U-Md. Orchestra: Beethoven Overture Earns an A+

Monday, October 2, 2006

At a college orchestra concert, one tends to qualify any praise: It was good playing, for students. But Friday's performance of Beethoven's "Egmont Overture" by the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra at Clarice Smith Center was an unconditional success.

The orchestra's meticulous tuning before the downbeat paid off with round chords impressively in tune. Conductor James Ross's close attention to dynamics and well-directed accelerandos had the 70 musicians thinking and playing as one unit. Musical phrases were carefully constructed, if a bit square in their caution, and the majesty of the strings, the power of the brass and percussion and the dulcet tones of the woodwinds came across.

Dmitri Shostakovich's Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet and Strings posed problems for the orchestra. With pianist Rita Sloan in front of the group and trumpet player Chris Gekker in back, soloists and ensemble weren't always together. Sloan captured Shostakovich's personality, conveying the ironic twists, romanticism and humor in his music, and the angular melodies flowed beautifully. Gekker's performance was languid and lyrical, evoking a nightclub atmosphere as he jauntily tossed off the marchlike solo over staccato string accompaniment.

Ross's emphatic and explicit direction resulted in a well-crafted performance of Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5, a work that demonstrated the orchestra's strong woodwinds, brass and percussion. The musicians sometimes lost control in their boisterous enthusiasm but that didn't impede the orchestra's momentum. Clarinetist Peter Mika's keenly passionate solo set the scene for the finale magnificently.

It was a performance of which these students can be proud.

-- Gail Wein

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