Talented young musicians paired with professionals Orchestra: Youths from Anne Arundel County schools are the only students in Maryland taking part in the BSO's 'Side-by-Side' concerts. It's the "apex" for them.

January 29, 1998|By Melissa Corley | Melissa Corley,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Michael Balderson is only 17, but he has been a regular for four years at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's annual "Side-by-Side" concerts, which pair Anne Arundel County students with professionals.

Yesterday's concert at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall was different, however. Instead of being relegated to the middle of the bass section, the Broadneck High School senior played a solo.

Michael approached center stage, gingerly carrying an instrument that is almost as tall as he is, and perched on a stool to play the first movement of Domenico Dragonetti's Concerto in A major for bass.

When it was finished, the 2,400 students, teachers and parents gave him a standing ovation.

"It was nerve-racking," said Michael. "I think I was hiding it pretty well."

The concerts, which are open to county middle and high school students, started 10 years ago and included Anne Arundel and Baltimore County students. The other students' participation waned over the years, however, and Anne Arundel is now the only county in Maryland to participate in the program, said Bruce Horner, coordinator of music for the county's schools.

"We run about 17 major countywide events, and my perception is our kids consider this the apex," Horner said.

In October, 55 students auditioned for orchestra positions; 29 were selected.

"It's always really competitive," said Antoine Grady, 16, an Old Mill High School junior who has played the flute since he was in fourth grade. He auditioned in 1996, and although he did not make it that time, he learned enough from the experience in front of a panel of judges to make it this time, he said.

Not only did Antoine make it, but he learned his private teacher's former instructor is a BSO flutist. Although he did not get to meet his instructor's mentor, he said playing with talented professionals was a memorable experience.

"It was the best experience of my life," he said. "As soon as I got home, I called my flute teacher and told her it was so cool."

First violin Elizabeth Palmieri, an Arundel High School sophomore who also performed at last year's concert, said students get their first behind-the-scenes glimpses of professional orchestras during the performances.

"It's a good experience just seeing how a really successful orchestra works and seeing the differences between that and a student band," she said.

"It was kind of intimidating at first. But when I walked up on stage the whole place seemed so much smaller."

Horner said the symphony members have done a good job of making the students feel comfortable.

"The musicians have let their hair down and embraced the students," Horner said. "In a sense, they nurture them."

Students practiced on their own and rehearsed with one another before they met with Daniel Hege, the BSO's assistant rTC conductor who led the performance. They had one rehearsal with Hege two weeks ago, another Tuesday night and a final run-through with the orchestra members an hour before the concert.

The program, with works by Brahms and Berlioz, is more difficult than the music high school students typically play, Hege said.

"It stretches the students' technical ability," he said.

They students also had to learn the difference between practicing alone and with a full orchestra, he said. They had to practice starting together several times before they perfected it, for example.

Hege said he often had to go through the music measure by measure with the students, which he never does with BSO performers.

"The performers were so helpful with the educational experience for these students," he said.

Using the flutists as an example, he said students had to observe how a professional does his breathing fits in with the rest of the orchestra.

The result was far from disappointing, Hege said.

"Everything worked out perfect this time," he said.

"I felt like the student musicians were really in tune with what was going on. They should feel good about themselves and about their performance."

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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