Atypical musical trip

In finale, youth orchestra mixes theme of altered mental states in with standard fare

May 22, 2008|By Jennifer Choi | Jennifer Choi,Sun reporter

Witches dance eerily at a funeral, two would-be enemies accidentally fall in love, and hallucinations plague a Harvard scientist at Sunday's Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestra finale concert at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

The scenes aren't visually depicted. Rather, these stories are illustrated through music in Journeys of the Mind, a program in which some of the pieces share the same theme: altered mental states.

"On the surface, the pieces are about mind-altering things, like weird dreams and love potions," said Jason Love, conductor and artistic director of the orchestra. "On a real level, it's about the way that music can take you to very different emotional places."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Thursday's LIVE section about the Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestra misidentified the instrument that Ryan Lee plays. He is a violinist.
The Sun regrets the errors.

High school students make up most of the Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestra's fully sized symphonic Youth Orchestra, which performs the finale of Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz, Prelude and Liebestode from the opera Tristan & Isolde by Richard Wagner and Three Hallucinations by John Corigliano.

Flutists imitate water buffalos and oboes sound like sheep bleating during Corigliano's unconventional piece. The work - composed for Altered States, the 1980 film about a scientist that has a series of fantastical hallucinations as a result of self-experimentation - calls for unusual orchestral actions. For instance, flute players buzz into their instruments like trumpet players and oboists carefully wrap their mouths around their reeds to make nasal-sounding noises.

"It's something new and off the beaten path and it's a lot of fun to play," said 17-year-old violist Ryan Lee. "It's about the effects and gestures without focusing too much on specific pitches."

Wagner's piece is based on the tale of an unlikely romance. Two people who dislike each other accidentally drink a love potion. The finale of Symphonie Fantastique describes a man's dream in which he imagines witches dancing at his funeral.

The Concert Strings, one of the Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestra's other ensembles, consisting of mostly middle school-aged musicians, also presents four pieces for the finale's program. Concerto for Two Oboes, by Antonio Vivaldi, features two soloists, Concert Strings conductor Mary Ann Poling and Fatma Daglar, principal oboist for the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

A movement from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Symphony No. 29, the overture to Russlan and Ludmilla by Mikhail Glinka and the overture to Poet & Peasant by Franz Von Suppe will also be played.

In addition, violinist Tai Murray, a rising star in the world of classical music, collaborates on two pieces with the Youth Orchestra. They perform Havanaise, a romantic Cuban-inspired piece by French composer Charles Camille Saint-Sa?ns that has a Latin dance style and the faster gypsy-inspired Tzigane by fellow Frenchman Maurice Ravel.

"The two pieces are interesting contrasts because they're both by French composers," said Love. "They really complement each other very nicely."

Though his charges are young, Love doesn't want you to think of the Youth Orchestra as simply a poor man's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

"These kids are really advanced," he said. "They bring a certain kind of energy and enthusiasm to the pieces that is just absolutely infectious."

The concert begins at 4 p.m. Sunday. The Meyerhoff is at 1212 Cathedral St. $5-$15. Call 410-617-1524 or go to

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