The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: John Harbison’s Symphony No. 6 gets rave reviews at its world premiere by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. | January 22, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

To many Madison-area residents and local classical music fans, John Harbison may be best known as the co-director of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival each summer during which he gives excellent talks, plays jazz and serves as a violist.

Yet John Harbison (below) is far better known throughout the rest of the world as a composer—and a very fine, respected and yes, frequently performed, composer. Many people forget that he has won both a Pulitzer Prize and a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” and that he remains a favorite of Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine, who commissioned Harbison’s opera “The Great Gatsby” to kick off the millennium in 2000.

He continues to teach at MIT and concertizes, especially with the music of Bach, but Harbison is busier than ever with composing new commissions.

This last week saw the world premiere of his Symphony No. 6 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which, under Levine’s direction, started last season to hold a complete retrospective of Harbison’s symphonies.

For health reasons, Levine has left the Boston post, as well as the Met post for next season. But the reviews for the performance under conductor David Zinman and with mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy, are in and they are by and large very positive and agree that Harbison is not a composer to rest on his laurels or repeat himself.

Some critics even called the work, which used both an orchestra and a mezzo-soprano, a “masterpiece” and described it as “powerful.” Below is John Harbison coaching during a rehearsal.

You can read some of the reviews for yourself:

http://theclassicalreview.com/2012/01/zinman-leads-boston-symphony-in-powerful-harbison-premiere/

http://berkshirereview.net/2012/01/harbison-symphony-no-6-premiere-bso-david-zinman-weber-strauss-beethoven-andsnes/#.TxnNJ5jH1UQ

http://bostonclassicalreview.com/2012/01/zinman-leads-bso-in-powerful-harbison-premiere/

http://mta.scripts.mit.edu/CES/2012/01/18/harbisons-6th-symphony-reviews/

Here is also a good set-up or background piece with Harbison talking about his own new symphony (below he takes a bow with the conductor and singer who performed the world premiere of his Symphony No. 6):

http://theclassicalreview.com/2012/01/the-shade-of-levine-hovers-over-new-harbison-symphony/

And the world premiere for John Harbison aren’t over by any means. On Saturday, April 21, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, in a FREE and PUBLIC concert, Habison’s 10-movement String Quartet No. 5 will receive its world premiere from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer). The Pro Arte Quartet commissioned the work to celebrate its centennial this season.

For details of that FREE and public performance and other centennial events, visit: www.proartequartet.org

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2 Comments »

  1. Thanks for this. John Harbison is my favorite contemporary composer. I’ve collected his recorded works since I programmed classical and contemporary serious works on WORT in the 70s.

    Comment by Terri Gregory — January 22, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

    • Hi Terri,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      What can I say?
      You have good taste.
      Make that great taste.
      Glad I could play to it and interest you.
      Be well.
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 22, 2012 @ 5:32 pm


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