Thursday, June 03, 2010

Tech Night at Pops

Attending my anniversary class at MIT comes with a nice perk, the entire Symphony Hall is booked for a private concert with the Boston Pops, exclusively for MIT alumni.

It has been quite a while since I was at the hall. When I was a student, I remember thinking what a huge hall it is. Now that I've seen more concert venues, I realize just how small it is. We were seated very close, too close really, so the orchestra was seated higher than us, but even at that angle I was reminded of why the BSO sounds so good. A big part of it is the sound of the hall, both swimming with a rich reverb and very dark in color (much darker than any other American hall I can think of). It makes the strings sound fantastic.

The concert was long, and heavy on the pops part. It started with a nice reading of Ruslan & Ludmilla (Glinka), followed by a favorite piece of Arthur Fiedler, Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter," complete with sound effects. I think only people old enough to remember Fiedler appreciated that piece. And there were plenty of those, the "redcoats" filled the audience, meaning they were their with their 50th+ reunion class. There were people there from the 70th reunion!

Then they went into three feature pieces for one of the violinists playing "Skylark," "Sweet Georgia Brown" (hard to hear without imagining Meadowlark Lemon spinning a basketball on his finger), and "Dark Eyes" (the Russian folk song). This was only moderately interesting. The best jazz player on the stage was the guitarist, not the featured solist.

After intermission, the orchestra played MIT's theme song as a sing-along, then introduced an 18 year-old undergraduate, Sarah Rumbley, from MIT to perform Mendelssohn's first Piano Concerto. Mendlessohn was only about three years older than that when he wrote the piece. It's not his best work, but her performance was beautiful, particularly in the slow movement, and at no point did you feel like you were listening to an electrical engineer sidelining. She's a pro.

The final third of the program honored another former conductor of the pops, John Williams, with three of his favorite works, and concluded with a sing-along to the Beatles Rock Band (the game had been designed by two MIT grads). It was actually quite fun.

All in all, a great evening!
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