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Orchestra shows off shining guests


The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra delivered a stirring performance to a near-capacity audience Friday evening, despite the bitter chill and earlier snowstorms that shortened rehearsal time with the musicians for guest conductor Lara Webber.

The shortened rehearsal time forced the elimination of Dvorak's Carnival Overture from the program, enabling the orchestra to concentrate on the evening's two scheduled masterworks.

A memorable evening of music resulted from the visits of two gifted musicians - Webber, associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who stretched the orchestra with a challenging symphony, and soloist Gareth Johnson, an 18-year-old violin virtuoso.

Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor is known for its lyricism and drama, and the enormous difficulties it presents to the soloist.

Johnson delivered everything from the drama of the opening allegro to the emotional range of the adagio, and revealed all the gorgeous melody in the last movement.

He made this demanding work seem easy, an astonishing feat considering that he has been playing the violin for eight years.

Throughout the work, Webber conducted with great sensitivity, indicating a strong rapport with Johnson and with the orchestra. Her accompaniment was often seamless as the orchestra echoed and extended the melodic line begun by the soloist.

On Friday evening, the guest conductor seemed almost motherly as she gently restrained Johnson from rushing off the stage, the only evidence of his age.

Although Webber described the work as "difficult to conduct," Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 5 in E flat Major was a triumph under the conductor's baton, as the orchestra seemed to grow, producing a full, rich sound.

Sibelius began writing the piece in 1914 and completed it five years later, and it retains a freshness that makes it seem remarkably current and filled with delightful surprises.

The composer's love of nature infuses the work.

Sibelius captured dawn in his portrayal of the Nordic landscape, with agitated crescendoes from feathery plucked strings.

The orchestra reached new heights in the finale, its strings preceding the rolling "Swan Hymn," with woodwinds and brass particularly distinguished.

The grandeur rushed toward an abrupt ending of six loud, blunt, precisely spaced chords that form the most intense orchestral punctuation imaginable.

Before and after the performance, Webber impressed - first, with a preconcert lecture, where she proved to be clear, insightful and without affectation.

Later, she and soloist Johnson demonstrated great charm when they met with a group of children invited from Tyler Heights Elementary School.

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