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A concert preview, in the director's words

March 17, 1999|By ELIZABETH SCHULZE

It is a great pleasure and a great honor to be writing this concert preview as the next music director of Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

I'm looking forward to continuing a tradition of high-level performance as established by founding music director Maestro Barry Tuckwell.

Over the next few years, MSO will work to forge even stronger ties to schools and the Hagerstown community at large. Plans already are under way to develop programming and instruction geared to bring families and young people to great music and to our performances. You will hear more about these plans when I officially begin my duties in July.

On Saturday, March 20, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 21, at 3 p.m., Maryland Symphony Orchestra will perform its final concerts of the season at The Maryland Theatre. For the program, this season's artistic adviser, Gustav Meier, selected three works that show off the orchestra in all of its virtuosic glory and which plumb the depths of human experience at its most triumphant and most intimate.

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The first work on the program is Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" (1919), a selection of movements from the composer's ballet written for the great impresario Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes in 1910. "The Firebird" was the first work to bring Stravinsky international recognition.

While the melodies in the music for the "Princess's Round" and the "Berceuse" and "Finale" hearkened back to the great Russian folk-inspired music of the 19th-century masters such as Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov, the jarring rhythm of "Kastchai's Infernal Dance" and the instrumental color of the "Firebird's Dance" immediately told listeners in Paris, 1910, that they were encountering a new and important voice.

The second work on the program is Aaron Copland's "Quiet City" (1940). This work is an arrangement of music that Copland wrote to accompany a play of the same title by Irwin Shaw, directed by the controversial Elia Kazan.

The play depicted a young musician who expressed his feelings and those of his compatriots through his trumpet. In this arrangement, for solo trumpet, English horn and strings, Copland's open harmonies and use of repetitive rhythmic motives take the listener on an intimate musical journey. "Quiet City" has remained one of Copland's most popular works. The soloists for these performances will be MSO's principal trumpet player Charles L. Grab Jr. and the orchestra's English horn player David M. James.

After the intermission, the orchestra will perform one of the greatest masterworks in the repertoire: Beethoven's "Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 (Eroica)." The fact that dissertation, books and articles continue to be written about this great work proves that the "Heroic" symphony has riches still to be discovered. This is a work that reveals itself over many hearings.

If you have never heard this work performed live, now is your chance to begin a wondrous journey. The symphony tells the epic story of a hero and is dedicated to "the memory of a great man."

The hero of this symphony is at times mythological and at other times, an everyman. Modern scholarship has suggested that Beethoven used Homer's "The Iliad," which tells of the adventures of the hero Achilles, as a programmatic inspiration for the symphony.

The musical material of the final movement comes from Beethoven's earlier ballet "The Creatures of Prometheus." The ballet depicted the enlightenment of humanity through the efforts of the great hero, Prometheus.

Napoleon Bonaparte was the modern-day hero whom Beethoven also had in mind as he wrote this symphony. The composer admired the "little corporal" who rose from obscurity to become a great leader.

The symphony was originally dedicated to Napoleon. However, when Bonaparte crowned himself emperor, he became a tyrant in Beethoven's eyes and the dedication was angrily withdrawn.

Stravinsky once said, "When one sits on a chair, nothing is more unpleasant than to find on it the warmth of someone else's bottom."

The composer's struggle to find a new path and to be an original voice will always be his or her greatest challenge. This Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at The Maryland Theatre, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra will perform a program framed by two of the most successful efforts to meet this challenge. I invite you to join us.




Elizabeth Schulze recently was named the new music director of Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

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