'Fantastique' to open season Concert: The Columbia Orchestra will present works by Brahms and Berlioz Saturday in its first program of the 1998-1999 season.

October 29, 1998|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Anyone who thinks drug-induced musical dreams are exclusive to 1960s rock-'n'-rollers doesn't know classical music very well.

For sitting at the core of the symphonic repertoire is Hector Berlioz's immensely colorful "Symphonie Fantastique," the five-movement tale of a fixated lover and his opium-inspired dream gone bad.

With its hair-raising "March to the Scaffold" and a phantasmagoric "Witches Sabbath" punctuated by the sounds of demons, sorcerers and shrieking witches, "Symphonie Fantastique" is an inspired choice for an All Hallows Eve musical program, which explains why the Columbia Orchestra has made Berlioz's masterwork the centerpiece of the opening concert of the ensemble's 1998-1999 season.

The concert will be held at the James Rouse Theatre in Columbia at 8 p.m. Saturday. Conductor Catherine L. Ferguson and her community orchestra of 84 players, augmented by a harpist and extra percussion for Berlioz's more raucous passages, will also perform two works of Brahms, his rollicking "Academic Festival Overture" and the Concerto for Violin and Cello.

Both soloists for the Brahms concerto have close ties to Columbia and are founding members of the Gemini Piano Trio, an up-and-coming chamber ensemble.

Violinist Sheng-Tsung Wang, a graduate of Centennial High School and a former winner of the Columbia Young Artist Competition, is completing a master's degree at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory, where he is concertmaster of the Peabody Symphony Orchestra.

Cellist Benjamin C. Myers of Columbia has been principal cellist of the Aspen Concert Orchestra in Colorado, the Concert Artists of Baltimore and the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra. He earned the first doctoral degree in cello performance from Boston's prestigious New England Conservatory and is a veteran of master classes given by Yo-Yo Ma.

The players and their conductor have aimed high in their season opener. The sustained phrases of Brahms are always a test of the overall expressiveness of an orchestra, and the virtuosity and emotionalism demanded by "Symphonie Fantastique" make it one of the great tests of the symphonic repertoire.

"Few musicians have the imagination and passion to transport themselves and their audience into the fantastic world of Berlioz's dreams," the British conductor and commentator Edward Downes has said.

But the local orchestra is undaunted by the task.

"We're here to see that music stays a part of everyone's lives," says flutist Elaine Newhall, president of the orchestra, which will play Saturday at the Rouse Theatre for the second time.

"We aren't the Baltimore Symphony, but we have very talented players who've been together a long time," she says. "Many music teachers from the county play with us, so students will get the chance to see their teachers perform."

Columbia Orchestra's 1998-1999 season

Saturday, 8 p.m. at the James Rouse Theatre: Sheng-Tsung Wang, violin; Benjamin Myers, cello; Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture"; Brahms' Double Concerto for Violin and Cello; Berlioz' "Symphonie Fantastique."

Nov. 21; 1 p.m. and 2: 30 p.m., Family Concert, Wilde Lake Interfaith Center: Prokofieff's "Peter and the Wolf"; Bizet's "Jeux d'enfants" (Children's Games).

Jan. 30, 8 p.m.; Smith Theatre, Howard Community College: Nancy Stagnitta, flute; Michael Adcock, piano; Mozart's Overture to Don Giovanni, Flute Concerto No. 1 and Piano Concerto No. 12, K.313; Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5 in D minor, "Reformation."

Feb. 27, 8 p.m., Smith Theatre: Young Artist Competition winners; Alfven's Swedish Rhapsody No. 1; Competition winners, repertoire to be announced.

May 22, 8 p.m., Smith Theatre: Elizabeth Knauer, soprano; Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3; Mahler's Kindertotenlieder; Sibelius' Symphony No. 5.

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Pub Date: 10/29/98

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