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Concerts showcase MIT's musical talents

The MIT Symphony Orchestra, shown last fall, will perform Mahler's Sixth Symphony in the Inaugural Concert tomorrow night.
The MIT Symphony Orchestra, shown last fall, will perform Mahler's Sixth Symphony in the Inaugural Concert tomorrow night.
Photo / Thomas Maxisch

Gustav Mahler's Sixth Symphony is not for the faint of heart.

"Exhilarating," "cathartic" and "devastating" are some of the adjectives that listeners and critics have used to describe this famous and powerful piece, to be performed tomorrow night by the MIT Symphony Orchestra (MITSO) under the direction of Dante Anzolini in a special Inaugural Concert.

Yet its nickname --the Tragic Symphony--has never fully stuck, says Larry Rothe of the San Francisco Symphony, perhaps because the term is too limiting. "Mahler said that a symphony should encompass the world," writes Rothe, "giving a sense not just of the sublime and the victorious, but also a sense of the dangers and the struggles."

For MITSO director Dante Anzolini, the piece is noteworthy not only for its drama and "tragic" nature, but because "it happens to be one of the most finished works of art he--or anyone else--ever created."

What's more significant for Anzolini, however, is that MITSO has undertaken this ambitious piece. Given the "great skills our students need in order to actually perform this incredible symphony," its selection "sends a very direct message…that music is alive, well and very healthy at MIT," he said. "It can be used as a very powerful argument for the importance and relevance of the arts here."

The free Inaugural Concert will begin at 8 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium.

MITSO will repeat the Mahler 6 program on Friday, May 6, at 8 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. Tickets for this second performance are $5 at the door; free advance tickets are available to members of the MIT community in Room 4-243 this week between 1 and 5 p.m.

A second Inaugural Concert will be held Saturday, May 7, by the MIT Concert Choir. The performance will feature four MIT student soloists in yet another revered and much-discussed piece of music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Requiem." Elisabeth Hon (G), soprano; Elizabeth Smith '05, mezzo soprano; Sudeep Agarwala (G), tenor; and Eduardo Montemayor '07, bass, will perform under the direction of William Cutter.

Considered one of Mozart's most personal and impassioned works, the Requiem--his last composition--has long been shrouded in mystery. Commissioned by an anonymous Austrian nobleman, the work was incomplete when Mozart died; it is said that his widow hired one of Mozart's students to finish it.

The piece has four vocal soloists, but it is the chorus, which is featured in nearly every movement, that is really the star of the piece.

The Concert Choir will also perform Bach's "Cantata No. 50" and Beethoven's "Elegy."

Admission is $5 at the door but members of the MIT community can reserve a free ticket by contacting Vanessa Gardner in the Concerts Office; call 617-253-2826 or e-mail

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 4, 2005 (download PDF).

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