The Mount Vernon Orchestra Association runs a vibrant music program in Northern Virginia. It sponsors the Mount Vernon Orchestra (a community ensemble soon to be renamed the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic), the outstanding Mount Vernon Youth Orchestra program, a youth music scholarship program, partnerships with a number of Fairfax County public schools and, in the summer, three months of weekly free chamber music concerts at Alexandria's Lyceum.

On Sunday the Covington String Quartet drew a capacity crowd to the Lyceum's elegant hall for a concert of music by Beethoven, Barber and Mendelssohn. These four young local artists (three are members of the Air Force Strings) have committed themselves to substantial involvement with the MVO's youth program, coaching young players and offering master classes to members of the orchestra.

Their performance reflected careful and literal attention to the score and the considerable technical virtuosity that the extremes of Beethoven's fleetness and the long, slowly developing lines of Barber's Adagio for Strings require. These strengths were best displayed in the splendid third-movement variations of the Beethoven quartet, Op. 18, No. 5, where they were able to draw out the quiet harmonic evolution of the tranquil variations with as much conviction as they projected in their gallops through the exuberant ones.

What was not as evident was a sense that the four had thoroughly discussed every measure of the music, had decided exactly where it was going, what the journey would be like and what to do when it got there. This is the part of the collaboration that might have added a dimension of wonder to the Barber, inevitability to the Beethoven and intimacy to the passion of the Mendelssohn.

-- Joan Reinthaler