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Maryland Symphony Orchestra goes all-Mozart for the weekend

February 09, 2006|by KATE COLEMAN

The 250th anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's birth - Jan. 27 - still is being celebrated around the world.

In Salzburg, Austria, where he was born, there were concerts, tolling church bells and a 300-pound-plus chocolate birthday cake in the town square, according to press reports.

Orchestras on several continents are performing Mozart's music in honor of his birthday, and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra is among them.

This weekend, Music Director Elizabeth Schulze will raise her baton, and the MSO players will raise their instruments in "A Birthday Toast to Mozart," the third of the MasterWorks programs of the orchestra's 24th season.


The orchestra will perform an all-Mozart program Friday, Feb. 10, at Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick, Md., and at The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown on Saturday, Feb. 11, and Sunday, Feb. 12.

The concert will begin with a young Mozart's Overture to "Il Re Pastore" and conclude with his Symphony No. 41, the "Jupiter" Symphony, written in 1788.

Beverly Butts, the MSO's principal clarinet since 1992, will be the featured soloist for Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.

A member of the orchestra since 1983, Butts said the work is "treasured" because it was the next to the last thing Mozart wrote before he died at age 35 in 1791.

In a recent interview, she called the concerto's second movement a prayer.

"It is sweet and tender. It is very deeply emotional," said Butts, her eyes brimming with tears.

There is a sense of melancholy in the music, she said; yet by the end, there's an overwhelming sense of joy.

A sense of joy is something that Butts exhibits when talking about her life in music.

She began playing clarinet when she was a fifth-grader in Sinking Spring, Pa.

Her first-choice instrument was flute, but her older brother advised her to learn the clarinet - in case she might want to play saxophone as well.

Good advice. Butts played sax in middle school because she wanted to play in the jazz band.

Jazz helps her to be more flexible, to understand different styles of music and to "swing," she said.

And swing she can. It was Butts who opened the MSO's performance of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" last spring.

"It's a really hard solo," Butts said. You have to do everything you've been trained not to do - change your embouchure (the way the lips and tongue are applied to the clarinet mouthpiece) and slide your fingers, she explained.

Butts' versatility extends beyond the classical and jazz arenas. She estimates she's played in orchestras for about 20 different musicals, including "Annie," "Annie Get Your Gun" and "Chicago," which required the musicians to be on stage.

Butts also is principal clarinet with the York (Pa.) Symphony, plays frequently with the Harrisburg (Pa.) Symphony and has been a concerto soloist with both ensembles. She has performed with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Millbrook Orchestra, Shippensburg Chamber Orchestra and Symphony at Deep Creek.

A member of the music faculty at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., Butts teaches clarinet history and literature, clarinet and woodwind pedagogy (teaching students how to teach the instruments), and she conducts the 24-member clarinet choir.

"I feel very fortunate to perform and teach," Butts said. "I try and keep a good balance."

Butts was guest of honor at a Monday, Jan. 30, gathering of Mozart fans at the Schmankerl Stube restaurant in downtown Hagerstown. She spoke briefly about the composer and played a Clarinet Concerto preview.

The event, held for at least eight years, started as an excuse for people to get together, said Phil Kelly, who happens to be chairman of the MSO Board of Directors' marketing committee.

The gathering was special this year, commemorating Mozart's 250th birthday, Kelly said.

Kelly said he is not a symphony expert, but he knows what he likes, and he likes Mozart.

Schulze, who attended the party, said she was "really touched" that more than 100 people gathered in downtown Hagerstown to celebrate Mozart's birthday.

"He means something to us," said Schulze. "I think it's fantastic."

Why is Mozart so loved? How does his music appeal to so many different people?

"I really think he achieved an incredible balance between sophistication and pure simplicity," Schulze said.

He had incredible insight about people - from the most noble to the most foolish - and he captured what seems to have appealed through the ages, she added.

We don't know how Mozart's music sounded in its day, Schulze said, yet his music still speaks to us.

"I rarely am able to conduct Mozart without a broad smile," she said.

In you go ...

"A Birthday Toast to Mozart"

Maryland Symphony Orchestra's MasterWorks III concerts

8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, at Weinberg Center for the Arts, 20 W. Patrick St., Frederick, Md.

Tickets cost $25 for adults and $10 for children 12 and younger and full-time students and are available by calling 1-301-228-2828 and online at

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