Cellists of the world unite in a parking lot

Concert: About 250 performers and their unwieldy instruments play together.

June 03, 2000|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN ARTS WRITER

A lot of cellists performed yesterday in front of the Ashland Park Metro Food Market in Cockeysville.

Make that a whole parking lot of cellists.

The nearly 250 cellists -- who came from places as close as the Peabody Conservatory in downtown Baltimore and as far away as the Hyundai Art Center in Ulsan, Korea -- braved the sweltering afternoon heat to perform in a strip shopping mall on York Road. Beneath a white-topped tent, they played compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, John Philip Sousa and the theme song from "Mission Impossible."

The event was part of the World Cello Congress, a festival of performances, classes and seminars held at Towson University. The week-long celebration of the cello culminates this afternoon in a concert at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Sponsored by Metro Food, the parking lot performance did double-duty as a rehearsal for today's program and a free open-air concert for any who wished to listen.

"It's a mountain of cello!" said cellist Terry King, who shared conducting duties with Laszlo Varga. "Some of them are really far away from me. Cellos take a little more room than piccolos or violins. To bow, they need a wider space on the left and the right, so it's a huge distance from the podium to the last cello."

To be heard, both conductors spoke into a microphone. To be seen, they stood on a higher-than-usual podium and slightly exaggerated their conducting gestures.

"I was introduced as an esteemed musician, but actually, I feel steamed," said Varga in the 90-plus degree heat as he stepped to the front of the orchestra to conduct the first part of the concert.

Then Varga, who served as principal cellist for the New York Philharmonic for 11 years, shouted to the musicians: "Can you hear me?"

"No!" they shouted back.

Varga shouted louder still -- and the concert soon began.

The cellists played "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis," a rich, romantic piece originally written by Ralph Vaughan Williams for a multi-voiced orchestra (the all-cello version was arranged by Varga) and "Song of the Birds," a Catalan folk song transcribed for the cello by Pablo Casals.

"This is the hottest cello section I've ever played with," said soloist Bernard Greenhouse, who by mid-performance was the only musician still wearing a suit jacket.

Other players included 16 members of the Beehouse Cello Ensemble of Korea; 20 members of the Cellisimo Ensemble of Germany; 19 members of the Toho Cello Ensemble of Toyko; 21 members of the Towson University and Maryland Cello Ensemble of Towson; and scores of cellists who were participants in the congress.

As mellifluous cello music ebbed and flowed over the blacktop and past the parked cars, a crowd of about 200 gathered. Some listeners came specifically for the concert; others came for groceries and decided to linger. A few dozen audience members huddled under a second party tent, set up by Metro Food, drawn there perhaps by the wine, cheese and fruit -- or maybe the shade.

"I love music and I love the cello and I was hoping to see Yo-Yo Ma," said Sid Meier, a computer game designer from Hunt Valley who was nibbling fruit. "I'm really enjoying it, especially the Bach. This is the first cello concert that I have ever attended in a parking lot."

His sentiment was echoed elsewhere. Despite the heat, several players said they enjoyed playing in an all-cello ensemble -- especially one so large. "I have never done anything quite like it," said Carl Andersen, a cellist and violist from Williamsburg, Va. "Especially not in a parking lot."

String section

What: 200-plus cellos in World Cello Congress performance

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall

When: 2 p.m.

Tickets: $15-$40 Infomation: (410) 783 8000

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