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Audience sets the bar high for the orchestra

March 23, 2006|by ELIZABETH SCHULZE

The audience has everything to do with this weekend's performances by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra. Two seasons ago, we handed out a ballot to each of our audience members, and they voted for their favorite overture, symphony and solo instrument. The winners determined the program that will be heard this weekend.

Our audience has great taste and very high expectations!

Felix Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream" Overture was written when the composer was only 17 years old. And yet, the work displays the sure signs of a master. In George Bernard Shaw's own words: "The most striking example I know of a very young composer astonishing the world by a musical style at once fascinating, original, and perfectly new, is Mendelssohn's exploit at seventeen years with the 'Midsummer Night's Dream Overture.' One can actually feel the novelty now, after sixty-six years."

A hundred years on from Shaw's observation, the work still astonishes and delights us, while challenging the musicians with its demands of virtuosity and finesse.


The piano came out on top of our audience's wish list, and we are fortunate to present a young star on the rise who already has proven his mastery in virtually all of the major concert halls in this country and abroad. Musicians and critics alike recognize Jonathan Biss as a formidable artist, whose performances attain the highest level of insight and musicianship. Biss will join the MSO in a performance of Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor.

The concerto was composed when Brahms was just 25 (the same age as our soloist), and, while it too exhibits precocious mastery, it is a world away from Mendelssohn's brisk and sparkling overture. This concerto is a brooding and massive work, steeped in history both personal and musical. The deeply expressive work has long been considered a personal testament to Brahms' love for Clara Schumann and, particularly in the second movement, for her husband, the composer Robert Schumann, whose attempted suicide and decline into madness was devastating to the young composer. Beyond the personal however, is the sheer power of the concerto's classical form and tragic expression. Brahms is fully aware of Ludwig van Beethoven's long shadow as a master of this form, but he is sure-footed in forging his own path.

That our audience would choose Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor as its favorite symphony should come as no surprise. The familiar Ta-Ta-Ta-Dum of the first movement's opening phrase portends the storm and stress to come. The relative ease and elegance of the second movement provides momentary relief before the eerie meanderings of the third movement. There seems no other way to describe the final movement except as triumphant. Indeed, this journey from struggle to final victory has become a model for symphonies ever after.

Elizabeth Schulze is music director and conductor of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

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