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Exciting, well-chosen program

March 19, 2001

Exciting, well-chosen program



The Maryland Symphony Orchestra presented an exciting and well-chosen program Sunday at The Maryland Theatre. Featuring music from 1845 to 1998, the concert exposed the audience to a wide range of orchestral textures, timbres and tempos.

The first work, "Tambor" by American composer Joan Tower, treated the orchestra like one large percussion instrument. The title literally means "drum" and the rhythmic element of this work propelled it from beginning to end. Music Director Elizabeth Schulze's clear and concise conducting style led the orchestra through a myriad of meter changes seamlessly.

As one would expect, high demands were placed on the percussion section and it responded in kind with a variety of timbres, colors and virtuostic bursts of energy. The timpanist executed the exceedingly difficult passages with grace and dexterity.

It was wonderful to see the maestra program new and challenging works, and even more exciting to see an enthusiastic response to contemporary composers.

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Robert McDuffie joined the ensemble for Mendelssohn's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E minor. While composing this work, Mendelssohn stated that the opening would not leave him in peace. It is obvious that Mendelssohn wants to get right to it, for he eschews the typical lengthy introductions found in many concertos and spotlights the soloist within seconds of the opening. The listener is given a hint of E minor and immediately the soloist takes center stage - a position not to be relinquished until the end of the three-movement work.

Fortunately, McDuffie was quite comfortable in this role and captivated listeners with his technical prowess, wide dynamic range and impeccable control.

Indeed, the emotional depth and the clarity of his playing held the audience spellbound through the entire work. The second movement was rendered beautifully and the joyous opening of the third was played with more than a bit of puckish humor.

Gustav Mahler once said that to compose a symphony was to create a world. His grand views and designs for the symphonic form are obvious in each of his symphonies. These works were not necessarily well-received in their time, but Mahler was confident. "My time will come," he said assuredly.

Schulze and the orchestra brought Mahler's first symphony, "The Titan," to the stage and it was obvious his time had come. The audience responded with its second standing ovation at the fiery conclusion of this dramatic work.

Schulze brought great sensitivity and clarity of line, as well as a faithful rendering of the score to the Maryland audience. Throughout the work, the orchestra displayed flashes of brilliance, though at times I found myself searching for greater emotional depth. Mahler's music is reaching an ever-wider audience because he has a voice for our times. That voice requires endless energy.

While it was often amazing, I feared the brass section may not be up to the "heaven opening" chords of the finale, but in the end all was well. At times I found the performance overly cautious, but there is room for Schulze's Mahler.

Maryland - indeed the entire area - is blessed to have an orchestra and a conductor of this caliber.

Mark McCoy is chair of the Department of Music and Theater at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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