Attention Anne Arundel County English teachers! At least nine of your upcoming "What I Did This Summer" essays are going to sound more like Spanish travel brochures than the usual stuff. Be on the lookout for:
* A midnight concert in the courtyard of the Castle of Santa Barbara, overlooking the Mediterranean in the Alicante on Spain's Costa Brava.
* A tour of Madrid's Prado Museum, an opportunity to commune with the likes of El Greco, Goya, Velasquez and Picasso.
* A gracious reception thrown by the humble villagers of Sollana out of gratitude for the presence of the talented young Americans in their midst.
Hyperactive Hispanic imaginations? Hardly.
For the nine Anne Arundel County musicians who are members of the Maryland Youth Symphony Orchestra, these wonderful images -- and others -- became reality. From July 16-26, the MYSO toured Spain, playing its program of Verdi, Strauss, Bizet and Rimsky-Korsakov at concerts in Segorbe, Alicante, Sollana and Valencia and visiting the great cities of Madrid and Barcelona.
Andre Bulawka, Hans Guerin and Tom Bresnahan of Meade High School; Erica Lessey, Paulette Rudolph, Ann Schaefer and David Ng of Severna Park High School; Katie Kelly of Old Mill and John Allanbrook of the Key School comprise the Anne Arundel County delegation in the orchestra.
These young musicians and their colleagues from the Baltimore metropolitan area devote their Saturday afternoons to rehearsals under the watchful eye of conductor Angel Gatto, a noted teacher of violin at Catonsville Community College and in Howard County schools. Under Gatto's baton, the touring program of Verdi's Overture to "Nabucco," Rimsky's "Capriccio Espanol," the first "Carmen Suite" of Bizet and Johan Strauss' "Tales from the Vienna Woods" was prepared.
The conductor was thrilled with the results.
"It was a fantastic thing taking them to Spain," Gatto says. "The audiences packed the houses, gave us standing ovations and asked for encores. The people over there were very warm."
But the value of such a tour goes beyond the concerts and the crowds. "What's most important is that the kids got to mix cultures, experience art and share ideas," the conductor observes. "The things that go beyond the music are important too."
For the young instrumentalists, it was the experience of a lifetime.
"The audiences really seemed to like us," says John Allanbrook, a 14-year-old French horn player who will enter the 9th grade at Key School next month. "Carmen and Capriccio Espanol really got to them, and it was fun to hear the people clapping along with our encore, the 'Radetzsky March.' I felt very much like one of those old European musicians who would travel around to different towns and play for anybody who came to hear them."
"Traveling is always a good experience," says Severna Park cellist Erica Lessey. "I was especially glad I'd taken five years of Spanish! The tour was tiring, but worthwhile."
Tiring indeed. Starting time for the MYSO concerts was 10:30 p.m., which made for some very late nights. Spaniards, of course, compensate with a late afternoon siesta, a luxury these traveling musicians could not afford.
"No wonder the Spanish need those naps," laughs Nancy Bresnahan of Harmans Woods, who accompanied the orchestra as a chaperon. "What a schedule they have over there!"
"The country reminded me of the American Southwest," says Meade High School's Andy Bulawka, a violinist who hopes to make a career in music. "It's a beautiful place."
Also of interest was a brief stay in Barcelona just a few days before the start of the Olympics. "There was lots of excitement everywhere," reports John Allanbrook. "There were long lines at the Olympics souvenir stands, a lot of last-minute building going on, and the police were everywhere looking for pickpockets."
Perhaps the tour's most moving moment took place in the tiny village of Sollana, a town Nancy Bresnahan couldn't even find on her map. The government had built a little park for concerts that would provide a bit of culture for the migrant workers of the town. Who knows if an orchestra had ever even played there?
But the MYSO did. "There were many small children at the concert," says Nancy Bresnahan, "and the villagers were as appreciative as they could be."
"There was an enormous reception for us after the concert," adds John Allanbrook.