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Love strikes a chord at MSO performance

February 18, 2003|by LAURA BISCHOFF RENNINGER

Review


Romantic love. What theme could better warm our ears and hearts on this blustery Valentine's weekend than three ballets-turned-concert-pieces linked together by the thread of love and the fulfillment of dreams?

Once again, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, under the stellar direction of Elizabeth Schulze, presented a well-selected and well-performed program that surely lifted spirits among the nearly full house at The Maryland Theatre on Saturday evening.

The performance was preceded by an articulate and highly informative lecture given by Schulze. Details about premieres, musical content and composers' lives, intertwined with personal accounts of conducting experiences, helped to bring the pieces alive and whet appetites for the program to follow. As a teacher of music appreciation, I am a firm believer that a deeper understanding of musical background, inspiration and structure enhances our enjoyment.

The performance began with the original arrangement for 13 instruments of Copland's Suite from Appalachian Spring. At first, when looking over the program notes, I was wondering why, other than logistics, this wasn't selected for the close of the concert. However, in retrospect, I think the work established a very important mood for the evening and I couldn't think of a more appropriate way to open.

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Schulze dedicated the performance to our recent fallen American heroes: Pianist John Browning and composer Lou Harrison, pioneers in their own right, as well as the seven astronauts from the space shuttle Columbia.

In 1945, Copland rearranged the ballet music into a suite for a larger orchestra. The latter arrangement earned him a Pulitzer Prize and is the arrangement most often played today. In that light, I was intrigued to hear a performance utilizing the original and more intimate scoring. The interpretation was, to say the least, moving. Many members of the audience were clearly touched by this very special performance.

The Suite from the ballet "The Fairy's Kiss" is an intriguing fusion of Stravinsky's abstract objectivity, characteristic ostinatos, syncopations and tone colors with Tchaikovsky's sweeping romantic lyricism. Indeed, Stravinsky based the music on Tchaikovsky's songs and piano pieces that had never before been orchestrated - a wonderful homage to his Russian mentor.

Before the performance of this unique work, Schulze humorously guided the audience through the twists and turns of the storyline by demonstrating important themes the audience was to listen for. In doing so, she showcased several remarkable solos, including those by Frances Lapp Averitt, principal flute, Beverly Butts, principal clarinet, and Joseph Lovinsky, principal horn. The piece was very well executed, and I was particularly impressed overall with the woodwind section.

Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, Suite from the Ballet, Op. 20 was truly the climax of an already outstanding program. The suite contains a number of brilliant dances from different countries performed in the story by the young maidens competing for Prince Siegfried's hand in marriage.

From the opening familiar, yet haunting swan theme (beautifully played on the oboe) to the grand and spirited dance movements, the orchestra maintained an excellent balance between soft nostalgia and intense energy. The passionate and rhythmic performances of the Polish Mazurka and the final waltz were so vigorous that the audience was brought to its feet to deliver a much-deserved standing ovation.

All three ballets, and their subsequent suites, were originally intended in some way to inspire hope for the future. I'm sure after this fine performance, we all left with a little more of it.

Laura Bischoff Renninger is assistant professor of music at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va. She has a Ph.D. in music from the University of Illinois.

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