U-Md. Symphony Finds Its Way to Synchronicity

Monday, December 4, 2006

The students of the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra tackled three works Friday night that pose challenges for most professional ensembles: Ravel's "Bolero," Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and Schubert's Ninth Symphony (the "Great"). Even under the guidance of Music Director James Ross, the orchestra hit some rough patches. Still, if the musicians do as well on their upcoming finals as they did in Dekelboum Concert Hall, they'll be happy as they head into winter break.

Ross and the orchestra kept the insistent rhythm of "Bolero" fresh throughout, with rock-steady snare drumming from Lee Hinkle and Kirk Georgia, but Ravel's series of exposed wind solos got both some stylish renderings and some outright flubs.

The strings took over in the Bartok, and except for some tentativeness in the second movement's treacherous pizzicati and off-kilter rhythms, they played with precision and unanimity. Ross shaped a harrowing climax from the slow, chromatic first-movement fugue, and the peasant energy of Bartok's music burst forth in the finale, with the string sections trading whiplash phrases and Alejandro Hernandez-Valdez spurring them with his piano.

For much of the first movement of the Ninth, the orchestra couldn't quite synchronize the plethora of counterpoised melodies that makes the symphony feel both grand and utterly alive. Once this problem subsided, the performance excelled.

The slow movement, led by Ross at a flowing tempo, expertly balanced heart-on-sleeve passion with classical poise, leading into the trippingly infectious Scherzo. The exuberant finale, with crackerjack articulation from the violins and enormous swells from the brass and winds, was enough to set anyone's spirits soaring.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

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