Volume 12, Issue 36 ~ September 2 - 8, 2004
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Music Review:
photo by Harvey & Harvey Photographers for ASO

Annapolis Symphony Orchestra Free Labor Day Concert Returns
The Rain Gods willing, everybody’s sure to have a good time at their musical picnic on Quiet Waters’ Lawn.
by Rob Goszkowski

You can feel the anticipations as the conductor crosses the stage to take his position at the head of the symphony. Youngsters crane their necks in curiosity as they wonder just what sort of sound is going to come from the grand assembly of musicians before them. On one of these rare occasions, the adults are as in the dark as the children. Guest conductor J. Ernest Green — the familiar conductor of The Annapolis Chorale and Annapolis Chamber Orchestra — has promised a performance covering a variety of genres: Broadway showtunes, patriotic standards and familiar classical favorites. What he’ll start the show with is anyone’s guess.

“We’re taking the theme of Summer’s End, which is basically a time for people to gather together and celebrate the holidays, celebrate the end of summer and kids going back to school,” says director Lee Streby of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra’s return to Quiet Waters Park this Labor day.

For this concert, the Symphony has overcome the primary cause for the hiatus in its Labor Day performance: lack of money. There’s little they can do to forestall the other problem: weather. In 2001, the last year they staged Labor Day shows, one of two shows, the Quiet Waters performance, was canceled by rain. Now, with new money, new hopes, a new holiday conductor and a new opening act, the symphony is trying again.

At 4:30, with the picnickers filtering in and spreading out their blankets and chairs, the Rob Levit Trio opens the show with a touch of jazz. The heat likely reminds everyone the summer isn’t quite over, but relief comes to the festive crowd as afternoon turns to evening. The Trio — Levit on guitar, bassist Amy Shook and drummer Frank Russo — plays Levit’s original pieces plus jazz standards. With the crowd settled in and their ears perked up, the scene is set for the symphony.

Then, as the din of lively conversation dies down, taking the stage is a man you’re used to seeing conduct a different musical entity. You’d think there’s a dramatic difference between directing some 170 voices and leading a symphony of 50 musicians through a performance of summer music, but for Ernie Green, that’s not the case.

“Obviously, you have different things that each group can do and there are different ways of rehearsing them, but I approach them exactly the same,” says Green. “Conducting is conducting.”

To satisfy what is sure to be a diverse crowd in age and taste, Green has concocted a show ranging from complex but recognizable classical pieces for the more heady musical listener to whimsical Broadway tunes. For example, Aaron Copeland’s “Hoedown,” the last movement from his Rodeo composition (now synonymous with TV commercials and beef) is balanced by a medley of Broadway favorites (just what favorites you’ll hear is a surprise).

All you need to know is this: “It’s got a ton of great tunes packed in,” says Green. “It’ll be one of those times where we’ll get to the end of one piece and [the audience] will think ‘Oh man, what else can they do?’ It’s a medley I’ve done before … and the audience eats it up every time.”

Green and the symphony planners also unearthed a rare composition written specially for The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. David Ott’s “An Annapolis Overture” was commissioned in 1996 by then director Pat Edwards to commemorate the symphony’s 35th Anniversary. September 6 marks the first repeat of the overture in over eight years.

The grand finale features a collaboration with The Annapolis Chorale for a soaring rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

“Being that we’re still at war, we wanted to acknowledge what’s going on in America and perform some patriotic stuff,” says Streby. “The popular music is there just to entertain, and the classical music is there to give everyone a good idea of what this orchestra is all about.”

The event opens another busy season for the symphony, which has been searching for a new permanent conductor since the departure of Leslie Dunner in 2002. “It’s been a lot of work,” says Streby. “We’ve had over 200 applications from conductors all over the world for the position.” The field has narrowed, but just how many finalists remain is a secret to, Streby explains, “maintain the integrity of the decision-making process.”

When the announcement is finally made, symphony fans may recognize the winner. The concert series throughout 2003 to ‘05 will have featured a string of guest conductors, who may be finalists.

“We get feedback from everybody,” says Streby. “We poll the musicians. We poll the audience in every concert. All of that feedback gets fed into the process.”

The announcement of the winner is planned for next spring. Finalists have been asked to keep May 6 and 7 open, when the winner will conduct the season’s finale.

While the symphony and its organizers look ahead to next year and beyond, you can enjoy a musical picnic under the summer sun this very week.

“I hope everybody’s ready for a good time because I am,” says Green. “I plan on enjoying myself thoroughly from beginning to end, and I think everybody else will too.”

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.