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Intrepid musicians heed call to form orchestra of their own

The past couple of years have been dreadful ones for arts organizations all over the country, as the economic downturn and post-9/11 skittishness have combined to close pockets and keep potential audiences at home.

But the knowledge that this might not be the optimal time to come before the public with a new endeavor in the performing arts has not stopped an intrepid band of local professional, semi-professional and amateur musicians from coming together to form their own orchestra.

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To that end, 40 members of the Londontowne Symphony Orchestra will present the ensemble's inaugural concert tomorrow evening in the auditorium of Southern High School in Harwood.

The program, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will include Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Schubert's 5th Symphony and Saint-Saens' 2nd Piano Concerto.

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"There are a lot of good musicians around here who teach or maintain other jobs and really want to play," says violinist Kathy Solano, a string teacher for Anne Arundel County schools. Solano, a Severna Park resident and a longtime member of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, is the Londontowne Orchestra's principal founder.

"Some may not be quite advanced enough for the Annapolis Symphony or able to sustain a free-lance career, but we all really love what we do," she says.

After getting together for months to play the quartets and quintets of the chamber music repertoire, Solano and her colleagues decided the time was ripe. "We had to do something," she says, "so we decided to go for it."

The call that went out to teachers, students past and present, and musicians of the community did not go unheeded.

Pianist Cristine Brunner of Severna Park, a doctoral candidate in piano performance at Catholic University in Washington who has been teaching music at Belvedere Elementary for five years, will solo in the buoyant, elegant Saint-Saens concerto.

Richard Scerbo, a 1998 graduate of Southern High School who is enrolled in the orchestral conducting program at the University of Maryland, will direct the fledgling orchestra's first concert.

"I've been excited ever since I got the invitation," Scerbo says.

"I founded my own small orchestra at College Park so, believe me, I know how much work it takes to put something like this together. It will be a thrill to conduct at my alma mater and, believe me, the further we can take classical music out of the urban centers and bring it to people in other areas, the better it is for all of us," he says.

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"You never know how things will turn out," says Chester Burke, a St. John's College tutor and professional free-lance flutist who responded to the appeal put out by his Baltimore Chamber Orchestra colleague Solano.

"The chamber orchestra in Baltimore started this way so, hey, anything can happen. What a great thing it would be for Annapolis for this to take off," Burke says.

There is nothing wrong with the repertoire that has been chosen, that's for sure.

Beethoven's Egmont is one of the most power-packed overtures ever composed. The Saint-Saens concerto in G minor is a crowd-pleaser of the first magnitude, while the symphony in B-flat penned by a 19-year-old Schubert oozes joie de vivre in every bar.

Equally celestial fare awaits in future Londontowne concerts.

On Jan. 9, Amy Wilson, assistant conductor of the Greater Baltimore Youth Symphony, is scheduled to lead the orchestra in Rossini's rollicking Barber of Seville Overture, Dvorak's radiant Eighth Symphony and the impassioned Violin Concerto No. 1 of Bruch. Nicholas Currie, a Baltimore area free-lancer, will solo in the concerto.

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On June 18, composer and conductor John Frantzen will be on the podium to lead his own work Euphoria! plus a Haydn concerto with Brunner again at the piano, and Morton Gould's star-spangled An American Salute.

"There's a lot of potential here for a fine community orchestra," Scerbo says. "We're going to be working hard to make sure this first concert shows that."

The concert tomorrow night is open to the public. Donations will be taken.


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