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'Night Train' on right track

By Leslie Kandell
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
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For too long now, I’ve held an opinion that Michael Gandolfi has composed two pieces: one is the fascinating, seductive “The Garden of Cosmic Speculation” and the other one isn’t. Now, to honor Tanglewood’s 75th anniversary (of what, is debatable), the Boston Symphony Orchestra commissioned Gandolfi’s smart, winning “Night Train to Perugia,” which opened Sunday afternoon’s program. I’m junking my past prejudice.

Gandolfi, once a student here and now on the faculty, is a successful Boston-based composer with academic positions. His pieces have brainy titles: my “Garden” fave is named after a garden in Scotland -- which has a book named for it -- that was designed according to principles of mathematics and science. (I raced out and bought it when I heard the late 1990's piece. Great photos.)

“Night Train,” writes the composer, was inspired by “an underground scientific ‘test track’ that begins at the CERN particle accelerator in Switzerland and terminates at a research facility under Italy’s Gran Sasso Mountain.” Neutrinos can’t be seen (poetry buffs, find John Updike’s funny “Cosmic Gall” online), but everyone knows what a freight train is, and this train piece is complete with distinctive foggy whistle.

Scored for a big happy orchestra steadily moving forward with harp, piano, bass drum and chimes, it was ably driven by conductor Lorin Maazel, and is at least as good, I venture, as John Adams’ exuberant “Short Ride in a Fast Machine.” (My note to myself doesn’t tell about the piece, but for what it’s worth, I scribbled, “Bull’s Eye!”) Hope this night train stops near me again.

In photo: Composer Michael Gandolfi (in black) takes a bow following the BSO's world premiere performance of his work "Night Train to Perugia," led by conductor Lorin Maazel, on Sunday (Photo by Hilary Scott).

 
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