Musical tribute to Pride makes bow in Moscow

April 28, 1994|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau of the Sun

MOSCOW -- The sea roiled fiercely and the wind rose ferociously last night in Moscow's Tchaikovsky Hall in moving tribute to a lost schooner, the Pride of Baltimore.

The Pride, felled by an instrument of nature, was recalled last night by an instrument of man. Terry Plumeri, American composer and former Baltimore musician, conducted the premiere performance here of his symphony, "The Pride of Baltimore."

Though hardly anyone in the audience had any idea that the new symphony was inspired by a sailing ship from Baltimore that sank in a sudden furious storm in May 1986, the music required little explanation.

"I felt the sea, and a storm," said Olga Alexeyeva, a 22-year-old student. "I could hear it very clearly."

How a symphony written about a Baltimore ship could wind up having its premiere here with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra is a story of the difficulty composers have getting new music played.

Mr. Plumeri, who once performed as a double bassist with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, also was music director of the mayor of Baltimore's band, the Port City Jazz Ensemble, from 1979 to 1980.

"We were sponsored by the Office of Promotion and Tourism," he recalled, "and the Pride was out of there, too."

Ties to Pride

Mr. Plumeri would run into the crew in the office; the Port City band had some promotional pictures taken on the Pride. Mr. Plumeri, who sails a bit himself, thought the Pride was a beautiful ship and felt a real affinity for it. He was deeply affected when he heard about the sinking, which killed four of the 12 crew members.

"It seemed like such a dark event," he said. "And when I received a commission to write a large piece for orchestra, I was inspired by it."

Mr. Plumeri now lives in Los Angeles, where he earns his living composing music for movies. By the time he wrote the symphony, four years ago, the organization that had commissioned it was bankrupt and unable to support a performance.

While Mr. Plumeri could hear it playing quite well inside his head, no orchestra had ever performed it.

Sara Watkins, who teaches at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore and who was guest soloist on the oboe for another Plumeri composition last night, said it was very difficult to get new work performed.

"Conductors see so many new scores that it's hard to weed through all the junk," she said, "and find the good stuff."

Mr. Plumeri said many can't hear the music when they look at the score.

"When I wrote it, I knew it was a good piece," he said. "To see it on a shelf without having a life is really frustrating. It's the difficulty and glory of writing for orchestra. Orchestra is very inaccessible, but when it's performed it's a real event."

Miss Watkins said hearing the piece for the first time was an emotional event.

'Ultimate instrument'

"The orchestra is the ultimate musical instrument," she said, "and after that comes the voice. But the orchestra beats the voice for magic."

Movie work had brought Mr. Plumeri to Moscow before, where he worked with the Moscow Philharmonic. When Edel America, a German CD label, agreed to distribute his symphony, Mr. Plumeri made a deal with the Moscow Philharmonic to record it.

"A CD makes it much more accessible," said Miss Watkins, who plays the oboe solo for Mr. Plumeri's "Windflower," which will be on the same CD.

Both musicians were pleased to work with the Moscow Philharmonic.

"It's a superb orchestra," Miss Watkins said. "I've seldom heard such string players."

Though the audience was small last night, it was appreciative.

"The symphony was perfect," said Betsy Hegg, who was visiting Moscow with her husband, Richard, a professor at Clemson University in South Carolina. "This orchestra was one of the things I just had to see in Moscow. How could you miss it?"

Yulia Shurova, a 62-year-old retired engineer, said she had come especially to hear Miss Watkins' oboe solo. She praised the symphony, though she had no idea that it had been inspired by a ship.

"The music is very human," she said. "I imagined a big storm, the sea, and a big ship like the Titanic sinking into the water with its lights on."

The audience included 48 Americans on a tour sponsored by the Church of God. They came last night looking for Tchaikovsky, but were pleased as could be.

"It's beautiful. It's very, very good," said John Salisbury of Tyler, Texas. "You could sense the movement of a storm on the water."

During the second half of the performance, Mr. Plumeri conducted Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, a more familiar piece for the concert hall named after Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky.

"Yes, it sounded like a storm," said Oleg S. Marchenko, hurrying back into the hall, "but it's not music. Now we'll hear some music."

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