Although operating nearly in the shadows of two major orchestras, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra has managed to flourish. From string concerts in private homes and a church basement during the early years to well-subscribed symphonic, pops and family concert series today, the ensemble has gained steadily in support and respectability for four decades now.
The orchestra's current strengths were very much in evidence over the weekend as music director Leslie B. Dunner opened the 40th season with a teaser of contemporary music and a solid dose of the classics at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
The teaser was Joan Tower's 1987 "Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 1," a feminist-flavored follow-up to Aaron Copland's popular "Fanfare for the Common Man."
Tower's work uses Copland's instrumentation of brass and percussion but adopts a less solemn air. The music's chomping-at-the-bit energy, with the brass breaking out in bright melodic lines, makes an effective curtain-raiser. It also provided a showcase for confident, emphatic playing.
Those brass and percussion batteries were back in force later in the evening for another fanfare, the one that launches the epic battle against an unrelenting fate depicted in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. For the most part, the brass held steady throughout that score, helping to compensate for some unreliable woodwinds; a few slips of timing aside, the strings produced a sufficiently solid sound and phrased dynamically.
Dunner's approach to the symphony was attentive to the dramatic contours of the music and, except for a curious loss of steam in the finale, effective at maintaining propulsion. The Scherzo, in particular, danced along vividly. A more distinctive personal stamp on the symphony would not have been unwelcome, but there's always room for a solid, no-nonsense interpretation.
At the center of the program was another solid, no-nonsense performance, this one of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, featuring recent Juilliard School graduate Colin Jacbosen as soloist.
He tackled the piece with the assurance of youth, sustaining a well-centered tone, articulating with admirable clarity and control. But Jacobsen seemed reluctant to play softly or to stray from a strict rhythmic pulse, which limited the expressive scope of his phrasing.
The first movement's deep drama went largely unexplored; the violinist seemed more interested in momentum and surface details. The "Larghetto" contained lots of lovely sounds but not quite enough inner poetry. The high-spirited finale, though, showed off Jacobsen's technical skills to vibrant effect and emphasized his potential to develop further.
Dunner kept the orchestral side of things neatly dovetailed in the concerto; the ensemble responded with generally polished work.