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UMD SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA GETS OUT OF ITS CHAIRS, GIVING MUSIC A VISUAL LIFE

The Washington Post reviews UMD Symphony Orchestra's Program, "Auferstehen."

By Anne Midgette, The Washington Post

We often hear that orchestral music’s problem in the modern world is that it lacks a visual element. And we often see attempts to address this involving video screens, animations or even the computer-generated geometric forms you can play along with your music on iTunes.

But what the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra and choreographer Liz Lerman offered Friday night to open a program titled “Auferstehen” (“revive” or “resurrect”) blew all that out of the water.

The piece was Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” It began when a group of young musicians, barefoot, in street clothes, holding their instruments, walked out onto a stage that was empty but for a couple of harps and a few strategically placed stools for the cellists. They lay down, sleeping, frozen; until the solo flute made her entrance, walking out from the wings and moving through the silent ranks like the Pied Piper, stirring the others awake, drawing them into the music after her.
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You probably couldn’t do this with a professional orchestra. The Maryland program’s “Music in Mind” series, of which this concert was a part, deliberately explores different ways of approaching the experience of concert music, often with collaborators from outside the music world (such as a “Petruchka” with puppets and props directed by Doug Fitch in 2008). The point is less to find new templates than, as the orchestra’s Web site ambitiously puts it, “to offer members an experience of art-making that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.” Friday’s concert was one of those happy instances of an experiment that shows why experimentation is worthwhile. It’s a shame that there was only one performance; anyone who loves orchestral music should have had a chance to see it.
 
As if to underline the point that it’s possible to love both the experimental and tradition deeply and at the same time, James Ross, the orchestra’s music director, paired this “Afternoon of a Faun” with Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony (“Auferstehung”), one of the biggest pieces in the orchestral repertoire, offered with no experimentation whatsoever. 

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