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'Maestro' gives final performance

April 27, 1999

He came to Hagerstown armed with a baton, a tuxedo and a briefcase filled with important papers. His mission: music.

They call him "Maestro."

Conductor Paul Phillips waited in the wings at the Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown on Wednesday, as fourth-graders from Washington County schools poured into the downtown theater for the 14th annual Maryland Symphony Orchestra performance of the Citibank Youth Concerts.

Some of the children rolled their programs into spyglasses. Others made paper airplanes that never left their laps.

All listened to the cacophony of sounds as MSO members tuned their instruments in preparation for "Music of the Millennium."

All quieted as Phillips took his place at the podium.

With a nod of his head and a wave of his baton, Phillips launched the orchestra into Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro Overture."

The emotional piece began the 1999 youth concert series - the series that marked the maestro's last performance as the MSO's Youth Concert Conductor.

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Elizabeth Schulze, music director designate for the MSO, will take over the concerts next year, said Bethany Latham-Tischer, spokeswoman for the MSO.

Phillips, 42, of Providence, R.I., said he will miss the post he's held since 1986, but he has plenty to keep him busy.

He serves as the director of orchestras and chamber music at Brown University in Rhode Island and the music director of the Pioneer Valley Symphony in Massachusetts.

He is a husband, father, composer and international guest conductor and lecturer.

Phillips said his parents spurred his interest in music, but his passion was sparked by a Mozart piano concerto and orchestral performance of Stravinsky's "The Firebird" at a Western New York music festival when he was 16.

"It was an epiphany for me," Phillips said. "I came away literally shaking like a leaf."

He said the effect of the classical music on him was so powerful that he went home with a tremendous desire to study music.

"I was obsessed," Phillips said.

In the years that followed, he entered a conservatory, graduated from Columbia University in New York City, coached and conducted in German opera houses, performed with famous musicians such as violinist Itzhak Perlman, and studied under such great conductors as Leonard Bernstein.

"He was one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met," Phillips said. "When he walked into a room at Tanglewood, it was like Michael Jordan walking into a basketball camp."

A palpable excitement was also felt when Paul Phillips stepped onto the podium at the Maryland Theatre.

"I love doing concerts for kids," Phillips said.

As youth concert conductor, Phillips said he calls upon his imagination to dream up interesting programs for fourth-graders.

Some past concert themes have included musical stories and dances, focus on form, science in music and musical secrets, he said.

He said the "Music for the Millennium" program anticipates "the start of something new" by reflecting upon the greats of old.

"It is the perfect opportunity to take a retrospective look at the greatest of the greats," Phillips said.

The program contained pieces from Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Bernstein and, of course, Mozart.

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