Maryland Symphony Orchestra to perform audience favorites

March 23, 2006|by KATE COLEMAN

Maryland Symphony Orchestra audiences will get what they asked for in this weekend's MasterWorks IV concert, "A Rare Selection of Audience Favorites."

The program includes popular compositions in the overture and symphony categories, Felix Mendelssohn's overture to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.

Jonathan Biss will perform on the audience's top-choice instrument, joining the orchestra in Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor.

In a telephone interview last week from Seattle, where he was preparing to perform with the Seattle Symphony, the 25-year-old Biss called the Brahms concerto "one of the pinnacles of the repertoire."


It's among a handful of the most gratifying pieces to play and also to listen to, he said.

"The slow movement is one of the most purely beautiful pieces of music ever written, and every time I've played it, I've really felt that it brings me very close to the heart of why I became a musician in the first place."

Biss was born into a family of professional musicians. His grandmother is cellist Raya Garbousova. His parents are violinist Miriam Fried and violist/violinist Paul Biss, members of the music faculty at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.

Jonathan Biss began his piano studies at age 6.

"I wasn't forced into music in any way, but I never - from the time that one thinks consciously about these things - I don't think I ever thought seriously about doing anything else," he said. "The decision was purely mine and it was made because music spoke to me so profoundly from really a pretty young age."

He grew up in Indiana and studied at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He's now in his fourth year in New York, but he's only there about half the time. He perfors about 70 to 80 concerts a year and has performed with many major North American orchestras. Last summer he debuted at seven international music festivals.

Because his time at Curtis was intensely focused on music, Biss is taking Columbia University classes he didn't have time to take before, including classes in British literature, sociology and political science. It was right that his years at Curtis were all about music, but after a while you have to really look in other directions or risk being extremely tunnel-visioned, he said

"I'd like to have my life be about more than how the last concert went and how the next concert is going to go," he said.

MSO Music Director Elizabeth Schulze heard Biss play with the New York Philharmonic.

"I can't speak more highly of his gifts," she said, calling him a rising superstar. "This is one of those artists that you're going to hear more of, and it's a rare treat to have him in our community."

The weekend's performances will conclude with Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. Although it's very familiar, it still is one of the most challenging pieces for orchestra in the repertoire, Schulze said.

She called the concert "fiendishly difficult." Everyone in the orchestra will need to play at the very top level.

There's a reason why these selections are favorites, Schulze said. The audiences have quite good taste, but they also demand some "really high-wire acts."

If you go ...

WHAT: Maryland Symphony Orchestra's MasterWorks IV concert, "A Rare Selection of Audience Favorites"

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25, and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 26

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown

COST: Tickets cost $20 to $72 for adults and $10 to $36 for children 12 and younger and full-time students and can be purchased at the MSO box office, 13 S. Potomac St. in Hagerstown, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. Tickets also are available by calling 301-797-4000.

Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.

MORE: Music Director Elizabeth Schulze will talk about the program's composer and music one hour before each MasterWorks concert. The half-hour presentation is free with the purchase of a concert ticket.

STILL MORE: For information and to listen to selections from the weekend program, go to the MSO Web site at

SEASON FINALE: MasterWorks V, "A Sparkling Season Finale," at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 22, and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 23

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