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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A non-musician hears the Life Science Orchestra, by Eve Silberman

Many people talented in the sciences also play musical instruments. Hence the creation, nine years ago, of the U-M Life Sciences Orchestra. Its eighty-some members include physicians, med and dental students, engineering alums, and even, somehow, a couple of stray U-M undergrads not connected with the hard sciences. That many of these people at one time during their life may have considered music as a career is suggested in the opening remarks by the remarkable Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, M.D, and million-dollar-a-year CEO of the University of Michigan Health System. Pescovitz had trained as a concert pianist but said that she was nowhere near as good as Life Sciences pianist Cathy Twu, a U-M senior and business major who plans "to pursue a healthcare investment banking job on Wall Street," according to the program. The fierce competition and lack of financial security of concert musicians may explain why Pescovitz and Twu made their career choices, though Twu also "dreams of starting her own children's hospital." May the Market prosper!
The group does two free concerts a year, and I caught the spring one. In some ways, the performance was perfect for classical music novices like myself. One of the group's three pieces was Beethoven's 5th ("Emperor," Mov. 1), and you'd have to be as deaf as the composer when he wrote it not to have previously heard or be moved by this cloudburst of orchestral greatness. The other pieces included "Voyage" by modern composer John Corgliano, and Symphony No. 5 by Tchaikovsky, which went all over the map emotionally. I'm not qualified to offer technical criticism: the orchestra sounded awfully good to me, and conductor Richard Boardman was clearly passionate.
One minor quibble: was it necessary for poet Keith Taylor to read, in both French and English, the Baudelaire poem "L'Invitation au Voyage," that inspired the Corgliano composition? Keith is a wonderful friend to our arts community, but even in an Ann Arbor audience, I'm betting that between ten and twenty percent understand French, and (despite my two years of conjugating French verbs at Ferndale High) I didn't make that cut. Also, I think Keith should have worn a tie in respect to the tuxedoed musicians. But this is petty. Thanks to the mighta-been musicians, this ex-English major who got a D in high school chemistry advanced another step in my classical music education. Thanks, LSO!

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