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Concert makes good first impression for MSO

October 20, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

On a beautiful autumn afternoon, Maryland Symphony Orchestra Music Director Elizabeth Schulze welcomed a Maryland Theatre audience to the 22nd season of MasterWorks performances Sunday.

Schulze asked the audience to join her and the orchestra in the national anthem, then without a word, the program began with Antonin Dvorak's Slavonic Dance No. 1.

"So what are we doing in American Impressions with a piece called Slavonic Dance?" Schulze grinned after the lively piece had been played.


Inspired by the music of his native Czechoslovakia, the work illustrates the composer's belief in the need to root art music in folk expression.

Dvorak came to the United States in 1892 to be the director of the recently established National Conservatory of Music in New York City.

He became inspired by American folk songs, slave songs and spirituals, and the rhythms and melodies of American Indians. Schulze called the debut of his Symphony No. 9 "From the New World," which closed Sunday's program, one of the most significant events in American musical history.

Schulze pointed out that composer Charles Ives vehemently disagreed with Dvorak's approach. Before beginning his "Three Places in New England," which was next on the program, Schulze took time to talk about the composer's "rugged individualism." With the help of the players, she provided musical illustrations of various passages.

"These are not pretty scenes," Schulze said of some of Ives' images. "There is a subtext that is political and moral."

There are musical quotes in the piece - Stephen Foster's "Old Black Joe," "The Battle Cry for Freedom," a hymn. There are deliberately written wrong notes as Ives quotes the hometown band on the Fourth of July.

"It's supposed to be fun. You're supposed to smile," she told her audience. There are several familiar melodies. "Let your ear just flow," she recommended.

The program's first half concluded with Samuel Barber's "Knoxville: Summer 1915," with text from a prose poem by James Agee.

Lyric soprano Linda Hohenfeld was featured as soloist on the Barber piece, singing Agee's nostalgic words of home and family.

"I love it," said 19-year-old Lauren Smith, a student at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. Smith, who attended an MSO performance with a school group when she was a child, was on a date in Hagerstown yesterday.

"I just love the theater," she said.

Diana and David Waag of Berryville, Va., also enjoyed the setting, attending a Maryland Symphony Orchestra concert for the first time.

"We like it very much," said David Waag.

Sunday's concert also was the first time Bobbie Heuer and her son Kyle, 13, had attended an MSO performance.

Kyle enjoyed the concert's first half.

"It's relaxing," he said at intermission.

"It's almost like the music almost touches you," Heuer said. "It's very moving. We will be back."

Hohenfeld's husband, Leonard Slatkin, and 9-year-old son, Daniel, sporting an MSO ball cap, were in the lobby at intermission.

"It was wonderful," said Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.

Schulze was an associate conductor of that orchestra for four years.

"She's a great talent," he said, pointing out her commitment to education.

"Everything this orchestra does matters," Slatkin said, citing its importance to the community.

Before she boarded the bus back to Adamstown, Md., in Frederick County, Brice Verdier took time to say that she and fellow residents of Buckingham's Choice, the retirement community in which they live, are in their third year as MSO season ticket holders.

She enjoyed Sunday's performance - noting that she enjoys hearing music she knows and loves, but appreciates the opportunity for the "stretching" that Schulze provides her audience.

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