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Professor brings papal music to Wind Ensemble

Music composed by Institute Professor John Harbison and commissioned by the late Pope John Paul II to open the 2004 Papal Concert of Reconciliation will lead the program presented by the MIT Wind Ensemble on Friday, April 29. Fred Harris, lecturer in music, will direct.

"Abraham," Harbison's sacred motet, premiered on Jan. 14, 2004, at the Vatican as a prologue to a concert whose theme was reconciliation among Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The piece is based on the biblical book of Genesis, which characterizes Abraham as "father of many nations" and inspired Harbison with its potential as a "bridge, a mode of communication, a point of commonality" among the religions, he said.

Harbison submitted three modern poems and the verses from Genesis for papal approval and composed "Abraham" in a form similar to the centerpiece of the Reconciliation concert, Mahler's Symphony No. 2, with a chorus and a large brass section.

One of America's most distinguished artistic figures, Harbison has received numerous awards and distinctions, including a MacArthur "genius" grant and a Pulitzer Prize. Harbison has composed music for America's premiere musical institutions, including most recently the Boston Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera. He has also served as composer-in-residence for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Wind Ensemble concert will also feature a premier of work by a former student of Harbison's, Lior Navok.

"Gleams From the Bosom of Darkness," Navok's composition for chorus and wind ensemble, is based on the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Navok, a native of Israel, described "Gleam" as a "journey through darkness while surrounded by ever changing sources of light as in the passage from dark times to better times in life."

Navok has won numerous awards, including the Lily Boulanger Award and the "Prime Minister Award" (Israel). He was the chosen artist of the Israel Cultural Excellence Foundation (IcExcellence) for the year 2003-2004, and has had recent commissions from the Fromm Music Foundation, the American Composers Forum, Collage New Music and a consortium of 20 U.S. wind ensembles.

"Gleam" was commissioned for the MIT Wind Ensemble by the Frank L Battisti 70th Birthday Commission Project, a consortium of 20 universities across the United States and Canada established by Harris in 2001 to honor Battisti, conductor emeritus of the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble.

"The best way to honor Battisti's advocacy for the creation of new works for wind ensembles was to commission composers who were connected to him to create new works," said Harris, who had been a student of Battisti. According to Harris, three of the four pieces created through this project have already been performed multiple times across the country and have been published. The Wind Ensemble's world premiere of "Gleams" is the final work in the series to be presented.

Also on the program will be Milhaud's "Suite Fran̤aise," Grainger's "Molly on the Shore" and Gordon Jacob's Trombone Octet.

The MIT Wind Ensemble concert will be held April 29 at 8 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium.

Admission is $5 at the door. For more information, call 617-253-9800.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 27, 2005 (download PDF).

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