Due to MIT’s recently updated policy regarding COVID-19, MIT has cancelled the concert MITSO MOVIES MACHOVER. Thank you for your understanding.

March 13, 2020 / 8:00pm / Kresge Auditorium
Pre-show Composer Talk / 7:00pm / Kresge Little Theater
MIT Building W16
48 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA

Part of the MIT Sounding series


MIT Sounding concert brings together music with visual images 

The symphony, in the popular imagination, is sometimes regarded as a precious relic, a place where the canonical music of long-dead composers fills the cavernous spaces of gilded concert halls. Though the MIT Symphony Orchestra (MITSO) was founded more than one hundred years ago, what the new concert in the MIT Sounding series, “MITSO MOVIES MACHOVER,” shows is that orchestral music is just as vibrant as ever. 

“There is a common truism that the orchestra is a museum or dying or at least on life support, but as soon as I spent several days listening to 100+ MIT students auditioning, and talking to them about what the orchestra means to them, I realized there was a lot more to it than that,” says Evan Ziporyn, faculty director of the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST), who curates the series and also serves as this year’s director of the orchestra. 

The MIT Sounding series, Ziporyn says, is founded on ideas of juxtaposition and adjacenciesuncovering the connections between diverse musical practices. This latest concert produced by CAST brings together the music of film soundtracks with 2016 Composer of the Year and Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media Tod Machover’s A Toronto Symphony. 

A Beyond-Crowd-Sourced Symphony

In 2013, when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra asked Machover to create an original symphony, he decided to crowd-source the piece. The public was invited to record and upload sounds using a series of custom apps that he developed with his research group, Opera of the Future, at the MIT Media Lab. Incorporating collected field recordings, material developed in workshops throughout the city, and contributions from local musiciansincluding original pieces created by middle-school students with Machover’s graphic composing software Hyperscorethe result was a comprehensive musical portrait of the city. In the process, Machover developed a new participatory mode of composition that he would later bring to different cities around the world. “The final symphony reflects a massive community meditation on how Toronto sounds – and looks, thanks to a video accompaniment provided by Peter Torpey, MAS PhD ‘14 – and what the city means, created together by thousands of people who otherwise might never have met,” Machover says. 

Now, for the first time, one of Machover’s ground-breaking City Symphonies will be played outside the original city that commissioned it. It is also the first time that MITSO has performed one of the Pulitzer Prize-finalist composer’s complex pieces. The students, Machover says, have thrown themselves into the challenge. “The players are making some crazy sounds that I bet they never thought could come out of their instrumentsthink of the wind section sounding like a room full of laughing children, or the string section imitating the beach along Lake Ontario!” he says, “I am certain that the performance will have a sense of vitality, freshness and passion that professional orchestras rarely achieve.” 

To add to the site-specificity of the work, Machover also collaborated with MIT students to create an entirely new section of the piece, which he calls an “MIT reflection on Toronto.” Inserted right before the finale, this section serves “as a kind of dream-like recollection on this sonic journey through Toronto, preparing for the big burst of dance-like energy that comes at the end of the symphony,” he says. Machover is confident that the student orchestra will give the piece a distinct MIT spin, “adding typical MIT wit, invention, sincerity….and maybe even a hack or two.”

The Art of Film Music 

In addition to A Toronto Symphony, MITSO will also perform the world premiere of Three Pieces from the Saul Bass Project by composer and multi-instrumentalist Don Byron. This new work takes its inspiration from graphic designer and filmmaker Saul Bass, who grew up in the same Bronx neighborhood as Byron. Bass’s iconic title sequencesthe opening number from Hitchcock’s Psycho, for exampledefined mid-century cool, playing alongside some of the twentieth century’s most dynamic composers. Byron’s piece will be performed alongside title sequences from noir classics Something Wild, The Shrike, and Walk On the Wild Side. 

“The film composer has a special voice,” says Byron. “He might be asked to do anything in any idiom without judgement. He should have a modern dissonant side and solid understanding of late romantic harmony, must know the orchestra, must have a relationship to popular culture and its music. This is how I’ve modeled my musicianship.”

Audiences will also be treated to John Williams’s “Devil’s Dance” from The Witches of Eastwick, Angelo Badalamenti’s brooding overtures to David Lynch films, and the US premiere of Harry Manfredini’s Friday the 13th Suite, a revamped score for the famed horror film now celebrating its fortieth anniversary. “You’re writing for people who don’t know anything about music,” Manfredini says, who began writing for film while completing his doctorate in music composition and has since scored over 200 films. “They want to laugh, or cry, or be scared. They want to feel emotion.” Today, film music is the primary way many people experience orchestral music, Ziporyn notes, calling it “a wellspring of creativity and inspiration” for composers.  

MITSO MOVIES MACHOVER, in its broad and all-embracing approach, demonstrates that the sound of the symphony orchestra is alive and well. In exploring a variety of ways to pair sound with the moving image, the concert celebrates the musicfrom film soundtracks to the everyday sounds of a citywoven into our common experience. 


Written by Anya Ventura

Event Program:

John Williams, “Devil’s Dance” from Witches of Eastwick

Don Byron, Three Pieces from the Saul Bass Project *World Premiere* (performed live with film)

Angelo Badalamenti, themes to David Lynch films (Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive,Twin Peaks)

Harry Manfredini, Friday the 13th Suite

Tod Machover, A Toronto Symphony *US Premiere*

MIT Symphony Orchestra, Evan Ziporyn, Director

Posted on March 2, 2020 by Arts at MIT
Tagged with: MIT Sounding Series, Music