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Let the music begin

November 19, 1998

Every so often I feel compelled to hang out on the fringes of decency, so as not to fall in to a world filled exclusively with sweat pants, onion dip and reruns of the Great Alaskan Shootout at 3 a.m. on ESPN 2.

Since Antietam Cable is the enemy of airing good football games, this weekend seemed a good time to hear the symphony - which, unlike the Redskins vs. Eagles, Ravens vs. Chargers, can boast some real action.

That's because there are four contestants duking it out for the job of maestro, the position vacated by Barry Tuckwell last year.

The four finalists, three men and one woman, each have a crack at directing the MSO, with the winner to be selected by a consensus of the symphony board, the community and the musicians.


Last week it was Guest Conductor Number Two, Markand Thakar. For the record, the MSO gets huffy when you call them "guests" instead of "candidates." (So in the Carson years, Jay Leno must have really been a "candidate host.")

I don't know a whole lot about classical music, so I tend to judge a conductor on the amount of manic ferocity he puts into the act. If a maestro grips the wand like a fillet knife and stabs at the air with the unfettered urgency of one gutting a sickly deer on a warm afternoon, I'm in the tank.

But I can never express my feelings at the concert itself, where a reference to a disembowelment would not go down well among people who become nettlesome over the difference between a candidate and a guest.

Matter of fact, I can't say much of anything at all for fear of betraying ignorance. Walking out with me Saturday were a couple of highly sophisticated and orchestra-savvy people, one of whom mentioned with a laugh of light irony that some she talked to at intermission liked the arrangements but not the selections, while others cared not for the selections but acknowledged they were well-arranged.

That comment was followed by a pregnant pause as she awaited my response. I drew up an air of great contemplation, knitting the brow, pursing the lips, staring first at the ceiling, then bowing my head to the floor punctuated with a single, brooding nod. The crowd around me seemed to stop, as if set to absorb a classical nugget of wisdom. And all the while I'm saying to myself "Don't say something stupid, don't say something stupid, don't say something stupid."

Finally I drew in a measured breath, and said with the attitude of one who wishes to be immeasurably insightful: "Well - what are you going to do?" They gave me one of those "Yes, what indeed" looks before quickly distancing themselves as the crowd melted away.

No. I'm more in line with a gentleman who, I swear, commented on the candidates as he exited the hall "I like them all as long as they don't stink." That's where I am. I like them all. Mr. Thakar was marvelous, the orchestra was up to its usual standards of perfection and the virtuoso pianist, 23-year-old Terrence Wilson, was positively mind-boggling.

My only criticism is that it took a long time to get the piano rolled to center stage. Pink Floyd would have done it in a third the time. Coming up out of the floor probably, with lots of smoke and maybe some lasers.

Two more conductors will direct the orchestra Jan. 16-17 and Feb. 20-21 with the winner to return for the March concert. We are so fortunate to have the Maryland Symphony Orchestra in Hagerstown. If you think you can find any entertainment better than this west of the cities, go ahead - be my candidate.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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