A year of artistic highs and lows

Review: Maryland Hall groups have much to celebrate and more to look forward to next year.

December 26, 2003|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For Maryland Hall-based arts groups, this year ends on a more positive note than it began.

In the spring, Ballet Theatre of Maryland completed a rudderless season that featured a trio of guest choreographers without any unifying theme. After the arrival in June of new artistic director Dianna Cuatto, the dance company made great strides toward a cohesive agenda and re-establishing a firm Annapolis base. Cuatto's exciting new choreographic concepts have energized the ballet troupe that now includes several extraordinary new dancers she recruited.

At the opening program in October, Cuatto introduced Maryland Hall audiences to her dynamic choreography, and in this month's Nutcracker, she paid homage to the choreography of Edward Stewart - Ballet Theatre of Maryland's late founder and 22-year artistic director.

The company is striving for "a higher standard of quality and artistry," she said. "We also are trying to move people spiritually through the art of dance. And at the dance school, we're trying to provide students with a more complete and thorough program to strengthen their bodies appropriately for the strenuousness of the classical form."

After five seasons as music director of the Annapolis Symphony, Leslie B. Dunner conducted his final concert in the spring, following the ASO board's controversial decision not to renew his contract.

Delayed by Tropical Storm Isabel, ASO's transitional season of guest conductors began last month with a program of Romantic music conducted by Rossen Milanov of the Philadelphia Orchestra. At this opening classical concert, the audience heard a full, lovely sound from the orchestra that promises a strong continuing season. Next month brings Baltimore Symphony's Lara Webber as guest conductor in a program of Dvorak, Bruch and Sibelius that will demonstrate ASO's robust artistic health.

Dunner is now serving as the first music director and principal conductor of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. He returned earlier this month to conduct the Baltimore Symphony at the fund-raising gala for the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. Dunner lent his grace and musical vision in conducting David Alan Bunn's Live the Dream: A Soulful Fanfare and in Hannibal Lokumbe's African Portraits.

Troubled by financial difficulties that nearly forced the company to cancel its spectacular 30th anniversary season production of La Traviata last spring, the Annapolis Opera has now nearly overcome its financial problems. Having opted to do only one fully staged opera this season and concentrate instead on concert fund-raisers, Annapolis Opera enjoyed a financial and artistic triumph with last month's gala concert that showcased former vocal competition winners Lori Hultgren and Angela Fout, both now enjoying wider operatic success.

This month's "Mozart by Candlelight," featuring four gifted young singers in concert, proved to be another financial and artistic success. The Feb. 1 vocal competition has already attracted talented young singers from the Middle Atlantic region. Tickets are now being sold for Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado in March. Also, a children's opera will be produced this season in collaboration with Anne Arundel Community College - a partnership that augurs well for both Annapolis Opera and AACC.

The Annapolis Chorale under music director J. Ernest Green continued to expand musical horizons during its 30th season, offering several profoundly moving, spiritual 20th-century works in addition to a memorable Camelot in concert. Last season, Green instituted a new series to showcase the Washington Symphonic Brass. WSB returned this season along with the best-sounding, largest Annapolis Chorale ever.

After a riveting presentation of Carmina Burana last month, audiences this month heard a warm and glowing Christmas concert. On tap Jan. 3 is the Chorale's traditional New Year's fund-raiser at Loews Annapolis Hotel. The evening of "A Little Night Music" will include gourmet dining, a silent auction and a concert of vignettes from light opera and Broadway with stellar soloists.

At year's end all Maryland Hall-based arts groups have much to celebrate and to look forward to in the continuing season.

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