Bright lights, big concert

July 03, 2008|By KATE COLEMAN

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra will celebrate America's birthday Saturday, July 5, in its 23rd Annual "Salute to Independence" at Antietam National Battlefield.

This year's concert will feature musicians with connections to the region and the orchestra, "a real celebration of our own," said MSO Music Director Elizabeth Schulze.

Mezzo Soprano Susanne Mentzer, who has been a guest soloist with the MSO, will open the concert with "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Mentzer is in the area visiting her parents after a week of teaching in The Wolf Trap Opera Company Studio Artists program in nearby Vienna, Va. She considered attending the Antietam concert then thought, "I should just offer to sing."


The battlefield venue might be a world away from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City where she's performed the past two springs in Tan Dun's "The First Emperor." Mentzer, who teaches at Rice University in Houston, says this region "really is home."

This region -- Washington County -- is home to composer Rob Hovermale, whose "Soul's Journey" will be performed on Saturday. The piece premiered this past January with Schulze conducting the All County High School Orchestra, the student ensemble for which Hovermale wrote it.

Hovermale, Washington County Public Schools' coordinator for visual and performing arts, is excited to hear his piece -- especially at Antietam.

"I just love to watch Elizabeth conduct it, too," he said.

He credits Schulze and the MSO with a large role in the growth of the county schools' orchestra program.

"Basically, she gives of her time any time we need her," he said.

Joseph McIntyre, MSO's principal timpanist and member of the orchestra since it began, wrote a new arrangement of "Maryland, My Maryland" and composed "Ghosts of Antietam," a work inspired by the site of the bloodiest one-day battle in America's history.

McIntyre has played at the battlefield concerts for many years. Every time, he said, he gets a powerful sense that the place is sacred, hallowed ground. He wanted to write a piece of music in tribute to the fallen soldiers -- killed not only during the Civil War but during all wars.

The work makes liberal use of folk songs familiar to soldiers at the time of the great battle, Schulze said.

It ends with a solo trumpet.

McIntyre requested that "Ghosts of Antietam" begin as the sun is setting when the atmosphere might be a little more conducive to the visitation of some spirits.

The '1812' Overture

The spirit of battle will be heard in the sound of the big guns of the Maryland National Guard's Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 110th Field Artillery, which will provide booming accompaniment to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "1812" Overture.

Written to commemorate the Russian defense against Napoleon's invasion in 1812, the piece hardly has a direct link to America's birthday.

"Evidently, Independence Day has been celebrated in the USA with artillery fire since at least 1777, so it's a tradition we recognize as belonging to that holiday," Schulze said. The piece is a perennial crowd pleaser, she added.

"In my opinion, no American composer has yet written something equal in effect to Tchaikovsky's work, so we'll keep using it until someone comes up with a suitable substitute."

The evening will end with another perennial crowd pleaser -- fireworks.

If you go ...

WHAT: 23rd annual Salute to Independence with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 5; fireworks will begin after the concert; at about 9:45 p.m.

WHERE: Antietam National Battlefield, north of Sharpsburg

COST: Free admission; any donations go toward the cost of the concert.

CONTACT: For information, call Antietam's visitors center at 301-432-5124 or go to or

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