MasterWorks to feature American music

October 16, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

This weekend will mark the beginning of another series of MasterWorks performances at The Maryland Theatre in downtown Hagerstown.

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra's 22nd season opened in July with its annual Salute to Independence at Antietam National Battlefield. The first of five MasterWorks concerts, American Impressions, is another salute of sorts. It includes music that celebrates the spirit of America.

Elizabeth Schulze, in her fifth season as the MSO's music director, is excited - about the program, the soloists, about an orchestra that continues to grow.

She says she likes to include American music in the orchestra's opening program.

"We should take great pride in the legitimate expression of the American spirit as an American orchestra," she says.

Lyric soprano Linda Hohenfeld is the featured soloist for Samuel Barber's "Knoxville: Summer of 1915." Schulze calls the Barber work one of Hohenfeld's signature pieces.


"We're just thrilled to have her," she says.

The text, from a prose poem by James Agee, includes memories of his childhood in small-town America - people in front porch rocking chairs, a family gathered on a quilt in the grass of a night that is "one blue dew." There are the sounds of locusts, quiet family conversation - the music of a summer evening.

"Everything about it speaks to me - the sounds, the smells," Hohenfeld says.

Hohenfeld has been singing since she was a child growing up in Cleveland. Although there were records in her home, and her grandmother gave her her piano when she expressed an interest in the instrument, Hohenfeld says she came to sing because she didn't really have training on an instrument.

"I always had a voice and I always had a love of music," she says.

Hohenfeld attended Catholic school for her first five grades and laughs that she landed the title role in "The Story of Bernadette." She sang as a Girl Scout and first got serious about singing in high school - winning solo parts.

She auditioned for college music programs and was offered scholarships by three schools, beginning college at 17. She sang different kinds of music during college, including opera, also working in a music store and wiping tables in the college cafeteria.

Hohenfeld worked in summer stock musical theater, earning her Actors' Equity card at age 19. She moved to New York, continuing private study, and toured with a show that ended up in California, where she met a coach who told her about an opportunity to perform Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" in Austria. It was there that she met her husband, Leonard Slatkin, now music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.

Hohenfeld has performed opera, musical theater, symphonic concerts, recitals and chamber music. She has sung with leading American orchestras, and her European performances have included work in England, France, Germany and Austria. She has sung a number of televised concerts in Japan. She is co-artistic director of the "Women in Music" concert series at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.

Hohenfeld continues to perform but says her life has taken a different turn.

"I focus on one thing at a time," she says.

Mother to 9-year-old son, Daniel, Hohenfeld says she has chosen not to have a nanny. "I'm a very hands-on mother, and things go so quickly."

On a recent fall afternoon, she was running her son to soccer practice. He sings in a chorus and has studied violin. He's taking piano and pitching lessons.

"We're a baseball family," she says.

There was a time, Hohenfeld says, when she would have felt deprived by not devoting more time to her music career.

But she is loving her life - watching lightning bugs with her son in summer, having him ask "existential questions," and telling her it smells so good outside. She mentions that it's the fragrance of the eleagnus in her autumn yard - a fragrance she also loves.

Hohenfeld says she feels fortunate to be able to do all the things she wants and to sing at such a level - with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and Elizabeth Schulze, for example.

Hohenfeld's description of her life sounds similar to feelings in the Barber composition. She first heard about it from a teacher in Cleveland. She says she likes the lyrics and calls the piece a good fit - "emotionally and musically."

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