AACC orchestra rises to Mozart, Tchaikovsky

Concert Review

May 21, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

With energy and passion, the Anne Arundel Community College Orchestra offered a spring concert that lived up to its title, "Finale With Fire!"

Much of the credit has to go to Anna Binneweg, who became the AACC Orchestra's director and conductor and a teacher in fall 2006. Since then, the ensemble has nearly doubled in size to 64. A quarter of the musicians remain from 2006, indicating membership stability. Most of the horn section remains intact, along with flutes and trumpets and two trombonists, and there are also at least five of the 2006 violinists. From this original group, several have been appointed principals, including the evening's gifted oboe soloist, Kerry Willingham.

Binneweg has proved to be a passionate conductor who brings out the best in her musicians, putting them, not herself, in the spotlight.

Her students voted Binneweg this year's "Rookie Professor Award" for teaching excellence and leadership.

The much improved sound she's drawn from the group was on full display at the May 10 concert. The orchestra met the demanding challenges of Mozart's Concerto for Oboe, with Willingham as soloist, and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, where the full orchestra shined.

The musicians seemed at home with Mozart, executing the sprightly, joyous passages with verve and providing discreet accompaniment to the soloist throughout the three movements. Willingham elegantly met all of the work's rigorous demands, expressing virtuosity and sensitivity in the first movement, marked allegro aperto, and eloquence and intensity in the adagio non troppo second movement - she and orchestra seeming to sing to each other. The final movement, the allegretto, which Mozart later incorporated into his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, brought a joyous conclusion.

After intermission Binneweg coaxed a high degree of professionalism and emotional engagement from the orchestra with Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, which the composer wrote during a disastrous three-month marriage with Antonina Milyukova. A repressed homosexual, Tchaikovsky quickly developed disdain for Antonina after discovering that she had no interest in music. Later dedicating the symphony to his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, he explained that its theme is fate.

The AACC Orchestra profoundly expressed that theme in the somber passages of the first movement that seemed imbued with intense emotion. Willingham also captured emotional darkness in the mournful opening oboe solo.

This was followed by a cheerful pizzicato scherzo segment that indicated more joy than Tchaikovsky normally seems to express, and which the composer described as "people surrendering themselves to joy." The final movement built to a dramatic conclusion.

Throughout Tchaikovsky's Fourth, the AACC Orchestra sounded much larger and more fully engaged than usual. Each section - strings, brass, horns - fully delivered, though I noticed raggedness early on in the woodwinds, particularly in the first movement. Despite this criticism, the overall high level of musicianship resulted in a triumphant, even thrilling performance.

The musicians and the delighted audience that rose to its feet seemed to forget they were a college ensemble.

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