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MSO strikes the right note with selection of Schulze

March 19, 1999

If the Maryland Symphony Orchestra board was provincial and rawboned in its treatment of founding conductor Barry Tuckwell, it was equally smart and seamless in the selection process that brought us Elizabeth Schulze, who becomes only the second maestro in the symphony's 17-year history.

Keep in mind I'm writing from the perspective of a fellow who thinks an impresario is a new line of computers from Compaq, but I believe Schulze to be an excellent choice.

Any of the four finalists chosen by the MSO board would have been fine, no question. It's a tribute to the people who run the symphony and play in the symphony (and of course to Tuckwell, who put it all in place and built its reputation) that Hagerstown was able to attract such talent.

Leaving the musical critiques to the experts, two things in particular struck me about Schulze.

First was the vibrancy of her performance. The old theater's plaster cherubs themselves must have felt the rush, as Schulze would bend at the knees then all but launch herself from the podium with the radiant countenance of one who not only hears the music but feels it, bathes in it and rubs the notes between thumb and forefinger like a fine silk.

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I like a person who enjoys her work.

The second item that impresses me are Schulze's her public comments about what she wants the symphony to be for the community.

Unfairly or not, symphonies have the aura of being "up there" while the people are "down here." Schulze talks of building bridges between the symphony and the schools, the symphony and families, the symphony and the man - better make that woman - on the street.

Schulze herself says she's not above "getting out and boogieing." During a press conference she broke into a bar of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and said she might just sing at the July 4 Concert at Antietam.

No one can be expected to match the impish yet mindful playfulness of Tuckwell who would tickle the music under its nose with a feather and have an intellectual, rollicking good time at the expense of classical music's moth-ball set.

But I'm guessing Schulze will add a new humanity and intuitiveness to the symphony that people of all ages and musical tastes will identify with.

A quick glance at a symphony orchestra crowd anywhere strongly suggests the need for the leavening of youth. An avenue must be found for young (young being 50 and under) people and what Schulze properly refers to as the great art of classical music to get together and shake hands.

As maestro, Schulze appears eager not only to revel in the artistry, but to roll up her sleeves and get out and do some classical music missionary work among the people of our community.

Through the past few years of symphony watching, I've almost always bumped into someone who was seeing a concert for the first time - folks from varying social and economic strata with whom you would not at first glance associate an appreciation of second bassoons.

Yet they're almost invariably taken aback by what they've heard and ready to come back for more. Classical music doesn't give you the sugar-rush of beating pop songs like "Whip It" by Devo; it takes a little effort, like acquiring a taste for asparagus. But I think in today's microwave popcorn world, the time could be ripe for a little substance. The product is good; it just needs greater exposure.

The MSO's maestro tryout was a brilliant stroke that fueled interest and chatter in the community as music lovers compared notes on the performances of the four finalists. It was a nice connection between the people and the stage.

A symphony, dare we say, has room for a spot of intrigue and a fillip of clever marketing after all. Now it's up to Schulze to build on that interest and expand the membership in the club. Every indication is that she knows what has to be done and has a good idea how to do it.

After a Sahara-dry winter, it snowed when Schulze first came to town. It snowed when she returned for the announcement of her selection. And it snowed this week when she was to conduct her first rehearsal.

Certainly this is a sign of something. Perhaps it means that if Schulze can get artistically challenged flakes such as myself me to come down and take interest, there is a bright future both for the community at large and for one of Hagerstown's finest institutions, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

* Schulze and the MSO will perform at 3 p.m. today in the Maryland Theatre at 21 S. Potomac St. in Hagerstown. Tickets are expected to still be available at concert time.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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