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Montgomery Celebrates Strathmore

Music Hall Symbolizes County's Metamorphosis

By Miranda S. Spivack and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 6, 2005; Page C01

With the grand sweep of a conductor's baton, the Music Center at Strathmore opened last night, and an invitation-only audience heard the sounds of a Montgomery County cultural landmark coming to life.

Opening night at the North Bethesda concert hall represented what local leaders called a new era for the Washington region's second most populous county, after Fairfax. Strathmore, they said, helps complete a decades-long transformation from a quiet bedroom suburb to a vibrant community of nearly 1 million people.

Guests arrive for the opening of the Music Center at Strathmore by crossing a walkway from a parking garage over Tuckerman Lane in North Bethesda. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma was the featured act. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

_____Photo Gallery_____
An Evening at the Strathmore: The new Music Center is one in a growing list of suburban performing arts centers in the metro area and across the country.
Arts in the Suburbs
Strathmore at a Glance
_____How to Get There_____
Driving Directions
_____More on Strathmore_____
Music -- and Competition -- in the Air (The Washington Post, Feb 6, 2005)
One Handsome Hall (The Washington Post, Feb 4, 2005)
At Strathmore, Suburbs Take Another Bow (The Washington Post, Feb 3, 2005)
Sale of Land Hits Wrong Chord for Strathmore (The Washington Post, Feb 3, 2005)
The Arts, From Classroom to Concert Hall (The Washington Post, Feb 3, 2005)
Close to Strathmore, Some Show-Stopping Meals (The Washington Post, Feb 3, 2005)
Strathmore's Hidden Assets (The Washington Post, Jan 30, 2005)
_____Wammies at Strathmore_____
The Music Center at Strathmore hosts the Washington Music Awards on Monday, Feb. 7, starting at 8 p.m.
Transcript: WAMA president Mike Schreibman and Shelley Brown, vice president of programming at the Music Center at Strathmore, discussed the Wammies.

"We will be a different place Sunday than we've ever been before," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D).

Last night's black-tie affair, unmistakably, was about the music, but politics were not far from the stage. A host of state and local officials attended, including Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R), state Comptroller and former governor William Donald Schaefer (D), Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and state House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).

Duncan has described the music center as the single most significant construction project of his three terms as county executive, and it undoubtedly will become a backdrop for his expected run for governor in 2oo6. That made the opening gala interesting as political theater with Ehrlich in attendance; the governor arrived well after the pre-concert party was underway. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Duncan's likely rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, did not attend. His spokesman said the event had never been on O'Malley's schedule, and he was spending the evening with his family.

While many of the guests were on a long, carefully vetted VIP list -- paying as much as $10,000 for a table at a pre-concert dinner of smoked duck salad, grilled halibut with chanterelle mushrooms and chocolate cake in the shape of a piano -- a few music aficionados managed to obtain last-minute tickets. "My friend and I heard about this, and we called yesterday and got two tickets," said Selma Philipson, a real estate agent who lives in Bethesda.

"It is amazing. We are thrilled. We love [renowned cellist] Yo-Yo Ma," said her friend, Ana Contreras, who also sells real estate. They paid $200 each for their tickets, complete with a dessert reception after the concert headlined by Ma. Both the dinner and reception were fundraisers for the $100 million music center.

With an undulating roof and six-story glass wall, Strathmore greeted its visitors last night in an expansive but crowded lobby, where a phalanx of waiters served champagne and hors d'oeuvres, and camera flashes popped to capture the celebration.

"This is a great opportunity for the Baltimore Symphony, a marvelous moment for Montgomery County. [Both] deserve a cultural center like this," said Calman J. "Buddy" Zamoiski Jr., a former symphony chairman who, along with Duncan and Gazette newspapers chief executive Charles A. Lyons, helped nurture the plan to bring a top-flight concert hall to the 11-acre campus at Strathmore.

Until last night, only the adjacent Georgian mansion and front lawn hosted concerts. The county acquired the property in 1979.

First conceptualized more than a decade ago as a second home to the Baltimore Symphony, the concert hall overcame a series of political obstacles and cost overruns before the final lighting fixtures were bolted into place two weeks ago.

While the dignitaries beamed, they weren't the only proud parents in the crowd. Row A, seats 109 and 110, were reserved for the family of Tim Wang, 13, an eighth-grader from Kingsview Middle School in northern Montgomery County. Tim was one of four Maryland students who won a statewide competition to perform alongside soprano vocalist Janice Chandler-Eteme and cellist Ma during one of the night's featured selections. Soprano Harolyn Blackwell also headlined the evening.

In the days leading to the concert, Tim rehearsed his cello selection alongside Ma, even getting pointers from the famous musician, an experience that Tim described as inspiring. "Maybe," he said after Friday's final dry run, "this will become more than a hobby for me."

Eliot Pfanstiehl, head of the Strathmore Hall Foundation and a guiding force behind the concert hall, said the presence of four teenage students on stage last night was intended to send an unmistakable message to Maryland residents, whose tax dollars helped subsidize most of the hall's price tag. "It says not only that world-class performers have arrived here but that the next generation of musicians will be nurtured here as well," Pfanstiehl said.

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