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Conservatory Project: An Idea Worth Exploring

By Daniel Ginsberg
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 2, 2005; Page C05

If there is anything missing for the District's classical music life, it is a major musical conservatory. These high-end music schools not only help rising stars become full-fledged artists, but also stimulate musicmaking throughout a community. Most of the country's great orchestras draw enormous energy from their close relationships with nearby world-class schools, and eager concertgoers can engorge themselves on their endless stream of open recitals.

While two very fine conservatories -- the Peabody Institute of Baltimore and the University of Maryland in College Park -- exist within the larger metropolitan area, their physical distance from downtown often prevents them from becoming a more integral part of the city's musical fabric.

Credit then goes to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage for trying to fill in the gap with its Conservatory Project. Each night over the past week, the center handed the Terrace Theater over to one of the nation's top-notch musical schools, which presented a concert of some of its promising students. The free recitals were generally well-prepared and energetic.

The historic Oberlin College Conservatory, an hour's drive outside of Cleveland, showed why the school is such a national treasure with its wonderfully varied concert on Friday evening. The strong and intelligent singing of baritone Todd Boyce in several lieder of Hugo Wolf gave way to a romping reading of Bela Bartok's String Quartet No. 4 from the Jasper Quartet.

Russian pianist Yury Shadrin received well-deserved ovations for a brightly rendered "Andante Spianato" and "Grande Polonaise Brillante" of Chopin.

On Sunday evening, the University of Michigan School of Music provided a more varied program than its Oberlin cousins, mixing in Finnish folk tunes for double bass, a rhythmic jazz quartet and some musical theater pieces. Yet the school has never lost sight of its classical roots, and there was some attractive singing from Chinese mezzo-soprano Peiyi Wang in several Strauss and Meyerbeer opera arias and note-perfect piano playing in Schumann's wandering "Symphonic Etudes," Op. 13, from another budding Russian virtuoso, Dimitri Vorobiev.

At various points during the week, the Indiana University School of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, the Cleveland Institute of Music and the New England Conservatory also sent their sparkling young musicians to pitch in.

To listen to these concerts, whether in person or online (each performance can be downloaded from the Kennedy Center's Web site, www.kennedy-center.org), was to get a better grasp of the important difference between technique and musicianship.

In almost every case, the young musicians were still learning to put their commanding skills in the full service of the music itself. While only experience -- onstage and in life -- will bring about a more mature and lively sound, it was wonderful to get even a brief snapshot of these young musicians before they head off to the world's concert stages.

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