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Bravo to Schulze and MSO

March 20, 2000

Saturday evening the Maryland Symphony presented the final subscription concert of the season, concluding Maestra Elizabeth Schulze's first season as the orchestra's new conductor. And the verdict: She is an excellent choice to lead the orchestra, both in the terms of her technique and musicianship.

When the orchestra is playing well for her, as in the "Symphonie Fantastique" of the previous concert, or as in the accompaniment to the Shostokovich Violin Concerto in this concert, the music-making is superb.

But performance consistency is difficult for any ensemble, and this evening the Brahms Symphony No. 2, which followed the Shostokovich, proved that there is work to be done with intonation and ensemble balance.

In fact, the new seating configuration for the performers, with the violins separated, and the cellos in the interior of the orchestra, was obviously an effort to address the blend of the string sound.

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This new seating did, in fact, help the balance considerably, but could do nothing for the very out-of-tune playing of the cellos in the second movement of the Brahms, or the final D major horn chord. The winds and brass also had problems with tuning. And the interpretation, in spite of Schulze's intensity, was fragmented.

Solving problems like these, however, is not a hindrance but an opportunity for a young conductor. She has the chance to mold the orchestra in the cauldron of her own artistic visions.

The Shostokovich Violin Concerto featured the bravura playing of soloist Livia Sohn. She obviously had lived with this concerto for a long period, and the pyrotechnics of the last movement were securely impressive. Her interpretation was heartfelt, and she projected the intense compassion inherent in a composition written under the most depressing of artistic conditions.

I refer listeners to Shostokovich's memoirs, "Testimony," for a complete description of a composer's life under Stalin and the Soviet system. For all the anguish of its creation, however, the concerto itself is curiously antiseptic at times, alternating meandering, aimless melodies with heavy-handed sarcasm, never quite openly human.

Instead of being a great Russian composer, Shostokovich was a great Soviet composer, like Prokofiev, who ultimately turned out to be more pathetic than inspiring. A genius of technique, yes, but he was obsessed with the description of repression and purposeless tragedy.

The programs and soloists for next season's programs were available at the concert, and once again, interesting programming is a hallmark of the season.

With the assuming of the conductorship of the orchestra by Maestra Schulze, I hope we can look forward to the involvement of local composers and soloists in the seasons to come. Washington County and the surrounding area is overflowing with gifted artists, writers, photographers and, yes, musicians.

So, bravos to Elizabeth Schulze and all the performers, to the management of the orchestra, to the volunteers who love the orchestra and to the listeners. We have reason to hope for artistic improvement and more local involvement, and we can look forward to the future of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.




William Bland is a composer and pianist living in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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