In many ways, the New Music Orchestra (also known as the Shoestring Orchestra) typifies the grass-roots approach to music making. Amateur and semiprofessional players rehearse established repertoire works on an irregular basis, sometimes striving to fill all the section chairs come concert time. The group's performance last night at the Market 5 Gallery on Capitol Hill was an interesting mix of the sonic properties of the Portsmouth Sinfonia with the visual appearance of a Booth cartoon, as near bare-bulb lighting and casual attire created a refreshing down-home environment. The Shoestringers' greast asset is their exposure of contemporary works that might otherwise be overlooked. Clara Boone's The Annunciation of Spring," a collection of mildly acerbic, pastoral themes, and Joseph Santo's "Correspondances," an intriguing setting for soprano and string orchestra, both deserve a wider audience; Barbara Alushian's confident vocals added a tactile dimension to the text by Baudeaire.
Conductor John Webber's "Bravura," a brief call to arms to the musicians, set the stage for the U.S. premiere of Morris Surdin's Concerto for Mandolin and Strings. Mandolinst Neil Gladd's tremalando strumming and single-stroke picking enlivened the contrasting modal and disjunctive blues phrases. The audience could scarcely contain its enthusiasm -- assistant conductor Michael Arrington twice had to restrain the applause.