Bargain concert series at Pascal Center

May 08, 2010|By Mary Johnson, Special to The Baltimore Sun

May ushered in a series of concerts at bargain prices at Anne Arundel Community College's Pascal Center for Performing Arts.

Last weekend featured a concert by the AACC Symphony Orchestra and another by the AACC Concert Choir and Chamber Singers.

The orchestra's performance featured Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." Music director/conductor Anna Binneweg led the 75-member ensemble in a challenging program of works by Hector Berlioz, Edward Elgar and Modest Mussorgsky, showcasing this highly professional orchestra made up of students, faculty, freelance professionals and local residents.

The program began with a lively rendition of Berlioz's festive "Roman Carnival Overture," a popular work from the opera about Benvenuto Cellini.

This was followed by Elgar's "Cello Concerto in E minor," which was masterfully played by cello soloist Daniel Shomper and the AACC musicians.

Shomper, a member of the AACC music faculty and of both the Alexandria and Annapolis Symphony Orchestras, impressed in his virtuoso playing of the challenging opening broken chords and throughout. His lyrical expression was echoed and expanded in musical dialogue with the orchestra. This was especially poignant when a chorus of violins increased the intensity of melancholy and when the insistent pizzicato strings accompanied his soulful cello.

The work concluded with a moving dialogue between lighter strings that added a joyous counterpoint to the cello's expression of life's profundity.

The program concluded with Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," which was orchestrated in 1922 by French composer Maurice Ravel and praised for its imaginative insight, technical brilliance and concern for the original composer.

The orchestra took the audience through a fascinating exhibition that evoked the colors and visions of French and Italian masters in a medieval Italian castle. The Parisian Tuileries gardens filled with children at play took on an Impressionistic quality created by the woodwinds; more compelling was the atmospheric portrayal of the Catacombs; and the final stirring Great Gate of Kiev sprang alive with Slavic pride for imperial Russia.

The interaction between conductor Binneweg and her musicians lent insight into the orchestra's astonishing progress, showcasing the joy they share in making the music come alive.

The AACC Concert Choir and Chamber Singers offered another musical treat last weekend, with its "Sweet Music for Spring" concert. The program showcased the AACC Concert Choir under the direction of Eleanor Minor, accompanied by pianist Lisa Blackford; and the AACC Chamber Singers, conducted and accompanied by Douglas B. Byerly, with another segment sung by the Women of the Concert Choir under Minor's direction.

The 30-member AACC Concert Choir was dominated by the greater number of sopranos and altos, who seemed to be more engaged in performing each selection.

Opening segments ranged from the classic "Come, Lovely Spring" by Joseph Haydn to the playful "Soldier, Won't You Marry Me" by Paul Halley, and concluded with "At Last" introduced in 1941 by Glenn Miller and a constant favorite with vocalists from Ella Fitzgerald to Celine Dion.

The Chamber Singers consist of 21 singers, nine of them men. They sang four selections, opening with another pop standard born in the World War II era — "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," which was nicely delivered. The high point of this segment was the beautifully realized "Dirait-on" by American choral composer Morten Lauridsen.

The Women of the Concert Choir sang a lovely "I Am Not Yours," with music by David Childs set to lyrics by poet Sara Teasdale. It beautifully expressed a youthful feminine independence, and in contrast, their delivery of Gershwin's timeless "Someone to Watch Over Me" conveyed a tender longing.

The program wound down with the Chamber Singers in a spirited version of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" and closed with a joyous singing of Keith Hampton's gospel song "Praise His Holy Name," delivered with all the spiritual fervor any chorus could be expected to summon.

Up next

Upcoming AACC events include an AACC Jazz Ensemble concert Friday, May 14, at Pascal Center, and the AACC Concert Band at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 15. Each concert is $10 general admission, $7 for students and senior citizens and $5 for AACC students. The AACC Opera will present " Dido and Aeneas" on June 5, 6 and 7 at Pascal Center. Information and tickets: 410-777-2457.

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