National Festival Orchestra with Leonard Slatkin at University of MD

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From the first notes of the violins at tonight’s concert by the National Festival Orchestra with Leonard Slatkin conducting, the audience knew they were in for a delightful night, with a first-rate orchestra – even though the orchestra had only come together a week before.

The National Orchestral Institute Orchestra. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Every summer, the University of Maryland School of Music holds the National Orchestral Institute, where students from around the country audition for this four-week program of intensive study covering chamber music, unconducted chamber orchestras, orchestral performance, and professional development. They are coached each week by performers and teachers and are led by three outstanding professional conductors in concerts, of which tonight’s concert was one.

The program began with Stokowski’s transcription of Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 582.” From the opening notes, the enthusiasm and exuberance of the orchestra was readily apparent. That exuberance, coupled with the obvious technical skill of the musicians, made this piece my favorite of the night. It did not appear at all that they had only been rehearsing together for a week; the unity and cohesion of the orchestra was wonderful. I heard many people around me commenting on the intensity with which they played that was very apparent throughout the night.

Conductor Leonard Slatkin

The second piece of the night was “Double Play” by Cindy McTee. While this piece was dramatically different in style from the Bach piece, the orchestra handled it equally well. While the Bach piece exhibited the skill of the strings, the clear standout in this piece was the percussion section. The piece called for multiple types of percussion instruments, and the percussion was more than up to the challenge, meeting it with skill and even exuberance. At the end of the piece, Slatkin brought out the composer, Cindy McTee, for her own curtain call, which was a nice touch to the night.

The final piece was Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64.” The symphony is long and involved, but the musicians were more than up to the challenge, giving it all their technical expertise but never sacrificing the enthusiasm that I’d come to expect from their emotionally intense playing during the first half of the concert. Tchaikovsky himself may not have cared much for his Fifth Symphony, but I – and everyone else in the audience – loved this rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth.

That was indeed the main thing of the night: the clear audience approval. The orchestra received a well-deserved standing ovation, with numerous shouts of “Bravo.” Despite the short amount of time the orchestra had to rehearse, the concert was fantastic, but I was disappointed that there was no encore, as indeed was everyone around me. But even without an encore, the concert was delightful.

Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

The National Festival Orchestra will have two more concerts on June 23, 2012 and on June 30, 2012,  in the Elsie & Marvin Dekelboum Concert Hall, of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland – at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Route 193, in College Park, MD. For tickets for future events, call (301) 405.ARTS (2787), or purchase them online.