Performing arts take center stage

Performance: A wealth of professionals and skilled amateurs bring their talents to Harford County.

October 27, 2002|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

One might think that Harford County, as an outlying suburb in Baltimore's metropolitan region, would be tempted to sit back and live off Charm City's formidable cultural offerings.

But doing so would be inconsistent with Harford's sense of its uniqueness, and would bypass the creative energy of the many talented performers who live and perform within its borders.

The performing arts in the county received a tremendous boost in 2000 with the opening of the Amoss Center on the campus of Harford Community College. Named for former state Sen. William H. Amoss, an HCC alumnus, the 903-seat center for the performing arts has become a prime setting for plays, dance performances, operettas, recitals and concerts.

One need not look far into the future to see the types of top-quality entertainment it offers. At 3 p.m. today, Harford Community College presents the legendary Harry James Orchestra, a modern incarnation of an illustrious Big Band. With evocative standards such as Cole Porter's "Night and Day," Duke Ellington's "Take the `A' Train," and "You Made Me Love You," the ensemble pays tribute to its founder, a great trumpeter, and to the Big Band era.

On Saturday, Nathan Carter and his celebrated Morgan State University Choir will present spirituals, gospel selections and contemporary fare.

`Nutcracker' returns

On Dec. 6, 7 and 8, dance will reign in the house when the Harford Dance Theatre presents its annual performances of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's popular ballet The Nutcracker. In all, five versions (full-length and abbreviated) of the seasonal classic -- one of the mainstays of Harford County's cultural scene -- will be danced by the ensemble's mice, toy soldiers, sugar-plum fairies and flowers.

The musical stage's zaniest bunch of bumbling buccaneers will be in town Feb. 1, when the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players will perform The Pirates of Penzance, an effervescent, endlessly clever romp. This popular operetta contains some of the pair's most notable melodies, especially the patter-song supreme, "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General."

Tickets for these events and information about other Amoss Center offerings for the fall and winter: 410-836-4211.

Classical repertoire

For the past 25 years, music-lovers in Harford County have partaken of the classical repertoire with the county's symphonic ensemble, the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra.

Conducted by its founder and music director, Sheldon Bair, this season the orchestra will present concerts featuring the Russian romanticism of Tchaikovsky.

The season begins Nov. 10 with the arresting opening fanfare to Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. Pieces by American George Gershwin round out the program, with Rhapsody in Blue (it is a Gershwin program, after all), played by Harford County pianist Duke Thompson.

On Dec. 7, the orchestra will present a holiday concert of carols and seasonal songs, as well as Beethoven's F-major Serenade for Violin and Orchestra and Mozart's Concertone for Two Violins and Orchestra. Zoltan Szabo, of the Towson State University music faculty, will serve as the soloist. SSO concertmistress Wendy Bohdel will join him on the Mozart pieces.

In March, Eric Zuber, a young pianist from Bel Air, will perform Tchaikovsky's volatile 1st Piano Concerto. The program also includes Sir Edward Elgar's wondrously evocative Enigma Variations.

Johan De Meij's 1st Symphony, which was inspired by the film Lord of the Rings, will be the centerpiece of the season's final concert in May. Also on the program will be the Waltz from Tchaikovsky's ballet, Sleeping Beauty, and the world premiere of an as-yet-untitled work for oboe and orchestra by Gwyneth Walker. The orchestra's principal oboist, Judith L. Famous, solos in this work.

The first three concerts of the Susquehanna Symphony's season will be held at the John Carroll School. The season finale will be performed at Havre de Grace High School.

Subscription information, concert locations, times and ticket outlets: 410-838-6465 or www.ssorchestra.org.

Choral music

The 86 members of the Harford Choral Society present two major concerts each year under the direction of Arlen Clarke. Now in his third season with the Society, Clarke is a singer and a composer as well as a conductor. Under his auspices, the Chamber Chorale, a group culled from the ranks of the larger ensemble, also maintains a busy performing schedule.

On Dec. 8, music-lovers can hear selections from Handel's Messiah, as well as Johann Sebastian Bach's Magnificat, when the full chorus performs at Bel Air's United Methodist Church. The riveting Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will be the centerpiece of the Society's spring concert May 4 at Fallston United Methodist Church.

Choral aficionados may hear the Chamber Chorale at St. John's Episcopal Church in Havre de Grace on Dec. 1, where the chorale will usher in the Christmas season with a Festival of Lessons and Carols.

Subscriptions and information about the Harford Choral Society: 410-939-0338.

Lighter choral fare

For choral singing on the lighter side, Harford County is home to two thriving choirs.

With no fewer than five registered barbershop quartets staffed by the 40-plus members of their organization, the women of the Upper Chesapeake Chorus have been singing for 25 years. Audition or concert information: 410-575-7602.

Barbershop-quartet singing is raised to high art by the Bay Country Gentlemen. They can be reached at 410-879-1534.

For many Harford theatergoers, the high point of the summer is the annual appearance by the Phoenix Festival Theater, which performs musicals and plays at the Chesapeake Theater on the campus of Harford Community College. Even the most devout Harford County theatergoer notices that during these weeks, the impulses to visit Baltimore's Lyric Theater and Washington's Kennedy Center seem to diminish.

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