ASO closes season with stirring works



The mood of the audience was unmistakably celebratory and anticipatory Friday night as Jose-Luis Novo wrapped up his first full season at the helm of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

It seemed fitting that the concert began with a salute to Mozart's 250th birthday - an event celebrated this season at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts with the first collaboration of the symphony with the Annapolis Opera in the production of The Magic Flute.

Under Novo, the overture sounded even more polished, spirited and balanced than when conducted by Ronald Gretz of the Annapolis Opera.

Commissioned in 1999 by the Curtis Institute, contemporary composer Jennifer Higdon's "blue cathedral" was inventive, melodic and touching. The neo-romantic work was filled with surprises, such as the 33 chimes that represented the age of her younger brother when he died. And golf-ball-sized Chinese balls made what Higdon described to the Pittsburgh Symphony last year as "sounds of stars."

Flute and clarinet were prominently featured because Higdon and her brother played those instruments, respectively, in high school.

The major work of the evening was Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, his last and longest, and considered his greatest masterpiece. The hourlong-plus piece extols peace and the brotherhood of mankind.

In a radio interview broadcast last month on WCBM-radio's Capital Conversations, Novo said he was grateful for the opportunity to conduct it.

"This work won't be done again for five or seven years," Novo said. "I got lucky as the new director to get to coordinate the instrumentalists and singers."

The symphony opened with the Allegro movement in sonota form, which combined a dark quality with fragments of the theme that grew into a familiar and majestic melody. The second molto vivace movement echoed the first movement in fugal form with propulsive rhythm that was well-executed. This was followed by the slower Adagio movement, where the orchestra expressed great lyricism with the winds and strings meeting the challenges of playing almost constantly.

Although the orchestra played impressively, the piece did not catch fire until the Annapolis Chorale joined in to sing a spirited "Ode to Joy." The music had fervor and emotion, and Novo did an excellent job of balancing orchestra and chorus so that none of the magnificent singing was obscured.

Four soloists delivered all that was required, with mezzo soprano Jane Dutton and tenor Dinyar Vania offering outstanding performances. Baritone Kenneth Overton offered some memorable passages. Only soprano Kishna Davis did not seem to sing up to her usual high standards.

Still, it was stirring when the chorus sang Friedrich Schiller's words: "Seid umschlungen, millonen! Diesen kuss der ganzen welt!" Or, "You are embraced, you millions! This is a kiss for the whole world!"

The audience responded with a prolonged standing ovation. While I would have preferred that Annapolis Chorale director J. Ernest Green, who rehearsed the chorus, be given separate recognition when he joined the group in a final bow, the concert was still a wonderful way to end a memorable season.

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