Arts review

Off to the symphony

The BSO Fall 2014 season begins

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The Boston Symphony Orchestra kicked off their 2014 Season on Sept. 20.
Stu Rosner

“Sinfonia concertante” for Flute, Oboe, Bassoon, & Horn in E-flat by Mozart

“Bachianas brasileiras” No.5 by Villa-Lobos

Symphony No. 5 in C minor by Beethoven

Symphony Hall, Sept. 20, 2014

Last Saturday evening I had the pleasure of watching the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2014 Fall Season premiere. But before I got there, I had to actually get there, a process that no one had really explained to me before. So, for all the other hapless fools like me out there, here is how to get a ticket to watch a BSO performance.

First, MIT students need to get a college card, which are sold for $5 at CopyTech, located in the basement of Lobby 7. Bring these college cards to the BSO Box Office in Boston to get leftover tickets for performances that haven’t sold out yet. Some college card tickets run out within the first few days, and some tickets are available up until 7 p.m. on performance nights.

Tickets sales end at 7 p.m., even if the concert isn’t until 8 p.m. The doors open only at 7 p.m., though, so unless you have time to explore the plethora of restaurants in the area, you will be stuck wandering around for a while. Or, like me, you can hide in the empty underground Green Line T-station and play mobile games for a while.

Once I finally made it to the BSO, however, the program was an absolute treat. The opening piece, “Sinfonia concertante” had a hilarious description in the program. As it turns out, Mozart may not have written the piece at all. Some scholars believe that the writing for solo instruments is characteristic of Mozart’s style, but others insist that the music simply isn’t good enough to be Mozart.

After hearing the piece performed, I found merits in both arguments. The melodies for the wind instrument solos were detailed and fascinating — the orchestral parts much less so. In fact, the wind instruments simply shined in this piece, something that became obvious as soon as the flautist began his solo in the first movement. The wind soloists were quirky and interesting, and I was glad to see them return in full force in the third movement. The orchestra parts were not as memorable, but I was still impressed with how great and perfectly in tune they sounded.

To illustrate how perfect they sounded, know this — the acoustics of the Symphony Hall are often praised as one of the best classical concert venues in the world. Even sitting 20 or so rows back, I could hear the lightest touch of a bow on a string, the faintest beginnings of a note. It is no wonder that performers at the BSO are so highly respected. They cannot cut any notes short or change bow strokes too fast without having that mistake broadcast to the entire hall.

At the same time, the acoustics are perfect for showcasing soloist that sounds incredible, as was the case for Nicole Cabell, the soprano in “Bachianas Brasileiras”. With her amazing range of dynamics and angelic purity of tone, she quickly became the star of that night’s performance. Supported by an “orchestra of cellos,” the soprano’s dynamics went from the volume of a whisper to a full, rich ringing throughout the hall. With some shouts of “Bravo” after her aria, and a thunderous applause at the end, the audience was clearly and completely won over by her expressive voice.

However, there was a slight imbalance between the orchestra and the singer. The soprano made the unfortunate but common mistake of moving too far back from the microphone in order to see the conductor. As a result, she was a little drowned out during the dança by the eight cellos enthusiastically playing layers and layers of Brazilian rhythms.

Despite the balance issues, this piece was still my favorite performance of the night. One of the most precious things a performance can give you is a beautiful sound you’ve never heard before. For me, that new sound was Cabell’s vocalise — a wordless melody — an octave above the cellos playing the same in a rich cantabile voice. The harmony was exquisite, the kind of combination that can only be created by two voices perfectly in tune. The fact that it was a human voice produced bouche fermée (“with mouth closed”) and an instrument made it a completely new experience for me.

As for Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 5 in C minor, for me and probably for the majority of the audience, there was nothing new to find. The instantly recognizable opening four-note motif and the familiar feeling of being swept along by musical crescendos made listening to this piece felt like coming home. For the first time that night, the orchestra players started to look like they were having fun. After hearing the BSO play this piece flawlessly, I can understand why Symphony No. 5 is widely considered to be one of the most perfect symphonies ever written.

I strongly encourage everyone in the MIT community to pay a visit to this historical hallmark of musical achievement. I came in expecting an international-level performance, and I was still blown away. This experience will be a treasure in my memories for a long time.