U-Md. Symphony Orchestra offers ambitious concert

October 2, 2011

Music departments with guaranteed funding from a university might have more opportunity to experiment than organizations beholden to the marketplace.

Such privilege gives life to the University of Maryland School of Music’s New Lights series, which aims to present music in an original manner. The U-Md. Symphony Orchestra’s performance Friday night at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, under Music Director James Ross, showed that such programming reaps great benefits, even if it is perhaps too ambitious for a good student orchestra.

The concert began with a gorgeous orchestration of Robert Schumann’s first “Gesänge der Frühe” by Robert Gibson, director of the music school, lushly played by the orchestra and its original setting beautifully repeated by doctoral piano candidate Shelby Sender.

The first two movements of Jean Sibelius’s Second Symphony followed and displayed signs of under-preparedness. Two movements of Carl Ruggles’s “Men and Mountains” Suite came after, and the orchestra sounded clean but reluctant to tear into the abrasive sound world.

After intermission came the highlight of the program, a beautiful rendition of Arnold Schoenberg’s quite tonal Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, for which the Left Bank Quartet joined the symphony. These forces played this difficult score with confidence that bespoke enormous attention to detail. Schoenberg’s opulent harmonies rang with bell-like clarity.

The concert ended with the final two movements of the Sibelius work. The orchestra made an admirable effort in a concert that might have asked too much of the students. Sibelius’s melodies soared, but the most difficult passages in his nature imitations were heavy weather.

Tucker is a freelance writer.

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