An encore for river concerts

Festival: For the second year, the Chesapeake Chamber Orchestra brings free music to the banks of the St. Mary's.

Fine Arts

June 13, 2000|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

An obscure chamber opera about Romeo and Juliet; a piece for orchestra and fire trucks (yes, fire trucks); blues, Broadway and Beatles - it all adds up to the second River Concert Series at St. Mary's College of Maryland. Six free weekend concerts will be performed al fresco this summer along the banks of the St. Mary's River.

The picturesque Southern Maryland site is expected to draw thousands of picnic basket-toting folks to the events, as it did last summer. That prediction comes from Jeff Silberschlag, music director of the Chesapeake Chamber Orchestra, which is the backbone of the concert series. "We are building something here that might look like one of the big music festivals in a couple of years," he adds.

Silberschlag, a Pikesville native, is a noted trumpeter who has held principal positions with the New York City Opera Orchestra and other ensembles. He also chairs the music department at St. Mary's College.

The concerts, running June 23 to Aug. 4, reflect his wide-ranging musical tastes and an underlying goal for the festival.

"Our programs are very populist," he says. "We're making a huge attempt to attract people who don't think they're interested in classical music."

The effort to hook audiences does not stop with such favorites as Rossini's "William Tell" Overture or Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," which will turn up this year. Consider the opening program, titled "An evening of romances - some that work out, some that don't." Before getting to popular songs by Gershwin and Jerome Kern, the performance on June 23 will offer "Romeo and Juliet" by Boris Blacher, an important 20th-century German composer little known here.The one-hour opera was written in 1943 and had a performance on Berlin Radio in 1947 before slipping into obscurity. Silberschlag came across a reference to it while researching another Blacher piece. He decided to investigate and was intrigued enough by what he found to arrange for a revival.

"It sounds as if Paul Hindemith and Kurt Weill had written an opera together," he says of this "Romeo and Juliet."

Because Blacher's score reduces Shakespeare's play to its barest bones, some of the Bard's words will be restored via a narrator (Michael Tolaydo) for the St. Mary's production, directed by Joe Bonno. The cast will include N'Kenge Simpson Hoffman as Juliet and David Robertson as Romeo. The series continues July 7 with vocalist Ethel Ennis, guitarist Linwood Taylor and pianist John Legg joining the orchestra for an evening of Gershwin and blues. On July 14, violinist Jose Cueto will be the soloist in a concerto by Joaquin Rodrigo in a program that also offers a tango by Astor Piazzolla, selections from the musical "Grease" and "Hose-Down" by the late Morton Gould. The latter work, as the title suggests, is the one that includes fire trucks from the Southern Maryland Fire Department. "It's a riot," Silberschlag says. "We did it at the first festival last summer, and we're repeating it by popular demand."

Mendelssohn's Concerto for Two Pianos and Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" (with Brian Ganz and Shaun Tirell as soloists) will share a bill with Stravinsky's Suite from "Pulcinella" on July 21. The U.S. Navy Sea Chanters will be featured on July 28, and vocalist Judy Blazer will help the orchestra take a nostalgic trip back to the big band era for the closing program on Aug. 4.

All performances are at 7 p.m., with pre-concert events at 6:30 p.m. Grounds open at 5 p.m. For more information, call 301-862-0280 or visit the River Concert Series Web site: Alexander Toradze will replace Eliso Virsaladze as soloist in Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Yuri Temirkanov and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra this week. Virsaladze canceled her appearance due to the unexpected death of her husband. The program, which also includes Charles Ives' "The Unanswered Question" and Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony, will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

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