Lisa Shaw at Levine School

Lori Laitman is a composer of art songs, a specialty for which she seems uncommonly suited. A recital of her work, sung by soprano Lisa Shaw at the Levine School of Music on Saturday, revealed a taste for fine texts, a reverence for language and the sense to know when to stop. Her inclinations are more dramatic than lyrical, but she has a nice ear for color and texture and her lines, while angular, are molded to the inflections of the texts and are eminently idiomatic for the voice.

The program featured a number of premieres. "One Bee and Revery," a set of three songs on poems of Emily Dickinson, was as concise and direct as the poetry itself. A powerful cycle of seven songs on poems by Dana Gioia, reflections on love, death and healing called "Becoming a Redwood," conveyed complicated and subtle emotions in a transparent musical language. Gioia, now the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, beautifully read his poems as an introduction to the songs.

Also on the program were songs to touching poems written by children from the Terezin concentration camp, accompanied with gorgeous intensity and artistry by saxophonist Jason McFeaters; and the delightful four songs of "Men With Small Heads" on wonderfully zany poems of Thomas Lux.

Shaw warmed up to her assignment as the evening went on, so that by the time she came face to face with Lux's humor, she was in top shape, her voice focused and in full cabaret form. Accompanist Patrick O'Donnell was stylish and supportive throughout.

-- Joan Reinthaler

National Orchestra Institute

At University of Maryland

When you glean the top collegiate musicians from across the country and put them into an orchestra for a month under several world-renowned conductors, you expect to hear amazing sounds. And, marking the midway point of the University of Maryland's 17th annual National Orchestral Institute, the National Symphony Orchestra's Leonard Slatkin led this year's 113 musicians in an astute and exciting performance Saturday evening at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

No doubt it was the combination of Slatkin's artistic wizardry and the students' energy that allowed the orchestra to own the center's Dekelboum Concert Hall from the first note of Brahms's "Tragic" overture, Op. 81, to the last biting chord of Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps." The group achieved some remarkably dry staccatos, and its tones dissipated into silence with a calculated precision -- no easy acoustical feat in that particular hall.

The musicians were acutely responsive to Slatkin's interpretations and dynamics and sensitive to one another; not a melody was buried, not even during Joseph Schwantner's "Aftertones of Infinity," a haunting, celestial modern work that often shimmered in a colorful haze of sound.

If there is anything this solid group has not yet perfected, it is conveying the emotional depth of the music. Perhaps no piece other than Barber's "Adagio for Strings," Op. 11, could have pinpointed this deficiency. It might be unfair to expect these young instrumentalists to project a lifetime's worth of jaded anguish into the work, but they demonstrated such a capability at its climax.

-- Grace Jean

Soprano Lisa Shaw sang songs by Lori Laitman at the Levine School.