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Cast of dozens presents musical tribute to the bay CYSO offers premiere of area composer's work


The most exciting thing about a "world premiere," says Karen Lynne Deal, the conductor of the Chesapeake Youth Symphony, "is that it can provide an opportunity to bring together many, many folks who have joined together for a common cause."

When the Youth Symphony presents the premiere of Thomas Benjamin's "Chesapeake Suite" tomorrow night at Maryland Hall, the CYSO's young instrumentalists, some even younger singers, a noted Baltimore composer, one of the area's best known newscasters, a soprano soloist, 10 of the county's young poets, a noted Baltimore composer and one bard from the Eastern Shore will all have gotten into the act.

"Chesapeake Suite" began when the orchestra invited area students to submit poetry or prose reflecting their feelings about the Chesapeake Bay.

I see images in weatherworn colors,

Muted and smoothed,

Their patterns of life,

And they lift their eyes

To the sun that is rising. . .

wrote Rebecca Kesner, a 17-year-old student at the Severn School, in one of the winning entries.

Once Rebecca Kesner's "Sunrise and Sunset" and the other 10 writings were selected, there was no doubt in Deal's mind as to who would be setting them to music. "Thomas Benjamin was the obvious choice," she said, smiling.

"He is a marvelous composer. I worked with him two years ago when one of my orchestras [the Sinfonia Concertante, in residence at Loyola College] commissioned his Symphony No. 2 for Chamber Orchestra, and I enjoyed it immensely."

Benjamin, a professor of theory and composition at the Peabody Conservatory, eagerly set to work on the texts last last fall, and, three months later, "Chesapeake Suite" was completed.

"I enjoy writing this kind of music very much," says the composer. "It was great fun, but it was also a challenge. I wanted to write a piece that was accessible both to the kids and to the audience. But at the same time, there had to be substance to it. The music had to reflect the seriousness of what the writers have to say."

As Benjamin listened to last Monday's rehearsal, he became even more excited.

"Karen really puts things into shape," he said. "It's rare to find someone who works so well with both kids and adults. That's a unique quality."

Deal, who normally treats her young players as seriously as she would, say, the Nashville Symphony, which she will be guest conducting in June, was caught up in the excitement of bringing "Chesapeake Suite" to life.

"I'm sorry," she laughingly apologized to the grade-school choristers of the Maryland Children's Singers, who were on hand to perform the choral movements. "I was so mesmerized by the sound of the woodwinds I forgot to cue you!"

Rod Daniels, the anchorman from WBAL-TV Channel 11, will serve as the narrator for "Chesapeake Suite," and soprano Carolene Winter will lend her considerable vocal talents to selections like "Serenity," penned by a 16-year-old student from Severna Park High School named Elise Houck.

I remember how it was when I was young,

The sparkling water welcomes me

On a lazy summer day.

Endless hours at freedom to roam your sandy shores.

Complementing "Chesapeake Suite" on Saturday's program will be selections from Handel's aquatically inspired "Water Music" and the incomparable Sixth Symphony of Beethoven, the loveliest nature scene ever "painted" on the musical canvas.

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