Arts concert review

Tech Night at Pops: a long-lasting tradition worth attending

Holden Mui ’25 solos with the Pops, performing Rhapsody in Blue

10570 rhapsody
Holden Mui '25 performs George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue at Tech Night at Pops, Friday, May 31.
Photo courtesy of Mel Musto/Boston Capture

Tech Night at Pops 

Boston Pops 

Conducted by Keith Lockhart 

Holden Mui ’25 on piano 

Boston Symphony Hall

May 31, 2024 


The first night of Tech Reunions on Friday, May 31, 2024 began with the 126th Tech Night at Pops in Symphony Hall. Conducted by Keith Lockhart, the Boston Pops performed repertoire appropriate for the festive occasion: well-known celebratory pieces, iconic film scores, and jazz masterworks. The concert was packed with MIT alumni of all ages, and the atmosphere was abuzz with energy. 

The orchestra started the concert with familiar pieces that evoked feelings of not only joy, but pride. Listening to Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstances at a live performance was delightful because each instrument had a distinct sound, from the xylophone’s penetrating notes to the horn’s brassy, march-like tune. 

Although Pomp and Circumstances was jovial, Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter '' from The Planets suite stood out more because the movement resembled a cinematic story. “Jupiter” opened with the rapid movement of strings that bristled with excitement, then developed into a well-recognized lyrical melody that transfixed the audience because of its uplifting effect. Following “Jupiter” was In Praise of MIT, MIT’s school song. The slow, sweet melody tinged with nostalgia kindled rare feelings of school spirit among the whole audience. 

Afterward, the Pops played a well-curated triptych of John Williams’ film scores. The trumpet’s dotted rhythms and syncopation in “The Raiders March” had an adventurous and playful mood. On the other hand, the calm and airy sounds in “Yoda’s Theme” were highly evocative of the celestial wonders, a pleasant change in timbre from the previous pieces that were predominantly jubilant. The film score trilogy concluded with “Harry’s Wondrous World,” an interesting piece that starts with an uncertain and mysterious tone but then transitions to a hopeful melody, suggesting that the world has yet to be explored. 

The second part of the performance consisted of the Pops playing a diverse selection of jazz pieces; each work provided a different facet to the wide array of tone colors. Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” had a busy and upbeat nature, while Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” had a drowsy and melancholic effect. George Gershwin’s works complemented Ellington's because they highlighted jazz’s lively and ever-changing energy, whether it was the rapid ascending chromatic sequences in “Three Preludes” or the mischievous trills in “Fascinating Rhythm.”

The main highlight of the concert was Gershwin’s famous Rhapsody in Blue, a concerto-like piece that combines jazz and classical music. Holden Mui ’25 was the piano soloist for this piece. Rhapsody in Blue began with a hazy, ruminative clarinet solo that takes on a jazzy sound, a trait not typically associated with this woodwind instrument. The call and response among the woodwind and brass instruments was amusing because it was like a dialogue between various human characters in a story. 

Watching pianist Holden Mui’s rendition of Rhapsody in Blue was a one-of-a-kind experience. His execution of the chords was spot on as they were crisp and crystal clear, loud without having to slam the keys. It was impressive to see him play the fast-paced sections meticulously, as if the notes vanished into thin air. Besides demonstrating great mastery in the technical aspects of the piece, his solo flowed well with the orchestra: the light piano staccato paired well with the pizzicato of the strings.

Mui’s stage presence was also captivating: he lifted his hands off with flair without being flamboyant. He was deeply absorbed in the music, which was evident based on how well he employed the rubato. These subtle changes in tempo allowed the piece to take on a fuller dimension, reflecting the pianist’s creative interpretation and improvisational tendencies. By doing so, Mui provided the audience with a refreshing take on a classic American work. 

Rhapsody in Blue ended on an interesting note because of the music’s complex style and emotions. While the orchestral work is best known for its jazz-like characteristics, parts of the music sounded like melodies from the late Romantic Era and early 20th century. The last part of the piece experienced many transitions, from the incredibly moving melody to the boisterous, momentous finale. The moment after the piece ended, everyone in the audience gave a standing ovation for Mui and the orchestra. There were cheers and hollers from the crowd, with some yelling “Encore!” 

The concert concluded with John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," a suitable choice because everyone came together to clap to the rhythm. A light-hearted piece, "Stars and Stripes Forever" had the piccolos as the spotlight, and their special timbres were analogous to the pleasant chirps of cheery birds. Right before the performance ended, red confetti suddenly came down onto the audience, ending the 126th Tech Night at Pops with a bang. 


June 13, 2024 (7:55 PM): A previous version of this titled erroneously identified the rendition of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" as George Gershwin's " 'S Wonderful." This error has since been corrected.