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Todd Medcalf MSO review 2/19

February 18, 2001

Todd Medcalf MSO review 2/19



In its public statement that promises "music not just to hear, but experience," Music Director Elizabeth Schulze led the Maryland Symphony Orchestra this weekend in a concert that immersed the audience in the vast orchestral palette of colors and textures of three 20th-century works. The unifying theme of these compositions was the sea, as expressed by composers Britten, Dutilleux and Debussy.

The opening work was British composer Benjamin Britten's "Four Sea Interludes" from the opera "Peter Grimes," whose title character is a poor fisherman. Originally written as interludes between acts of the opera, the four movements - Dawn, Sunday Morning, Moonlight and Storm - help to establish the setting of the North Sea through musical images. The orchestra evoked these images of the ever- changing nature of the sea with languid strings punctuated by a variety of percussive effects of cymbals, gongs and tambourines.

The centerpiece of the program's performance was Henri Dutilleux's "Tout un monde lointain" for cello and orchestra. Meaning "Journey to a faraway world," this composition delivers on its promise. Beginning on a background of soft, shimmering cymbal and gong rolls, the cello begins an ascending cadenza-like melody, punctuated with abrupt pizzicato chords. Parts of the melody literally carried the guest artist, David Hardy, off the edge of the fingerboard. Each of the composition's five movements meld seamlessly into each other, and the effect on the listener is one of drifting through myriad tonal colors of cluster chords and dense textures that seem otherworldly. The piece ends with a cello trill fading away and over the bridge like a retreating buzzing insect. David Hardy's performance was captivating in its execution of difficult passages and his delicate tone.

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The final number was Debussy's famous programmatic symphony of "La Mer." Written in the first decade of the 20th century, "The Sea" is one of Debussy's best known orchestral works, and is always well received by audiences of today, although its premiere performance in Paris in 1905 did not go well. Debussy's skill in blending the colors and textures of the orchestra is legendary, but his symbolic depiction of the sea goes beyond that of the previously performed works in that the audience can follow many of the repeated melodies that suggest the undulating and tempermental nature of the sea. It is impossible not to feel and experience the power and vast beauty of the ocean waves as the orchestra plays this very demanding work. Schulze led the MSO through this ocean voyage with excellent attention to dynamic shadings and tempo variations. Congratulations to all the musicians in bringing something new to the Maryland Theatre audiences.

Todd Medcalf teaches orchestra at Springfield Middle and Williamsport High Schools.

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