American Youth

Philharmonic Orchestras

The jampacked balcony at George Mason University Center for the Arts on Sunday provided an ideal vantage point from which to admire friends and family in the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras. The advanced ensemble of the AYP joined forces with the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the Children's Chorus of Washington to take on the challenge of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." This monumental oratorio was an exercise in endurance, clocking in at 90 minutes, but the youngsters had no trouble keeping their concentration.

Under Luis Haza's direction, the well-tuned orchestral strings provided an excellent foundation. With the aplomb of pros, the principal flute and bassoon shone in extensive solos, the brass added mighty power to the work, and the numerous percussionists handled their parts impressively.

The choristers' familiarity with the piece was evident in their intonation, precision and clear diction. The soloists were exemplary -- baritone David Faircloth for his lyrical dramatization, tenor Robert Baker for his theatrics, and soprano Karen Lubeck for her appropriately sweet, lilting voice.

Conductor Carl Bianchi's cautious tempo in the overture to "Candide," by Leonard Bernstein, resulted in good ensemble playing and a nice orchestra sound overall from AYP's intermediate-level ensemble. Though their embouchure, tone and technique have not yet fully matured, the young musicians glided over difficult passages like seasoned players. Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 began with cellos and bass in perfect synchronization, setting a high standard for the rest of the work, with the strong and confident brass section carrying the impact of the final movement.

-- Gail Wein

Marco Antonio Solis

And Juan Luis Guerra

The Dominican Republic's Juan Luis Guerra and Mexico's Marco Antonio Solis offered two very different approaches to Spanish-language pop Sunday night at MCI Center. Opener Guerra arrived onstage in a shipping crate lowered from the ceiling. The singer popped out, dressed in a black sports jacket and beret, as a video screen behind him aired cartoon images. While Guerra's opening may have been flamboyant, he quickly settled down into the role of singer and bandleader. This onetime student of jazz and music theory at the Berklee College of Music led his large ensemble through a set dominated by energetic dance songs that had the crowd on its feet. His party music innovatively melded his homeland merengue and bachata rhythms with horn-propelled funk, and some techno beats. He and his backing vocalists flavored every number with warm, distinctive vocal melodies and varying lyrical themes. He even slowed things down for the pretty ballad "Borbujas de Amor" and his folky pop favorite "Ojala que Llueva Cafe."

Solis strode onto the stage in a white suit as the video screen showed him in a limo, and his tuxedoed string section and big band added melodramatic backing. In contrast to Guerra's upbeat tempos, Solis emphasized schmaltzy ballads and 1970s-style soft rock, although he occasionally donned a white cowboy hat and crooned more traditionally Mexican Norteno numbers.

As the slow songs kept coming, his syrupy South-of-the-Border-goes-Vegas style wore out a few who headed home early, but others, especially women, gloried in it and passionately crooned his words back to him or threw teddy bears onstage.

-- Steve Kiviat