Bach Society Orchestra
Musical performance is like a wrestling match. The all-too-human performer is pitted against the sly and recalcitrant Being called musical composition. Either the performer or the music is on top; either the performer is actually playing the music, or else the music in a sense plays the performer, bending him to its will.
Never were these extremes more in evidence than in the Bach Society Orchestra's concert last Saturday night. Apparently set on shedding its all-Baroque image, the BSO performed a quarter of works representing every major stylistic period from the Baroque to the twentieth century. The program consisted of the instrumental sinfoniae from three J.S. Bach contatas, Wagner's Sieg-fried Idyll in its original instrumentation, Quiet City by Aaron Copland, and Beethoven's Eighth Symphony. It was the most ingenious program assembled at Harvard in the past several years. These works, all scored for a chamber orchestra, were ostensibly tailor-made for the Bach Society's diminutive instrumental forces.
But after a good start in the first Bach sinfonia, the orchestra began having trouble. Failing to complement a fine oboe solo by Robert Hecker, the strings evidenced poor, high-schoolish intonation in the second and third sinfoniae and in general let the music control them. The sinfoniae were further flawed by a glaring absence of dynamic contrast and formal clarity.
The orchestra and Conductor Daniel Hathaway both seemed more at home in the romantic Siegfried Idyll. For the first time there was an attempt to provide the music with a decent amount of expression, dynamic contrast, and formal shape. Thrown into relief by the work's reduced instrumentation, the winds--except for the French horns--showed themselves capable of an incisive handing of leitmotif and at times produced a positively luscious ensemble sonority.
The Idyll's original performance was by a minimum of musicians strung along the stairway of the Wagner villa. In a misguided attempt at authenticity, Hathaway eliminated most of the Bach Society's already small complement of strings. Without security in numbers. the string players were cowed by the infamous intonation problems of this highly chromatic piece.
For Aaron Copland's Quiet City (1940), the Bach Society had the advantage of two fine wind players. Alan Pease's trumpet was as "nervous" as is called for in the score, and Fred Fox's English horn was properly dark and seductive. The strings handled their part with a minimum of painful intonation and a good deal of taste. All in all Quiet City was the most successful of the works attempted, evocative where the others were dutiful.
The Beethoven "Eighth," in contrast to the giant Seventh and Ninth Symphonies, is classical in length as well as instrumentation. With its mere 16 strings, the BSO was attempting to follow the example of former conductor Jack Jackson's classical Beethoven's "First."
This vear's Bach Society failed to live up to the expectation of authenticity which it aroused. Though classical in terms of instrumental forces, it played the Beethoven with a Romantic concept of dynamics. Instead of a long crescendo, the development of the first movement was a wearingly consistent fortissimo. In the second movement, the wind-string balance was totally off, reaffirming the traditional inability of Harvard winds to play softly. Even considering the conservative tempo of the last movement, the orchestra's struggling with the notes is forgiveable; but its loudness and dullness is not.
More annoying was Hathaway's conducting. He is by far the most extravagant conductor at Harvard. Flam-boyance is all right if it corresponds to what the orchestra is doing, but Hathaway's gestures were for the most part superflous and asked for momentous musical events where they were not called for. He did show an uncanny instinct for pace, but his excellent section leaders should share credit for this. On the whole, he behaved as though he were conducting a mammoth Romantic orchestra like the Berlin Philharmonic, in blatant contradiction to the classical and chamber-like possibilities of the orchestra and his own program.
That program was designed to take advantage of the orchestra's size, but it also tended to expose the orchestra's weaknesses and shortcomings. Had Hathaway been more sensitive to the real potential of his orchestra, there might have been some fine results. As it was, the Bach society's performance--energetic, amateurish, on top of the music as much as laboring under its weight--was Harvard music at its most typical, if not at its best.
The CRIMSON is pleased to announce its junior executives for 1967-8: James K. Glassman '69 of Quincy House and Chevy Chase, Md., News Editor; Joel R. Kramer '69 of Eliot House and Glen Oaks, N.Y., News Editor; W. Bruce Springer '69 of Leverett House and Shawnee Mission, Kansas, News Editor; Charles F. Sabel '69 of Eliot House and West Hempstead, New York, Editorial Editor; John D. Reed Jr. '69 of Eliot House and Lincoln, Editorial Features Editor; James M. Lardner '69 of Adams House and New York City, Book Editor; Jeffrey C. Alexander '69 of Lowell House and Los Angeles, Assistant Features Editor; Richard R. Edmonds '69 of Lowell House and Wilmette. Ill., Assistant Features Editor; David L. Friedman '69 of Lowell House and Los Angeles, Advertising Manager; Beth L. Pollock '68 of Henry House and Chicago, Office Manager.