Remarkable week climaxes on stage

February 07, 2005|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

From the stage Saturday night, the Music Center at Strathmore seemed to soar ever upward with balconies. The full-house crowd, which had come to see the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra open the new facility in North Bethesda, offered glitter, flamboyance, fashion.

Cellist Colin Stokes was pretty fancy himself: The evening called for white tie and tails -- a decided departure for a teenager whose trademark fashion is a colorful belt from Honduras.

Saturday night, the 17-year-old Baltimore School for the Arts student performed with the legendary Yo-Yo Ma, soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme and six other cellists. It was the climax of a thrilling week of music: Each rehearsal with Ma and maestro Yuri Temirkanov had seemed like a gift. So had the nearly identical program that was performed Friday at Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. It was hard to imagine the actual opening night could be any better.

It was.

"Everything [about the performance] was a lot tighter," Stokes reported. "It was kind of a surreal feeling because everything was all over. But it was also a culmination, in a good way."

Last December, Stokes and three other Maryland high school cellists -- 15-year-old Jeffrey Chu of Gaithersburg; 16-year-old Rachel Gawell of Arnold; 13-year-old Tianheng "Tim" Wang of Boyds -- were selected from statewide auditions held by the BSO to play Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, a piece written for a soprano and eight cellos. Before the young musicians went on stage Saturday, Ma asked if there was anything they wanted to remind him about.

"I don't think anyone said anything," Stokes said. "It would have been like telling him to do something differently -- which would have been weird."

As for the performance itself?

"It was a long 11 minutes ..." he said. "When we first changed our seating arrangements [in rehearsal], I could see Yo-Yo really well, and last night I couldn't. But I could see his bow, kind of, which was the important part anyway."

After they finished playing, Yo-Yo shook each musician's hand, and the audience started to applaud. Stokes remembers a crescendo of clapping occurring when he and the other high school cellists walked off stage. Backstage, conductor Temirkanov gave them a thumbs-up and a big smile.

Then the young cellist went to an opening-night party and danced to a jazz band with his girlfriend. When he finally got back to Baltimore, he was so tired, he said, that he just "conked out" in a deep, dreamless sleep.

To him, it made perfect sense. "I had been dreaming all day," he said.

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