Summers Backs Out of Orchestra Event

Dean Gross set to replace president as narrator in HRO’s Copland performance

University President Lawrence H. Summers has scrapped his plan to narrate the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra’s October 29 performance of Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait”—but according to members of the symphonic group, Summers’ withdrawal from the event came too late for the orchestra to edit its season brochures, which cost about $900 to print.

Current and past board members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (HRO) said that over the summer, Summers told the group that he would narrate the tribute to Lincoln, which was written by Copland in 1942.

The group had previously planned to perform Italian composer Ottorino Respighi’s 1924 tone poem “Pines of Rome” at its Oct. 29 concert, but HRO altered its plans after Summers said he would narrate the Copland composition.

More than a month before the concert, in mid-September, Summers told HRO leaders that he would not participate in the Oct. 29 event. The orchestra’s season premiere falls on the second day of this year’s Freshmen Parents Weekend. According to Summers’ spokesman John Longbrake, the president “had a conflicting family obligation.”

According to Longbrake, “a member of his staff has expressed President Summers’ deep regrets to the leadership of HRO.” Longbrake added that a Summers staff member also worked to arrange for Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71, a violist and former HRO member, to replace Summers as narrator.

“My last experience with the HRO was in 1971, so I may be a bit rusty,” Gross wrote in an e-mail.

But the orchestra’s business manager, violinist Alexander U. Fortes ’07, said that Gross is a “captivating speaker.” And when asked whether the Copland performance would be improved by the participation of the musically-inclined Gross in place of Summers, Fortes said, “I think it very well may.”

Even if the switch of narrators leads to a better performance, though, the change of plans occurred after the orchestra had printed season brochures that featured Summers’ photograph. And it came after Harvard Magazine had sent its September-October issue to alumni highlighting Summers’ slated appearance with HRO in the magazine’s “Extracurriculars” section.

The president of the orchestra, James F. Collins ’07, said yesterday that “though we are very disappointed that President Summers had to cancel, we are very excited to have Dean Gross as our narrator.” He declined to comment further.

Several other past and current HRO board members who spoke to The Crimson asked that their names not be used because they did not want to appear as though they were undermining Collins’ status as the group’s leader and public voice.

HRO, with a roster of more than 100 members, traces its history back to 1808 when a half-dozen Harvard men supposedly formed a musical organization “dedicated to the consumption of brandy and cigars as well as the serenading of young ladies,” according to the orchestra’s website.

Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” incorporates text of several of the 16th president’s letters and speeches—including the Gettysburg address.

A long list of dignitaries has narrated public performances of the “Portrait” in the past, ranging from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to U.S. Senator Barack Obama, D-Ill., who appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in September.

Tickets for the HRO’s Oct. 29 performance are on sale at the Harvard Box Office, and season subscriptions can be purchased on the group’s website, www. hrorchestra.org.

—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at hemel@fas.harvard.edu.