MITSO established tension in the air with fire-intense tremolos, crisply accented dissonances in unison, and unexpected instrument entrances. In the fourth movement, the entire orchestra peaked with loud, chaotic, cheer-like notes played by all instruments, which was echoed by the audience with applause, tying the idea of a celebration all together.

“The fact that we are here tonight, listening to live music together again, we ought to celebrate,” expressed Boyles. Without a live performance since March 2020, MITSO may have endured a difficult transition to new instrumentalists and rehearsal constraints at the start of the semester. Despite these complications, the powerful energy from the huge orchestra was chilling to hear live, and the many more concerts to come (three more this semester alone) deserve the attention and cheers of the MIT community and beyond.