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Audience lauds new conductor

March 21, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra had a blockbuster of a program Saturday night that began with a standing ovation.

What brought the almost full house to its feet before the music began was Elizabeth Schulze, who was conducting her first concert as music director designate of the MSO at The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown. Her three-year contract begins July 1.

"It's a virtuosic program. It's a big program," Schulze said during Prelude, a preconcert discussion. She said the blend of Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird Suite," Aaron Copland's "Quiet City" and Ludwig van Beethoven's "Symphony No. 3," highlighted some of music's most acclaimed and challenging pieces.

At times during her 30-minute discussion, Schulze sang portions of the pieces, apologizing to those with perfect pitch that she could only present them in her voice's range.

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"The orchestra is being reborn tonight," said Schulze, 41, former associate conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. Not only were its members being challenged by the music, but they were starting a new era under her leadership.

Schulze called Stravinsky a genius, "one who has to be reckoned with." She compared him to Picasso, saying that every piece of music or art that followed theirs was either a reaction toward or against their works.

In complete contrast, "Quiet City" was a softer work that Schulze said contains heartfelt, moving sentiment. The piece highlighted principal trumpeter Charles L. Grab Jr. and principal English horn player David M. James, who echoed each other throughout.

Saturday's concert marked the first time Schulze had performed the Stravinsky and Copland pieces in their entirety, though she is very familiar with them.

"They were a nice new arrival to my repertoire," she said.

During intermission, some audience members expressed their approval of the music, the orchestra and its new conductor.

"She's just amazing," said Anne Effland of Myersville, Md., who splits season tickets with Edie Wallace of Sharpsburg. Of the program she said, "It challenges them and it challenges us."

"You can feel the electricity," said Lisa Lawson of Chambersburg, Pa. "She seems to be so graceful. She pulls them in."

"She has a lot of energy," said Wallace.

"I'm very impressed," said Dean Warrenfeltz of Martinsburg, W.Va. He said he was particularly taken by the demands put on the musicians during "The Firebird Suite."

The finale of the program featured yet another blockbuster.

"Beethoven's third symphony is one of the greatest pieces every written," said Schulze of the 50-minute composition. She explained that it was written around the time Beethoven was going deaf, which proved to be a devastating realization.

"It forced him to go inside and figure out who he was," Schulze said.

The MSO will perform again today at 3 p.m. at The Maryland Theatre. Prelude begins at 2 p.m.

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