The Second Symphony of Howard Hanson (1896-1981) is anything but children's music, which is good because the members of the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra sounded like anything but kids when they played it at Maryland Hall on Sunday afternoon.
Aptly subtitled the "Romantic," the Hanson Second is a youthful, optimistic work that represents the 20th-century American symphony at its freshest and best.
It also poses immense challenges to younger musicians. Elegant solo work is demanded from all quarters of the winds and brass, while elegant, sustained playing is a must if the requisite sonorities are to be achieved. Some dicey two-against-three rhythms in the first movement add to the difficulties.
Maestro Arne Running concluded his first season on the youth orchestra podium by guiding his 57 players through this worthy challenge, and his efforts are surely to be commended. Those marvelous swells of sound came across vividly in Movement I, and the sustained string sound he summoned in the third movement belied the age of his fiddlers. If the occasional solo didn't quite speak (there were a few problems in brass), such instances were far outnumbered by interludes where you had to pinch yourself to be reminded that youngsters were doing the playing.
The orchestra's honoring of Mr. Hanson's intentions confirmed for me the wisdom of Virgil Thomson's remark: "The way to write American music is simple. All you have to do is be an American and then write any kind of music you wish."
The youth orchestra players can handle European music as well. A transcription of a Frescobaldi Toccata was immensely colorful and the English Folk Song Suite of Vaughan Williams was suitably atmospheric.
FTC Mr. Running resolutely refuses to engage his automatic pilot, so that even familiar pieces such as Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture" and Sibelius' "Finlandia" sound anything but routine. I especially enjoyed the weighty, deliberate opening to the Brahms. A bit of solemnity before the merrymaking never hurt anybody.