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Great music emerges from composers' appreciation of foreign cit

April 28, 2005|by ELIzabeth Schulze

Every year around this time I present my proposals for programming for the season two years hence to a committee of MSO board members, players, administrators and community members.

Keeping in mind the players' wishes to be challenged, and an audience's desire to be entertained, I set out to develop a season that balances these two requirements. The final MasterWorks program is crucial. It must show off what the orchestra has accomplished during the season and also entice audience members to return for our next MasterWorks performance in the fall. I think you will agree that our final program this weekend at The Maryland Theatre is just the kind of program that fits the bill.

We're calling this weekend's pair of concerts "An American in Paris" after the first work on our program of the same name by the great American composer George Gershwin.

Gershwin wrote this fantasy for orchestra after traveling to France in the hopes of studying with more established European composers. They all politely turned him down as he was clearly doing fine without them. "An American in Paris" records Gershwin's impressions of the great city with its wide, crowded boulevards, attractive cafes and enticing nightlife.

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If you were to be asked what music comes to mind at the mention of Gershwin, most probably, the first thing you'd say would be the "Rhapsody in Blue." Thanks to United Airlines commercials, the airwaves have been inundated with the strains of this wonderful work. It's hard to believe that something so familiar to us now was thought of as downright revolutionary and experimental at its premiere performance. Part serious, part jazz, part Broadway, we'd call this a "crossover" work today. But it always was meant for the concert hall and it has become a staple in virtually every American orchestra's and concert pianist's repertoire.

Our guest soloist for this week's program is the acclaimed pianist, Jeffrey Biegel, whose many musical accomplishments are an inspiration. A prolific composer, and virtuosic pianist, and a great champion of the music of today, Biegel has commissioned a number of new concertos by important composers such as Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Lowell Liebermann. His research has unearthed treasures of the past and his performances have revived forgotten masterpieces.

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of working with Biegel in Buffalo, with that city's Philharmonic, and I'm thrilled to be able to present him to our audience in Hagerstown.

Along with the "Rhapsody," Biegel will perform Ravel's Concerto in G Major.

Just as Gershwin found Paris to be a musical inspiration, the French composer Maurice Ravel found New York and the jazz halls of Harlem to be musical fodder for his concerto. Despite Ravel's description of his concerto as written in the spirit of his classical predecessors, "blue" notes and jazz rhythms abound in this delightful work.

The orchestra takes center stage again for the last work on the program: Ravel's popular "Bolero." Last year, when MSO Guild volunteers were preparing this season's brochure for mailing, much of their enthusiasm centered on this work, which is famous (or infamous) for its inexorable buildup to one of the greatest orchestral climaxes in all of the repertoire. That Ravel was puzzled by "Bolero's" immediate popularity, viewing it as a musical experiment only goes to show that, as with the Gershwin's experimental "Rhapsody," sometimes the audience gets it right on the very first hearing!

Elizabeth Schulze is music director of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

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