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Young violinist rocks the MSO

March 26, 2004|by JOHN LEAGUE

I love my daughter, and I hesitate to criticize her in print.

But she plays her stereo too loud, and I don't enjoy (a great understatement) much of the music she chooses.

So when my wife started bugging me about two years ago to give symphony music another chance, I guess I was ready, if only as an antidote to today's popular music fare.

I had attended Maryland Symphony Orchestra performances over the years, but usually as a husband's payback for dragging my wife to a football or basketball game.

Occasionally kicking and screaming, I made a major effort to gain at least an appreciation for the symphony.

I try to listen to the CDs several weeks before we go to the concert. I also read our stories in our Out and About section previewing that weekend's upcoming concert.

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After all these years, I think something is beginning to click.

I have found that I enjoy listening to Mozart, and can even recognize a few Beethoven pieces. (Though that's pushing the outside of my musical envelope.)

So I was probably ready for what I saw at the symphony on Sunday afternoon, March 21. And if I become a classical music fan for life, I will remember Sunday afternoon as the day it happened.

Violinist Nicholas Kendall, all of 25 years old and full of spit and vinegar, walked onto the stage. His entrance was far from stoic.

He had a smile on his face as if he'd just gotten caught stealing a cookie from the cookie jar. As he moved to his position on stage, you could see the bravado.

It appeared as if there were no place on earth he'd rather be than on the stage at the Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown with our own Maryland Symphony.

Unlike most of the featured artists, he was not outfitted in a tuxedo as if he was on his way to a charity ball. He was dressed for comfort. No tie. No jacket. Loose fitting black shirt that wasn't tucked in.

You had the feeling before he played a note you were about to see something different.

While awaiting his first part to play, he turned his back to the audience and began moving to the beautiful music of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, like a bass guitarist in a rock band would dance as the lead guitarist did his thing. That doesn't happen often at the symphony.

Then he started to play.

Suffice it to say that this young man from Philadelphia was moving, nothing short of brilliant to my untrained, unsophisticated culturally-challenged ears.

He sweated. He grunted. He moved to the music. It was beautiful and moving.

I was as enthralled by his playing as much as I would have been had I just witnessed Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page work their magic on an electric guitar. In fact, I'd liken what he did with that violin to what Clapton can do with a guitar.

It was as if the violin were a mere extension of his body, he played it so enthusiastically and well.

When he finished an extended section of music, I jumped up and applauded as if it were Clapton I'd just seen. It was reflex. I was not alone.

My wife was a bit embarrassed. Learned in the protocol of the symphony, she knew that I had just breached it. The piece had not concluded.

And you know, I didn't care. If the worst thing I do all year is break etiquette to salute someone's skill and talent, so be it.

I have long felt that the Maryland Symphony Orchestra was one of a half-dozen institutions in town that make Hagerstown and Washington County so special.

To me, it was a point of pride that we had a wonderful symphony orchestra in Hagerstown, even though I didn't really appreciate the finer points.

From a community standpoint, it's also a point of civic pride that we can support such a cultural nicety, giving us bragging rights over many communities twice our size or larger.

But I think after a long while, I'm coming to appreciate the music itself.

Maybe not enough yet to give up my college football tickets.

But we're getting awfully close.

John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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