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The Fifties shine in brass

The Baltimore Sun

A satisfying, soulful experience might be expected in a church, but two hours of rollicking down-home music-making was the unexpected treat served up by the Washington Symphonic Brass at St. Anne's Episcopal Church.

The Washington Symphonic Brass concerts in Annapolis are in their fifth season thanks partly to J. Ernest Green, music director of the church and the Annapolis Chorale - and a cover conductor for the National Symphony Orchestra.

"NSO principal trombonist and Washington Symphonic Brass founder Milt Stevens approached me about the possibility of WSB playing in Annapolis," Green said, "and the St. Anne's series seemed a natural link."

With its excellent acoustics, St. Anne's is ideal for this three-concert series begun by the Annapolis Chorale and St. Anne's to bring fine live music to this area.

Concerts are led by Stevens and principal arranger and co-founder Phil Snedecor, who is principal trumpet of the Harrisburg Symphony and has toured extensively with the National and Baltimore symphony orchestras.

Founded in 1993, the Washington Symphonic Brass consists of 17 core members drawn from symphony orchestras, military service bands and other performing ensembles. They are expert musicians on horns, trombones, trumpets, percussion, timpani, euphonium and tuba.

The program for the opening concert on Oct. 3 had a '50s theme, with new arrangements by Snedecor of music from the 1750s, the 1850s and 1950s in works by Georg Frideric Handel, Giuseppe Verdi, Johannes Brahms, Stephen Foster, Leonard Bernstein and Dmitri Shostakovich.

Lively and bright would sum up the first two pieces on the program: Bernstein's Overture to "Candide" that was followed by a vibrant rendition of Handel's "Music for Royal Fireworks."

The creative fun peaked in the first half with an 1850s medley of Verdi arias. These familiar arias reached new musical dimensions that were stirring in the "Anvil Chorus" from "Il Trovatore," mellow with trombones and vibrant with a singing trumpet in "La Traviata's" "Sempre Libre" that was followed by a wonderfully appropriate beer-garden sound for "Libiamo." The performance cast "La Traviata" in a new warm, happy light.

The friendly, down-home quality extended to Verdi's "Rigoletto" with the great tenor aria "Questa O Quella" offered on French horn and "La Donna e mobile" on a tuba that produced a sound Pavarotti could not have duplicated in his heyday. These Verdi arias struck me as reminiscent of my favorite calliope at the now-vanished Myrtle Beach Pavilion.

Unsuspected delights continued after intermission with a rousing version of Brahms' "Hungarian Dance No 5" and a charming, American medley by 1850s composer Stephen Foster. Most surprising was the group's treatment of Shostakovich's "Allegro" from Piano Concerto No. 2. The work usually requires a piano virtuoso soloist but here was tailored to a solo trumpet and piccolo propelled by percussion to set a brisk tempo. Suddenly Shostakovich bounced.

If all this music making wasn't filled with enough surprises, the Washington Symphonic Brass players ended the program with an Elvis Presley medley: "Heartbreak Hotel," "Jailhouse Rock," "Can't Help Falling in Love" and a version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" that seemed more distinctively a waltz than I'd realized. An encore of "Hound Dog" ended the program on an amazing note.

Next season the group will celebrate its 15th year by offering its music to ever-widening audiences. This marks an auspicious event for Washington Symphonic Brass.

Two concerts remain in the Washington Brass St. Anne's series: "Brass at the Ballet" on Feb. 13 and "Brass at the Movies" on May 15. To purchase tickets, call the Annapolis Chorale office at 410-263-1906.

Other notables

In other music news, the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra has announced the appointment of a new conductor.

A native of Russia, Vladimir Lande was principal oboist with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic before moving to the United States in 1989. He has worked as principal oboist with Baltimore Opera and Concert Artists of Baltimore. He has also been associated with Baltimore Symphony, Delaware Symphony and Richmond Symphony Orchestras.

The Chesapeake youth orchestra has also moved to its new home at Indian Creek Upper School. Interested young musicians can call 410-263-2664.

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