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Theater shell creates better sound quality

February 09, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

karenh@herald-mail.com

Audiences who attend the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's tribute to Mozart's 250th birthday this weekend will notice a new sound coming from the old stage of The Maryland Theatre.

A new $250,000 orchestra shell is in place just in time for the concerts.

Orchestra Music Director Elizabeth Schulze said Wednesday that the new shell, which frames the stage and directs the sound to the audience, will give audiences and musicians an experience they never have had at the theater.

The orchestra will perform works by Mozart at concerts at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

"I think it has exceeded all our expectations, and not only is it visually stunning, but acoustically - and we're still making adjustments - but acoustically, it is a dream for us," said Schulze, who conducts the orchestra.

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She said, in the past, musicians have had trouble hearing one another as they have played. The orchestra's old shell was "wonderful," but the years saw it "succumb to the rages of age," Executive Director Jean Hamilton said.

The new shell features cherry wood beams that frame ash panels decorated with geometric designs. The paneling bookends the sides of the stage, and a matching canopy will direct some of musicians' sounds back to them, so they can play better as an ensemble, project manager Paul Scarbrough said.

"I think audiences coming to the theater on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon this weekend, they'll be stunned to hear the immediacy of the articulation of the orchestra," Scarbrough said.

The paneling and canopy can be lifted high above the stage for theater productions, Scarbrough said.

According to Brendan Fitzsimmons, president of the orchestra's board of directors, planning for the new shell began about two years ago. The $250,000 investment is the largest the orchestra has made at the theater, and it is a symbol of the orchestra's commitment to its home stage, he said.

The shell already exceeds expectations, Hamilton said. Audiences and performers alike finally will enjoy music as it is meant to be heard, she said.

"I think this weekend, the audience is finally going to be able to hear the orchestra as it truly sounds," Hamilton said.

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