"If I were to look at all the orchestras in the region -- and we're lucky to have dozens -- I would say that the distinguishing feature for the Alexandria Symphony would be its partnerships with the other arts," said maestro Kim Allen Kluge, musical director of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra.
Every ASO season is created around its collaborative partnerships, and this year theater is the key as the symphony works with the Shakespeare in Washington Festival and other groups including Signature Theatre, Metro Stage and the Little Theatre of Alexandria.
Saturday, in a program titled "Glorious Love, Tragic Love," the ASO will feature the story of Romeo and Juliet in four works, drawn from a musical spectrum that runs from Tchaikovsky and Berlioz to Henry Mancini and Leonard Bernstein. Joining the ASO as soloists in selections from Bernstein's "West Side Story" are Signature Theatre's Erin Driscoll (winner of the 2006 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Leading Actress) and Tim Tourbin (who has appeared in "Sweeney Todd," "Merrily We Roll Along" and "Cabaret").
Also on the program are Tchaikovsky's popular "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture," Berlioz's "symphonie dramatique" on the same theme and, from the world of film, Henry Mancini's arrangement of Nino Rota's haunting "Love Theme From 'Romeo and Juliet.' " The latter may seem to come from left field, but like Bernstein's, Mancini's classically grounded work, including bluesy, jazzy scores for 1950s movies ("Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Charade") and television ("Peter Gunn"), was equally at home in the concert hall and on the home stereo.
"For me, it all comes down to sincerity," Kluge said of mixing things up, as he's done in the past with works by artists including Duke Ellington and Elvis Costello, or soundtrack works from the "Harry Potter" movies. "I believe this is great music, and it belongs on this program with all these other great composers, end of story. You have to believe in what you're presenting, and then the rest is up to the audience."
Appealing to classical music purists while attempting to broaden the symphony's appeal to new and younger listeners is what Kluge called "one of the central discussions of my profession."
"I would like to change the way people think about going to concerts," he said. "The concert experience should be about stories that transcend the musical experience, and the combination of the storytelling -- here by Mr. Shakespeare, hard to beat -- and the music hopefully will hit everyone at some level."
"The divisions between pop music and symphonic music are a lot of times very arbitrary," he said. "When you go to a place like Schlesinger, where it's a very powerful acoustic environment, and that music is presented on the same stage by the same musicians, those barriers do break down."
-- MARIANNE MEYER
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