Big Sounds From Small Ensembles

By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 13, 2009

Scale is relative. My "big" events on the fall calendar are mainly recitals involving a single performer. My "small" ones are concerts involving dozens of musicians from all across the Washington area. This region's local orchestra scene is astonishingly rich, varied and vital. Yet it tends to fly below the mainstream radar.

Even selecting a few highlights is difficult, because it leaves so many ensembles out. This season the Fairfax Symphony, after a year-long search, will be getting to know its new music director, Christopher Zimmerman, while Emil de Cou, the NSO's associate conductor, is taking over the Virginia Chamber Orchestra. The JCC Symphony Orchestra is even sporting a new name: Now the Symphony of the Potomac, it's still led by Joel Lazar. Sylvia Alimena, a horn player with the NSO, conducts both the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra (which comprises mainly NSO players) and the McLean Orchestra, which will offer Shostakovich's 10th in October. The Annapolis Symphony and Maryland Symphony orchestras both offer such big-league works as the Mahler Fifth, while the Alexandria Symphony gears up for Mahler's "Lied von der Erde" later this season. The Inscape Chamber Orchestra's offerings range from Couperin to Michael Torke.

In a straitened economic climate, such groups need the support of local audiences, and the local press, more than ever. Yet a critic with limited space is constantly forced to make choices, and time and again, big-name international stars coming through town take precedence over local ensembles in our coverage. How do you report on the "news events" of superstar performances without losing sight of the more muted vibrancy of the local terrain? I have yet to find a satisfying answer.

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