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Classical Notes

Setting their sights on multimedia

Music as background to images is familiar from the movies, but tomorrow, the Lexington Symphony and its music director, Jonathan McPhee, are trying something a little different: joining the two in a marriage of equals. In the first of a pair of "Sight and Sound" concerts this season, works by Mendelssohn and Mascagni will be accompanied by specially selected photographs from the Polaroid Collection, projected on screen in the auditorium of the National Heritage Museum in Lexington.

McPhee described the genesis of the project by phone earlier this week. "Like most ideas," he says, "it was somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody" - in this case, Elizabeth Whitfield, the symphony's concertmistress, who made the connection between McPhee and Barbara Hitchcock, Polaroid's director of cultural affairs. McPhee and a contingent from the orchestra went to view the collection, which resides in cold storage. McPhee was "blown away," he says, and sat down with ensemble members to come up with a unifying theme. They decided on animals.

Hitchcock pulled some 250 animal photographs from the collection - "striking images, whimsical ones, anything [she thought had] a strong impact on its own," McPhee says. He printed out the photographs, laid them out on the floor, and started grouping them together, trying to emulate the subtle logic and flow of a well-curated museum, where a great deal of thought goes into juxtapositions among artworks.

In choosing music, McPhee drew on his experience as music director for Boston Ballet, thinking of the collaboration almost as a choreographer might. "I've always been interested in the interaction between art forms," he says. "Since the photo is complete in itself and the music is complete in itself, how does it make you see things in the photo that you wouldn't have seen without the music?"

And, it should be noted, the other way around. McPhee points out that the success of a concert is ultimately contingent on all the audience members listening with their own ears, bringing their own unique experiences to bear. McPhee hopes the combination of music and image will heighten that interaction.

"The music changes the pictures, the pictures also change the music," he says, "but it's the human element, what each audience member brings with them, that's the most interesting."

Arnold Schoenberg's resplendent "Verklärte Nacht" and Georges Bizet's precocious Symphony in C round out the program, which will be presented at 3 and 8 p.m.

Tickets and information: 781-863-9581, lexingtonsymphony.org

Striking out?

The new arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that Boston Pops conductor laureate John Williams unveiled last week for Game 1 of the World Series, in particular a thoroughly untraditional series of chromatic harmonies underpinning the "twilight's last gleaming" phrase, seems to have ruffled a few feathers. Roger Catlin, TV critic for the Hartford Courant, summed up the criticism when he sniffed, "It sounded a little off, as if the brass had warped like woodwinds in the Fenway rain." An unscientific survey of the blogosphere, though, suggests that most Red Sox fans liked it just fine - a far cry from 1944, when Igor Stravinsky famously ran afoul of the Boston Police Department on the grounds that his own mildly modernist arrangement of the anthem (which he had conducted with the Boston Symphony Orchestra) violated a Massachusetts statute prohibiting tampering with national property.

Long road to Longy

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Louis Charles Auguste le Tonnelier, Baron de Breteuil. Breteuil was a statesman, a friend of Marie Antoinette, and an inadvertent catalyst of the French Revolution: It was his precipitate appointment as prime minister, replacing the popular Jacques Necker, that prompted the storming of the Bastille in 1789. But five years previously, as secretary of state of the Maison du Roi, Breteuil had founded a singing school that would become the legendary Conservatoire de Paris, providing a model for subsequent modern music education.

Georges Longy, principal oboe of the BSO from 1898 to 1925, was a Conservatoire graduate. In 1915, seeking to offer a similar curriculum in America, he started the Cambridge school that bears his name. On Sunday, pianist and arts administrator Karen Zorn will be inaugurated as the Longy School of Music's 10th president.

Food for the soul

Musicians are also, in unusually high incidence, epicures, and news of restaurateur Darryl Settles's decision to sell his South End soul-food mecca Bob's Southern Bistro (originally and still widely known as Bob the Chef's) has traveled fast. The lament has been loudest among the jazz community, but at least one classical denizen is dismayed at the thought of a trip to Symphony Hall without a pre-concert chicken/rib combo or fried liver plate.

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