After European tour, AACC Symphony Orchestra hits high note on home turf

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Anna Binneweg, at podium, with guitarists Vinny Raniolo, left and Frank Vignola, right.

The Anne Arundel Community College Symphony Orchestra continues to surpass audience expectations under music director and conductor Anna Binneweg, now in her eighth season at the college.

Having performed six concerts in its first European tour in March, the orchestra — made up of students and county residents of all ages — continues to explore new challenges and polish new facets of this gem.


The "Made in America" concert last weekend displayed the orchestra's expertise: in the first half, delivering 20th-century American masterworks along with premiering an intriguing 21st-century work composed by adjunct professor Gregory Pascuzzi — with a huge surprise in the second half.

After intermission, acoustic guitarists Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo joined the symphony orchestra to collaborate in a performance that entered a new realm of entertainment. Any audience member who had enjoyed past concerts would have expected skilled music-making; but how could anyone anticipate a concert that would produce so much pure fun?


First, let's acknowledge composer and conductor Pascuzzi's accomplishment in creating his orchestra work, "Mourning to Dancing," first performed by AACC Symphony Orchestra under Binneweg on March 16 at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna.

At the "Made in America" concert, Pascuzzi conducted his work in its U.S. premier to express every nuance, giving the audience an authentic interpretation with exceptional melodic content.

In his program notes, Pascuzzi explained that the title comes from Psalm 30, seeming to express Job's lament. In performance, the piece was poignant, captured by the orchestra in a sensitive performance that seemed to portray the struggle to find a voice for 21st-century concerns. That voice was found in the expressive performence of pianist Helen Smith Tarchalski.

The rollicking second half of the concert with Vignola and Raniolo can only be described as beyond expectation. The duo announced that this was their first-ever appearance with a full symphony orchestra — an auspicious milestone for them as well as for the AACC Symphony Orchestra and Binneweg. The orchestra proved comfortably adept at spontaneous delivery, and the guitarists doubly returned the favor.

A sought-after duo on the international scene that has covered 14 countries on three continents, Vignola and Raniolo have also performed on NPR and public television and soon on a PBS special, "Four Generations of Guitars," premiering in the 2014-2015 season as part of the "Music Gone Public" series.

Among the musical highlights was Vignola and Raniolo joining the AACC orchestra in a gorgeous rendition of Ernesto Lecuona's "Malaguena," followed by a virtuosic performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee."

Orchestra members offered impromptu highlights of their own as they followed the lead of Vignola and Raniolo, joining them at center stage at Binneweg's urging. A line of musician dancers joined as well, called into action by the maestra.

The duo have a stated goal that "people leave our shows feeling better than when they arrived" — a goal they easily met at Kauffman Theater after a set of encores that sent the near-capacity audience home smiling.


The beat will go on at Kauffman Theater when the Anne Arundel Community College Concert Band and Wind Ensemble, led by Bruce Mansfield in his last concert, performs at 8 p.m. May 9.

Then, at 7:30 p.m. May 10, the Anne Arundel Community College Jazz Ensemble, led by Marty Knepp and Ian Wardenski, will perform its spring concert, "What Time Does This 7:30 Gig Start?"

Both concerts are priced at $10 general admission; $7 for Anne Arundel Community College faculty, staff, seniors, groups, outside students and children under 10; and $5 students with valid ID. For information, contact the box office at 410-777-2457 or go to