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MSO premieres 'Nocturne' and plays the '9th'

March 14, 2002|BY KEVIN CLAPP

Every bit the proud papa, William Averitt's emotions bounced between extremes earlier this week when his baby took its first fitful steps.

Of course, this was not just any birth. The composer has been laboring for more than a year to craft a piece worthy to be performed by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra in celebration of its 20th year.

"I think any composer is thrilled and a little scared. ... There are a million ways to mess up when you're writing a piece for orchestra," Averitt says. "Just to hear the orchestra and colors and phrasing begin to happen, it's a very compelling moment for anyone."

The world premiere of Averitt's "Nocturne" will precede an MSO interpretation of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 when the orchestra wraps up its 20th anniversary Masterworks season this weekend at The Maryland Theatre.


Written over a six-month period in 2001, "Nocturne" employs a single vocalist in contrast to Beethoven's work, which has a choral arrangement.

Averitt drew his inspiration from the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, early English Romantic poets who lived during Beethoven's time.

Bassoonist Scott Cassada, who studied under Averitt at Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University and has known the composer for 27 years, says taking a crack at a never-before-performed piece yields dueling anxieties.

Unlike other works, where musicians can listen to previous recordings to get in tune with the piece, this is one instance where the symphony is laying the groundwork for performers who come after them.

"It's both exciting and scary because you don't know what to expect with the piece," Cassada says. "In a way, we're part of history. It may not seem like much at the time, but 20, 45, 50 years down the line we might be part of something."

Because of his familiarity with the symphony, Averitt often found himself writing with its individual members in mind.

"It wasn't that I was just writing for clarinet. I was writing for Beverly (Butts, principal clarinet)," he says. "So many of the lines I had individual faces in my imagination when I wrote a part of it."

If excited about debuting Averitt's piece, principal timpanist Joe McIntyre is positively peckish about another program selection: Beethoven's Ninth.

It is, quite simply, a timpanist's dream composition.

"Beethoven's Ninth is a piece we start studying in high school and continue playing, and hopefully we get an opportunity to actually perform it. It's one of the hallmark timpani parts in the literature," he says. "It's such a powerful, powerful work that it's so fulfilling to play. One thing that makes the life of a timpanist complete is being able to play Beethoven's Ninth."

Calling "Symphony No. 9" a "cornerstone piece" for orchestra, Averitt says his contribution to the weekend concerts will hopefully contrast nicely with the larger work.

Watching the symphony bring his notes to life, he says it is also interesting to see the completed work take flight.

"With music, when you've done it, it's only the start," Averitt says. "Because someone has to convert what you put on the page into sound, but not only sound but feeling.

"I'm 53, but I still haven't gotten over that as a thrill."

McIntyre remembers the thrill of composing a piece for Barry Tuckwell when the former MSO music director stepped down in 1998.

"It was just very emotional and very electric, and I think that's the case pretty much for any premiere," McIntyre says. "It's a lot of fun giving birth to something new like that."

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