ASO sees season of big changes

September 18, 1997|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra is thinking big these days, and who can blame it?

Four talented guest conductors are coming to town this season intent on succeeding the departed Gisele Ben-Dor on the ASO podium, and income from the largest advance subscription sales in the orchestra's history is already in the bank.

The result could be one of the most rewarding concert series Annapolis audiences have seen in years.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, a pared-down ASO begins its new Chamber Orchestra Series in which 15 of the orchestra's finest string players and a complement of principal winds will take the Maryland Hall stage to perform Samuel Barber's mystically intense "Adagio for Strings," the charming and introspective "Serenade for Strings" by Elgar, and the Third Suite from Respighi's salute to Renaissance pomp and elegance, "Ancient Airs and Dances."

Saturday's featured work will be J. S. Bach's "Ich habe genug," a cantata for solo baritone in which Bach's long lines and churning harmonies combine to create an immensely spiritual commentary on the world-weary human soul's longing for eternal repose. Its central aria, "Schlummert ein" (Slumber on), is one of the most sublime metaphysical lullabies in all of music.

Accessing such extraordinary compositions should not only please audiences, but could enhance the artistic profile of the orchestra as well, according to orchestra management. "We are excited about giving our musicians an opportunity to play an entirely new concert repertoire," said ASO executive director Jane Schorsch.

"And by isolating some of our very best players in this chamber format, we feel we can improve the sense of ensemble the entire orchestra is capable of achieving," she said. "The smaller-size orchestra could also make us attractive to various concert series around the state, which might result in a heightened profile for the ASO. These chamber concerts are very important to us for lots of reasons."

The shift in repertoire enlarges the talent pool from which the orchestra can select its soloists and conductors. Joining the ASO for the Bach cantata will be John Shirley-Quirk, the British baritone who is no stranger to devotees of operatic and oratorio repertoires. He has appeared at the world's greatest opera houses -- La Scala, Covent Garden and the Met, among them -- and has made a host of oratorio recordings that still maintain places of honor on record shelves everywhere. (No one has ever sung "For Behold, Darkness Shall Cover the Earth" from Handel's "Messiah" with greater authority.)

Saturday's concert will be a family affair because Sara Watkins, John Shirley -Quirk's wife, is conducting the chamber series this season.

Formerly principal oboe of Washington's National Symphony Orchestra, Watkins is gaining a reputation as an up-and-coming conductor and a champion of contemporary music. She recently made her first compact disc on a just-released (Koch International) program of music by Dominick Argento featuring her husband and soprano Linda Mabbs.

Watkins will also be on the ASO podium in March for the second and final concert in the chamber series -- a program that will include works by Mozart, Copland and Bartok.

Subscriptions to the two-concert series begin at $34. Tickets for Saturday's concerts range from $19 to $25. Student tickets are $7. All seats are reserved.

Information: 410-263-0907.

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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