For his debut concert on Friday, Oct. 26, MIT Symphony Music Director Adam Boyles has selected three classical compositions that reflect turning points in the artistic lives of well-known composers and one contemporary piece that reflects a turning point in recent history.
Boyles was named director of the MIT Symphony Orchestra, known as MITSO, in February 2007. In his debut, he will lead its 80 musicians from MIT and Wellesley in performing Edward Elgar's "The Wand of Youth, Suite No. 1," Johann Sebastian Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3," Sergei Rachmaninov's "Symphonic Dances" and Kevin Puts' "Millennium Canons."
"Although it was not a conscious decision from the outset to give this concert a 'theme,' the common thread that runs through the program is one of examining the past and how it affects one's look at the future," he said.
The most dramatic classical example of this is in the concert's final piece, the "Dances" by Rachmaninov. According to Boyles, Rachmaninov knew the "Dances" would be his final work, and he wove quotations from earlier pieces into this one as a way of coming to terms with his past, particularly the disastrous critical reaction to his "First Symphony."
Audience members might listen for instrumentation that sounds like a child's music box--a glockenspiel's nostalgic note--to know when Rachmaninov is quoting from "First Symphony," Boyles suggested. Themes from his "All-Night Vigil" and the "Dies Irae" chant that plays an enormous role in many of Rachmanov's works also occur in "Dances."
The pieces by Bach and Elgar have similar, yet rosier, reflections on past and future, Boyles said.
"The Brandenburg concerti came at a time in Bach's life after his discovery of the music of Vivaldi, and all six concerti use the conventions of Vivaldi while at the same time expanding the possibilities of the form," Boyles noted.
"As a child, Elgar wrote music for plays that his siblings and childhood companions would create. Years later, as a man then entering his fifties, he reworked some of that music into what we now know as the 'Wand of Youth' suites," Boyles said.
The Boston Pops Orchestra commissioned Puts' "Millennium Canons," the program's contemporary piece, which was completed in 2001 and premiered after Sept. 11, 2001.
"The title has a double meaning, which persists throughout the piece. It's both dense and lyrical, and it gels into a big fresco of sound. 'Canons' embodies the spirit of innocent, yet powerful, optimism that we now associate with our country prior to September 11, 2001," Boyles said.
A native of Tucson, Boyles moved to Brookline this past summer--just in time to get caught up in Boston's annual baseball mood swing. "I grew up a Cubs fan, so I feel for the underdog. I knew I'd be a Red Sox fan when I got here; now I live 10 minutes from Fenway Park.
"This is a wonderful experience--a warm welcome from the MIT faculty and staff; talented, dedicated students, and now, a World Series! I'm very grateful," he said.
Boyles made his New York debut with the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra in the 2004 Kurt Masur Conducting Seminar. He has participated in the Oregon Bach Festival and has guest-conducted with the Muncie Symphony Orchestra, the Austin Chamber Ensemble and the University of Arizona Opera Theater.
As staff conductor at Opera in the Ozarks for two summers, he led performances of "Into the Woods" and "Carmen"; Boyles has also held instructor positions at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Arizona.
Boyles earned a B.A. in voice from Indiana University in 2001 and a master's degree from the University of Arizona, where he helped form and conducted the school's second orchestra, the UA Philharmonic. He received his Ph.D. in musical arts from the University of Texas at Austin in 2005.
Boyles succeeds Dante Anzolini, who served as MITSO's conductor from 1999 to 2006. Paul Biss has served as interim conductor for the 2006-07 season. A full-sized orchestra, MITSO is comprised of MIT and Wellesley students who are accepted by audition; MITSO performs four concerts annually in Kresge Auditorium.
Boyles's debut concert with MITSO begins at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26, in Kresge Auditorium, 84 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, which is handicapped accessible. The event is open to the public, and admission is $5 at the door.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 24, 2007 (download PDF).