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MYSO demands practice, practice Youth orchestra's conductor balances the high life with weekly rehearsals


The fringe benefits of performing in the Maryland Youth Symphony Orchestra are what everyone hears and reads about: trips to Taiwan, Spain and England, along with performances such as the one scheduled at the Lyric Opera House on Sunday afternoon.

What isn't covered in the travelogue is the practicing. On average, rehearsals are 4 1/2 hours on Saturdays -- every Saturday from September to June.

Leading this orchestra of youthful commitment is conductor and founder Angelo Gatto, a 10-year resident of Glenwood and native of Largo, Italy, who teaches strings to Howard County public school students and is a member of the music faculty at Catonsville Community College.

Mr. Gatto also gives private violin lessons to 20 students.

Mr. Gatto founded the Maryland Youth Symphony orchestra 29 years ago, after moving from Pittsburgh, where he had established a similar group. He keeps the Maryland version afloat through public and private grants, and has managed to schedule international excursions about every other year.

At the symphony's first performance in 1964, 120 players performed at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.

This year's 80-member orchestra consists of students from middle school to college level, mostly from the Baltimore area. All must audition for placement in the orchestra.

Mr. Gatto created the youth orchestra to fill a void for young classical music performers.

"It's very hard for young people to play major repertory works such as Beethoven, Brahms. . . . I felt there was a need. There was no orchestra in Baltimore."

Sunday's performance at the Lyric will include the "La Gazza Ladra" overture by Rossini, Beethoven's Piano Concerto in B flat and his "Choral Fantasy," with a combined chorus from Kenwood and Lansdowne high schools singing two other works.

Kevin Ayesh, a music instructor and artist-in-residence at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, N.C., will be the soloist in the Beethoven concerto. He was awarded the third prize and composer's prize at the New Orleans International Piano Competition last year.

The orchestra will perform Debussy's "Children's Corner Suite" next month for Howard County public school children at Glenelg High School, a sold-out affair.

Handling the administrative end of the orchestra is Mr. Gatto's wife, Margaret Keating Gatto, who also immigrated to the United States -- but from England.

A piano teacher, Mrs. Gatto has 25 students.

Mr. Gatto's U.S. career began in Pittsburgh, where he honed his violin playing and earned a music degree at Duquesne University, studying conducting and composition under Oscar Del Bianco, a pupil of Antonin Dvorak.

At the age of 19, he began playing violin with the Pittsburgh Symphony and performed under the direction of Sir Thomas Beecham, Paul Hindemith and Igor Stravinsky.

Mr. Gatto also served as host of a weekly classical-music radio show. He was dubbed Pittsburgh's "Musical Man of 1952" by the city's Chamber of Commerce and named one of the "Leaders of Tomorrow" by Time magazine.

In 1964, he moved to Baltimore and continued performing as a violinist and conductor. Along with his compositions for strings, woodwinds, brass, chorus, piano and orchestra was the publication of his book, "The Mastery of Violin Technique," in 1987.

For Mr. Gatto, the joy of conducting youths, who generally range in age from 12 to 21, is in the creation.

"You get children to try to be musicians by teaching them how to paint with music, how to make color," he said.

"They play with so much color and intensity. I feel like I've come out with a great painting, like a Raphael or Michelangelo."

admits that one "has to use every means to have the children perform the music," conveying meaning through animated body language and facial expressions.

"He's always in total control of the orchestra," Mrs. Gatto said. "He wills them to play.

"They're playing very difficult works at a high-energy level. Someone who's passive and laid back is not going to have an orchestra like that."

When asked his advice to parents who feel their children may be musically talented, he quoted fellow violinist Yehudi Menuhin: "99 and 44/100 percent is sweat. The rest of it is talent."

The Maryland Youth Symphony Orchestra will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Lyric Opera Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave., Baltimore. Tickets are $12.50, $15 and $20, and may be purchased at the Lyric Box Office, Ticketmaster and all Hecht Co. stores. Information: 442-7328.

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