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Details are set for Symphony Hall tsunami aid concert

The program details for Sunday night's tsunami relief concert in Symphony Hall have been completed. The proceeds benefit AmeriCares.

There will be a 40-piece chamber orchestra, the Caritas Ensemble, including Boston Symphony Orchestra members, other prominent area musicians, and three local string quartets: the Jupiter, the Lydian, and the Muir. Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart will preside over most of the program; John Oliver leads the orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a movement from Brahms's ''A German Requiem."

The concert begins with Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Trumpets, with BSO players Thomas Rolfs and Benjamin Wright as soloists. The Lydian Quartet will be featured in Elgar's ''Introduction and Allegro."

Bach's Fifth Brandenburg Concerto features flutist Renee Krimsier, violinist Malcolm Lowe, and harpsichordist John Gibbons. Wagner's ''Siegfried Idyll" follows, and the program closes with Respighi's first suite of ''Ancient Airs and Dances."

The concert begins at 7:30 and will be broadcast live by WCRB-FM (102.5). The event was organized by Krimsier and BSO bassoonist Richard Ranti. Tickets are priced at $45 and $55.

More tsunami aid: Another tsunami relief concert last week, ''Lux Aeterna," which featured 200 singers from Boston-area choruses in the Arlington Street Church, raised $13,000 for Oxfam's tsunami fund. One byproduct of the successful event is that the singers are exploring the possibility of creating a Boston Choral Festival.

Teatro Lirico explanation: An e-mail message from Teatro Lirico D'Europa explains some of the onstage confusion at the opening night performance of its production of ''La Bohème" last week in the Cutler Majestic Theatre.

The company's own sets for the opera, which had been shipped from Europe, did not arrive on time, so company artistic director Giorgio Lalov had to rent the scenery from Tri-Cities Opera at the last moment. It is no wonder that problems arose on sets with which no one was familiar, but some kind of announcement should have been made.

All performances were sold out, but many patrons could not use their tickets because of the blizzard, so the company has scheduled an extra performance of ''La Bohemme" on Easter Sunday (March 27). Tickets patrons were unable to use on earlier dates will be honored, and the public is invited to buy the remaining seats. The company will be performing with its own sets, which arrived in Norfolk, Va., Jan. 20, and with one of its regular conductors, Krassimir Topolov, who canceled the Boston engagement because of illness.

Babbitt on Ellis: You never know what you are going to wind up talking about when you are having a conversation with Milton Babbitt, the modernist master composer whose ''Concerti for Orchestra" was premiered by James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra a few weeks ago. Babbitt is a polymath, and knowledgeable about unexpected things.

One of the things he talked about was the American pop singer Anita Ellis, who is one of his favorites; he used to assign his students to go to hear her during her rare New York club appearances in the 1970s.

Ellis had a most unusual career. Born in Montreal in 1920, she was the sister of future Broadway star Larry Kert (''West Side Story" and ''Company"). Terrified of live performance in her own persona, Ellis became the off-screen singing voice for 1940s film stars like Rita Hayworth and Vera-Ellen, who couldn't sing themselves. She also sang on the radio and was a regular guest on ''The Red Skelton Show."

''Do you remember a movie called 'Three Little Words'?" Babbitt asked. ''It was a terrible movie about songwriters, but Anita Ellis did some great singing for Vera-Ellen. She really knew how to deliver a pop song, how to phrase, how to use the words. You can't get a concert or opera singer to do it right."

Babbitt then sprang a surprise by making an exception -- and it wasn't the predictable Dorothy Kirsten or Eileen Farrell, who are invariably cited as uncommon opera singers equally at home in a pop tune. Babbitt's exception was former Met diva Anna Moffo, who made a rare 45 of Gershwin songs in Italy that he prizes.

This conversation prompted a return to Ellis's records. Three of her LPs made between 1956 and 1960, expensive rarities in their original form, have appeared on CD, along with an earlier disc of radio performances and one later album from the '70s. Her last appearance was in 1987; after that she slipped into the shadows of Alzheimer's. She boasted a honey-colored mezzo-soprano; elegant, rhythmically complex phrasing; a highly personal ornamentation of the vocal line. Her inflections of the words could be surpassingly tender (''Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year"), yet also highly dramatic without ever screaming.

At her best, there were few to match her; the composer Ned Rorem put her in a class with Lotte Lenya, Edith Piaf, and Billie Holiday, although she was never a performer in the sense that they were. 

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