City's arts are distinct from neighbors'

Performance: Orchestra, ballet, opera and theater set capital apart.

May 16, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Nestled between Washington and Baltimore, both with world-class symphony orchestras and fine opera companies, Annapolis might seem to have a cultural identity problem.

But the state capital offers a distinctive cultural presence competitive with its neighbors. It is home to such local institutions as the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Annapolis Chorale, Annapolis Opera and Ballet Theatre of Maryland -- the only full-time professional ballet company in the state.

A recycled high school known as Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, in Brooklyn Park, is an unlikely hub for fine arts performances. Maryland Hall has such things as a cozy cafe, where concertgoers can enjoy a light dinner before attending a free preconcert lecture, and ticket prices hard to match at the Kennedy Center or Meyerhoff Hall.

"Community pride and the inconvenient drive to Baltimore or Washington are both contributing factors to the success of local arts organizations," said Pamela Chaconas, arts advocate and former ASO education director. "One of the exciting aspects of working for a smaller vs. larger symphony orchestra is that there is less bureaucratic tape."

Having completed a successful concert season and undertaken the intensive process of selecting a successor to former musical director Leslie B. Dunner, ASO seems poised for interesting times ahead.

"The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra is in great shape both artistically and financially," said Executive Director R. Lee Streby. "Concerts are well attended; the musicians have enjoyed many standing ovations.

"We noticed a small decline in subscriptions this past season that might be attributed to a year of all guest conductors, but the decline is well within a normal range for the industry," he said.

In September, the season opens with Jose-Luis Novo of the Binghamton Philharmonic conducting music from the Gypsy culture that will feature mezzo-soprano Kathleen Clawson and violinist Elissa Lee Koljonen.

Guest conductors for the remainder of the season include David Itkin of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in mid-October, Boston Ballet Orchestra Director Jonathan McPhee in November and Robert Moody of Arizona's Phoenix Symphony in January. The ASO's season will end May 6 and 7 of next year, with the new conductor bringing Dvorak's New World Symphony.

For information about Annapolis Symphony's subscription season, call 410-269-1132 or 410-263-0907.

Director J. Ernest Green and the Annapolis Chorale have come off a season of growing audiences near or at capacity at Maryland Hall and St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis. The largest musical entity in the county, the Annapolis Chorale consists of a 170-voice chorus, including the 36-voice Chamber Chorus, a Chamber Orchestra, a near-repertory group of soloists and a Youth Chorus.

"We've continued to grow every year, and recently we're attracting lots of young people as a result of aggressive programming," said Green, who will mark his 20th year next season as the Annapolis Chorale's director. "I program things I want to hear myself, and we look at pieces in a new way."

On June 5, Green will conduct a concert celebrating Maryland Hall's 25th anniversary. In September, the Chorale's 2004-2005 season opens with Pirates of Penzance in concert, followed by Elijah in October and a Christmas pops concert Dec. 10, all at Maryland Hall. Messiah, on Dec. 17 and 19 at St. Anne's Church, closes the year.

Feb. 11 and 12 brings Broadway in Concert to Maryland Hall, followed by a classics concert at St. Anne's in March. The season ends April 30 with Verdi's Requiem. Subscription information: 410-263-1906.

Maryland Hall's newest arrival, Ballet Theatre of Maryland's director, Dianna Cuatto, has completed her first full season with the company and has established a formidable artistic presence. After the death of Edward Stewart, the company's founder and director for 22 years, the company featured a 2002-2003 season of guest choreographers that resulted in declining ticket sales.

Last season, Cuatto invited Green to conduct the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra for two well-attended Nutcracker performances in tribute to Stewart, heralding a Chorale-Ballet partnership that will continue and perhaps expand. Cuatto opened creative outlets and stretched the dancers with Latin Romances, featuring classic and jazz dance, and A Scarlet Letter, her interpretation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's literary classic.

"The quality of the product for Ballet Theatre of Maryland in terms of the dancers, the choreography, took a huge step up this past season reaching a level of excellence on par with the highest artistic standards," Cuatto said. "I intend to continue developing the company into a first-rate company of national and local prominence."

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