Music, dance and theater flourish

Culture: From ballet to garden theater, Annapolis has plenty of offerings that hold their own with counter-parts in Baltimore and Washington.

October 21, 2001|By PHIL GREENFIELD | PHIL GREENFIELD,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Annapolis has been a fashionable center of politics and commerce for most of its 350-year history, and by the mid-l8th century, culture was no exception.

Music was of great importance to the Tuesday Club. an assemblage of culturally minded Annapolitans who met regularly through the 1740s and l750s. They especially enjoyed the music of one of their own, a mysteriously named Signor Lardini, who actually was Thomas Bacon, an Eastern Shore Irishman with a penchant for crafting melodies in the style of Handel and other European composers.

As Signor Lardini was imitating the Baroque masters, a regional theatrical troupe, the Murray-Kean Company, was bringing the plays of Shakepeare to the Maryland country-side.

Culture in Maryland's capital hasn't looked back since. Music and theater still abound, and Annapolis is anything but a country cousin clinging to the skirts of Baltimore and Washington for artistic sustenance and support.

Annapolis Symphony

The shiniest jewel in the city's musical crown is undoubtedly the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, which begins its fifth decade in this 2001-2002 concert season.

The ASO began 40 years ago as an amateur community orchestra. In its modem incarnation, it is an ensemble full of gifted area free-lancers, members of the various orchestras and military bands that dot our region, and devoted community players who take the orchestra back to its home-grown roots.

For the past three seasons, the Annapolis Symphony has been led by conductor Leslie B. Dunner, whose supple work on the podium has raised the orchestra's artistic profile. Buoyancy and an almost balletic sense of lift characterize Dunner's music-making, and his appointments, particularly to the solo flute and oboe chairs, have added much to the orchestra's expressive personality.

Under Dunner and his predecessor, the Israeli conductor Gisele Ben-Dor, now music director of the Santa Barbara Symphony in California, the caliber of soloists taking the Maryland Hall stage has risen sharply, and the 2001-2002 season will continue the trend.

Jon Manasse, a nationally known clarinetist, will play the sublime Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the ASO in November.

Californian Jon Nakamatsu, gold medalist at the 1997 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, will play Beethoven's dashing Emperor Concerto in January.

The young American cellist Julie Albers, who gave a searing account of Prokofieff's Sinfonia Concertante last season, will return to Maryland Hall for Barber's lyrical Cello Concerto in the spring.

Another highlight of the season will be when Dunner unleashes the power of Verdi's choral Requiem in February.

Annapolis Chorale

Masterpieces of the choral repertoire are presented by the 100-plus singers of the Annapolis Chorale under the baton of conductor J. Ernest Green.

But this ensemble is no throw-back to the old-time choral societies that would pop up dutifully for programs at Christmas and Easter, then head into artistic hibernation the rest of the year. Under Green's energetic direction, the chorale has become a musical hub of the community, performing choral masterworks, operettas and evcn Broadway shows with a full orchestra.

The radiant Requiem of Gabriel Faure, the Messiah of Handel in its entirety and the German Requiem of Brahms are the large-scale works to be performed this season.

The Brahms requiem will be conducted by Metropolitan Opera baritone Sherrill Milnes, one of the great singers of recent times, who has collaborated previously with Green.

Annapolis Opera

Perhaps the most fully stocked talent pipeilne Annapolitans have been admiring in recent years is the one maintained by the Annapolis Opera. An enormous pool of vocal talent congregates in the Baltimore-Washington region, and the local company sees to it that much of it winds up on the Maryland Hall stage.

Some of these up-and-coming young voices arrive in Annapolis through participation in the company's annual vocal competition each winter, usually in February, at Maryland Hall or at Key Auditorium on the campus of St. John's College.

In November, the local company will begin its season with La Boheme, Puccini's melodic story of love and tragedy in the Bohemian quarter of Paris. The season's other offering will be Mozart's tragicomedy Don Giovanni, a story of seduction, murder and vengeance.

The company augments its full-length operas, which are presented with English subtitles, with operatic soirees such as "Mozart by Candlelight" and "Pasta, Puccini, and Verdi, Too," light, fast-paced evenings of arias and recitatives excerpted thematically from the great operas.

Ballet Theatre of Maryland

In the field of dance, choreographer Edward Stewart's Ballet Theatre of Maryland boasts a glamorous international roster of dancers from Russia, China, Korea and elsewhere.

Known until recently as the Ballet Theatre of Annapolis, the company has broadened its regional profile in recent years and continues to expand its artistic mission by adding live music to its performances.

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