EACH YEAR, the University of Maryland’s National Orchestral Institute hosts a different group of musicians between the ages of 18 and 28 who want to hone their symphonic skills. Although the players change, the NOI’s performances, held each Saturday in June, always blaze with an enthusiasm rare in an orchestral concert.

For James Ross, a professor at the university and the NOI’s artistic director, cultivating this enthusiasm is just as important as making sure everyone’s on beat.

“If you’re not in the act of doing something that you’re really committed to and enjoying, then there’s no particular reason why people should … pay a fair amount of money to sit and watch you not enjoy what you’re doing,” Ross says. “No rock group would survive that long with that kind of approach to what they do onstage.”

To encourage that commitment, the students play their first concert without a conductor — everyone gives input and takes responsibility for the performance. Guest conductors lead the rest of the concerts, but students run some sectional rehearsals.

NOI also aims to get the students thinking about their role in shaping the evolution of orchestral music. “In their DNA are the answers for what’s going to be right for our future,” says Ross. Lectures and films explore issues such as how orchestras can better engage their audiences.

» Clarice Smith Center, University Boulevard & Stadium Drive; Saturdays, June 7 through June 28, 8 p.m., $20 ($7 for students); 301-405-2787. (College Park-UMd.)

Written by Express contributor Andrew Lindemann Malone
Photo by Stan Barouh