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Homecoming: Andrew Grams conducts BSO

When he was in his early teens, Andrew Grams saw the sci-fi hit "Jurassic Park." The visual side of the movie wasn't the only thing that left an impression.

"The trumpet theme from the score stuck in my head for the entire summer," said Grams, the Maryland-born conductor who, now in his early 30s, will lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra this week in music from that film and others scored by John Williams.

"Hearing the music today takes me back," he said, "and I hope it will do that for other people, help them remember who they were when they first saw the movie and heard the music."

Just being on the stage with the BSO takes Grams back, too. Back to his high school days, when he got to play violin in a side-by-side concert with the orchestra, and back even earlier.

"My parents started to take me to BSO casual concerts when I was 8," said Grams, who was raised in Severn. "I do have a strong memory of those concerts, hearing the 'William Tell' Overture for the first time. And a Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony conducted by Yuri Temirkanov, where I jumped out of my seat at the big chord in first movement."

Grams, who now lives in Cleveland, where he served as assistant conductor at the famed Cleveland Orchestra 2004-2007, was exposed to classical music from a tender age.

"My parents were music lovers," he said, "and they always had the radio on in the house turned to the classical stations. It was more ambient music, though, while people were doing other things. But it must have wormed its way into my head."

By third grade, Grams was studying violin. He went on to graduate from the Baltimore School for the Arts and then earned a degree in violin performance from the Juilliard School in New York. Even before he left Baltimore, he had started thinking more about conducting.

"I was always curious about it," Grams said, "and toward end of my high school years, I tried it, more for fun."

Although the violin was his focus at Juilliard, Grams had the instrument's orchestral context in mind.

"I have no way of proving it, but in those four years at Juilliard I probably studied the least amount of solo violin repertoire of any student there," he said. "I was always practicing orchestral excerpts. My teacher would say, 'That's nice, but how about the Sibelius Concerto next week?'"

During his senior year at Juilliard, Grams won an audition for the New York City Ballet Orchestra, where he played in the violin section for several years. But he also went on get a degree in conducting from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

"I would be in class in Philadelphia, then train it to New York to play a ballet performance at night and be back at class the next morning," Grams said. All that orchestral playing "was invaluable, just being in the middle of that sound," he added. "I think all young conductors should have that experience."

Grams has been building a podium career since leaving the ballet orchestra in 2004. In addition to the Cleveland post, he has guest-conducted across the globe, from Philadelphia and London to Tokyo and Melbourne. Along the way, he made his BSO debut with a youth concert in 2007, following that up with casual concerts in 2008 and 2009.

On the young conductor's wish list is a music director post "where I feel I can do long-term building, engaging in a back-and-forth dialogue, living and breathing with a community artistically," he said. "That's what I gunning for."

Meanwhile, he's spending this week focused on the BSO concerts and the sounds of "Star Wars,"."E.T," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," et al.

"This is something I've always wanted to do, a big John Williams program," Grams said. "If they had agreed to everything I proposed, it would have meant two and a half hours of music. We definitely had to trim that back. But it's still going to be so much fun."

If you go

Andrew Grams conducts the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in the music of John Williams 8 p.m. Thursday at the Music Center at Strathmore ($25-$50); 7:30 p.m. Friday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall ($25 to $45); and 8 p.m. Saturday at Oregon Ridge ($9 to $18). Call 410-783-8000 or go to

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