'Weathering the Storm' Through Community and Music

This year’s MIT Summer Philharmonic Orchestra concert took on Beethoven’s "Pastoral Symphony" and Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring".

To mark the end of MIT Professional Education’s summer season of courses, on July 27th, a capacity audience of over 1200 people filled up MIT’s Kresge Auditorium to attend one of Cambridge, Massachusetts’ most anticipated events, the MIT Summer Philharmonic Orchestra’s (MITSPO) annual performance. Now in its 22nd year, Conductor George Ogata ‘92 in consultation with MIT Professional Education Executive Director, Bhaskar Pant, chose the theme, "Weathering the Storm," in response to the significant political upheavals taking place in the US and around the world. The selected accompaniments, according to Ogata, “immediately and logically followed:” Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, which contains one of the most famous musical depictions of a storm in the fourth movement, and for the highlight of the concert, Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” a piece that was considered so avante-garde in its time, it incited a metaphorical storm of public fury when it first debuted in Paris in 1913.

"When musicians first started working on “The Rite of Spring,” they were baffled and probably full of fear: this was a new language in classical music," said Ogata. "'Rite' is famous for being a furiously complex piece, and I can safely say this was the most difficult piece I had ever conducted. MITSPO worked tenaciously on this piece, putting it together with aplomb and courage, and the result of their hard work was one of the most stunning performances I’ve ever been a part of."

Ogata’s assessment of MITSPO’s performance this year was an opinion shared by many. "It was absolutely lovely. The effort of [everyone], including the members of the MIT Summer Philharmonic Orchestra, led to a brilliant result," raved one concert-goer.

"The concert was incredible," said the mother of a MITSPO bassoon player, "but I’m sure you could see and hear that from the notes played and the multiple standing ovations!"

"George Ogata and his orchestra have to be commended for bringing us an extraordinarily rousing performance of Stravinsky’s 'Rite of Spring' that people are still talking about," said Bhaskar Pant, adding, "We at Professional Education are proud to be associated with such a high-caliber, MIT alum-led annual event as a service to the community around us."

MITSPO has been sponsored by MIT Professional Education every year since it was first founded by Ogata in 1995. The concert was originally organized as a way for musicians within the MIT and Greater Boston community to continue practicing and playing music during the summer months, which are essentially the “off season” in the classical world. 

"I love the family that MITSPO provides. For 22 seasons, MITSPO has been among the warmest group of people—loyal and positive—I’ve ever met in my life," said Ogata. "They are dedicated to their craft, passionate in their approach and execution. They make me want to excel myself. Plus, I get to make music at the highest level with these experienced musicians."

Among those in the orchestra this year were Justin Solomon, X-Consortium Career Development Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, who first performed with MITSPO as a high school intern at MIT. When he returned to MIT as a faculty member and learned that MITSPO still existed, he immediately signed up to play again. "George Ogata continues to choose challenging music for MITSPO, and preparing to play Stravinsky this year was still a challenge even after over a decade of additional practicing under my belt!" said Solomon. "But one of the great qualities of playing in a symphony like MITSPO is the unifying aspect: High school students, professors, community members, and others all share the same experience of playing a great piece of music."