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BSO Harbison Premiere Honors Roman Totenberg

Violinist Mira Wang in tribute to her mentor

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Mira Wang performs a world premiere tonight at Symphony Hall honoring her teacher and mentor Roman Totenberg. From him, she says, “I learned that how you treat life, eventually, comes out in how you make music.”

Mira Wang was 16 when she met Roman Totenberg in Poland, where the renowned violinist and longtime BU music professor was judging a competition of young violinists. The girl from China was struck by the kindness of the Polish-born virtuoso and soon wrote to ask if she could study with him in the United States. For the next six years, Totenberg was Wang’s teacher at the College of Fine Arts and beyond, and he welcomed the young musician into his home and family, where she became like another daughter. Tonight, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall, Wang and her husband, cellist Jan Vogler, who live in Dresden and New York, will honor Wang’s mentor and dear friend with the world premiere performance of a piece commissioned specially for the event, Double Concerto for Violin and Cello by John Harbison.

“I learned many things from him musically of course, but the other part of his influence was the kind of person he is, how he treats life,” Wang (CFA’89,’92) said of Totenberg in a recent Boston Globe interview. “I learned that how you treat life, eventually, comes out in how you make music.”

Totenberg, now a CFA professor emeritus, began teaching at Boston University in 1961 and won the University’s highest teaching honor, the Metcalf Cup and Prize, in 1996. Since his debut with the Warsaw Philharmonic at age 11, he has performed with the most famous orchestras in the United States and abroad, but this time will be in the audience, alongside his daughter Nina Totenberg, longtime legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio. Under the direction of Oregon Symphony Orchestra music director Carlos Kalmar, filling in for the ailing James Levine, the BSO will also perform Symphony No. 7 by Gustav Mahler.

A prominent American composer, Harbison has received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, a Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, and a Pulitzer Prize. His compositions include The Great Gatsby for New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, as well as works for the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the BSO. In addition to five symphonies and three operas, he has composed a ballet and many chamber and choral works.

“Harbison is a wonderful composer and the performers are in a way like my children, so I’m very happy about it,” Totenberg told the Globe in February, going on to say he’d attend the concert “even if they bring me on a stretcher.”

The Boston Symphony Orchestra concert honoring Roman Totenberg is on Thursday, April 8, at 8 p.m., at Symphony Hall, 301 Mass. Ave., Boston. Tickets or more information are available here.

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

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