Maryland Hall, a house full of memories

Arts center, celebrating its 20th year, has seen superb performances

September 23, 1999|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts is a place for art history, ballet, basketry, Beethoven, calligraphy, ceramics, drawing, dulcimers, fiber arts, jazz, paper-making, painting, photography, pottery, print-making, sculpture, stained glass, tap and yoga.

But as the venerable structure at Chase, Greenfield and Constitution streets in Annapolis celebrates its 20th anniversary this weekend, it is a house full of memories, too. I am flooded with recollections of wonderful performances I have seen there.

The Annapolis Symphony bid farewell to conductor Peter Bay with a supercharged Tchaikovsky Fifth that raised the roof in April 1990.

Bay's successor, Gisele Ben-Dor, provided many moments of distinguished music-making during her six-year tenure. In February 1993, there was an extraordinary evening devoted to Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto and the Fourth Symphony of Mahler, easily the best outing the local orchestra ever had with the music of that most complex of symphonists.

Boston pianist Virginia Eskin brought the 19th-century romanticism of composer Amy Beach to Maryland Hall with proprietary flair when she played Beach's Piano Concerto with Ben-Dor and the ASO in October 1994. (It still amazes me that this work by America's most accomplished female composer of the last century isn't better known.)

Most smashing of all was the 1995 return of the ASO's one-time conductor, the eminent pianist Leon Fleisher, whose grinding, sultry account of Ravel's "Concerto for the Left Hand" with Ben-Dor still echoes in the Maryland Hall rafters.

I cannot forget the torrent of applause that greeted the Verdi and Puccini arias sung by Kishna Davis, who was a last-minute stand-in at the February 1998 concert that bumped Leslie Dunner to the head of the pack in the race to succeed Ben-Dor.

The Annapolis Chorale, a maddeningly inconsistent ensemble when I first got to know it in the late 1980s, came of age on the Maryland Hall stage in the spring of 1992 with a crackling Verdi Requiem and a year later with a marvelously mature run at Beethoven's difficult Missa Solemnis. The following year, they were singing Faure at Carnegie Hall.

Speaking of superior singing, the Annapolis Opera scaled the heights with an exquisitely sung "Marriage of Figaro" last fall. The stagecraft left a little to be desired, but what voices.

The Chesapeake Youth Symphony was born on the Maryland Hall stage under Karen Deal's baton in 1990. By mid-decade, its initial complement of 35 players had grown to 150 talented young musicians staffing three different CYSO ensembles.

Remarkable growth also occurred in the artistry of another Maryland Hall mainstay, the Ballet Theatre of Annapolis. With an ever-burgeoning roster of international stars from China and (coming this season) Russia, BTA continues to solidify its status as Maryland's most accomplished ballet company.

Isaac Stern could have been speaking for all the arts when he said, "Learning music by reading about it is like making love by mail."

So thank you, Maryland Hall, for making intimacy ours for the asking.

Pub Date: 9/23/99

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