Kids go along for a ride on `Mystery Express'

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BSO's lively musical lesson for schoolchildren goes public

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November 12, 2005|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Educational concerts are among the most important that any orchestra can give. You just never know when a little dose of classical music will strike a responsive chord in an unsuspecting kid.

Coming up with new material for such concerts is a tough challenge, one the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra meets engagingly with its newest program, The Mystery Express.

I caught a performance Thursday morning with about 2,000 students, grades four through eight, at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Their response affirmed that this 50-minute, multidimensional effort is a real attention-getter.

The Mystery Express, written and produced by BSO percussionist Brian Prechtl, gets a public presentation tomorrow as part of the BSO's Family Concert series. It's well worth a look and listen.

Woven around a journey on the fabled Orient Express, the plot concerns a 9-year-old boy on his way to Istanbul, an adventurous girl he meets, a spooky hooded figure who seems to be stalking them, and various diversions as the train arrives in each city.

The final destination is not just geographic, but philosophical and inspirational, as the boy realizes his musical destiny. If it gets a little talky, and maybe too contrived at the end, the show reveals a fresh style and avoids playing down to a young audience.

The story unfolds through voice-overs, projected slides, dance sequences (Doug Baum and Sarah Chin from the Baltimore School for the Arts execute Tony Wilson's choreography charmingly) and astutely chosen music (never mind that a Czech piece illustrates a Hungarian stop-over). A moonlit scene with the orchestra playing a nocturnal gem by Mendelssohn is particularly effective.

On Thursday, BSO associate conductor Andrew Constantine, who has a dual, pivotal role in the program, deftly led the sturdy ensemble through excerpts of assorted masterworks. Christian Colberg took a terrific virtuosic spin as a gypsy fiddler, backed by accordionist Kraig Greff.

As education and entertainment, The Mystery Express seems to be on the right track.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

If You Go The Mystery Express leaves the station at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets are $12. Call 410-783-8000.

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