Regional Reflections

On Thursday, April 3rd, I once again visited Maryland Hall to sit in on the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra’s dress rehearsal. This time however, I got to experience Béla Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with violin soloist Soovin Kim as well as Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60. And I certainly was not disappointed by the Symphony’s performance of both.

The first half of the performance was filled by the wonderfully expressive sounds of Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2. I was incredibly impressed by the talent and passion shown by Soovin Kim, their soloist for this performance. He was amazing to watch as well as listen to in his process of creating beautiful music. Kim brought the orchestra in for the rising points of the piece as well as the climax, but never did the orchestra overpower the soloist. The second movement of the concerto had a more haunting theme to it, but was performed phenomenally by the orchestra. The movement consisted of the soloist playing a few measures of music then allowing a group of instruments answer back. Throughout the piece different groups of instruments played along after the violin solos, resulting in a seamless tone change each time.

The rest of the concert involved Dvořák’s Symphony which was a much more jovial piece compared to the last. And the orchestra played it exquisitely. The lively music filled the hall with the sound of a gorgeous major key. The orchestra was able to create an incredible build up multiple times throughout the piece, but before the climax of each, the orchestra would decrescendo back down to continue through the performance. The finale was a great unity of sound, resulting in the end of an awe-inspiring performance.

This weekend’s concert was definitely one to witness and as always, I look forward to seeing the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra perform again in the future.

Anne Arundel Community College’s Tweet Seats Student

Samantha Balazs

Annapolis Symphony Orchestra’s April 4-5 Concert

ASO Guest Blogger, Pamela Stevens

I am always amazed with how the creative parts of our brains respond to music. Researchers say that the brain is a “pattern recognition machine.” My experience listening to last night’s ASO rehearsal is in complete support of this idea that our brains do create, respond to and recognize patterns. Music Director, Jose-Luis Novo, programed two works that come from like-region composers: Bartok Violin concerto No. 2, and Dvorak Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60. Both pieces spurred unique, creative and opposing images in my mind: one that was more free-form and continuously evolving; and one that was more pictorial, programmatic and realistic.

Let me share what I mean. From the start of the Bartok Violin Concerto I noticed a constant flowing and shifting of the music. Through all three movements I kept thinking: magical, mystical, ethereal, dreamy and dramatic. It wasn’t until the second movement that I termed this music as “kaleidoscope music.” Like the concerto, every turn of the “cylinder” created a new vision.

kaleidoscopeThe music that entered my ears created ongoing patterns of color much like the light reflecting off the mirrors of a kaleidoscope. In fact, the derivative parts of the word kaleidoscope mean “observation of beautiful forms.” Quite the appropriate term for this music. There is no doubt that audiences will be mystified and awed. The soloist, Soovin Kim, has an extraordinary technique that matches the grueling accuracy needed to play such a difficult piece. His interpretation bridged the concepts of music and creative brain patterns.soovin with aso

pink balloonAn event to note during the rehearsal of the Bartok: a pink balloon and was floating in and out of the stage lights right above the heads of the musicians. It seemed deliberately planned as a visual representation of the music: as magical and mysterious as the violin concerto was, so too was the appearance and movement of this pink balloon – until it popped!

The Dvorak created a related yet different mental image. I found the Symphony in D Major to be very image-inducing like the Bartok. The difference being that it is much more programmatic and pictorial, almost like it were telling a story of folk life. I found myself more able to create a story with the symphony than with the concerto. The melodies were more memorable and lighthearted, and it was a nice contrast to the Bartok.

I am grateful for this brief trip to the land of Bartok and Dvorak. The imagery that resulted from listening to these great works was truly brain-stimulating. I was able to create patterns, light, color, landscape and story all from the way my brain responded to this wonderful music. I look forward to my next “reflection” with the ASO.

ASO Guest Blogger, Pamela Stevenspam headshot (4)

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My First Visit to the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra – by Samantha Balazs

On Thursday the 27th, I visited Maryland Hall in order to listen in on the ASO’s dress rehearsal for their concert coming up that weekend. I honestly wasn’t sure what I was going to be hearing, but I’m certainly glad I attended. It was a spectacular performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.

At first I was concerned, there was a pretty big turn out just for a dress rehearsal, made up of mostly young children. I had found out that the children were actually young musicians from the nearby schools, who I hope enjoyed the concert as much as I did.

The first symphony performed, the Bruckner, ran just over an hour long, and what an hour it was. Starting off with a very exquisite first movement, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra played the music as if was the telling of a story. Their sound encompassed the entire hall, silencing the listeners who seemed awe-struck by the beautiful music. The second movement, being a bit more solemn but still just as exciting as the first in its own way, was performed so flawlessly I could have been lolled to sleep by the gentle tones and soft bow strokes. The third and forth movements were much more grandiose compared to the ones before. The full orchestra did an amazing job of bringing the music to life and drawing in the listeners. I was amazed after the final chord, not simply because of the power of the last few notes, but because of the magnificent music I was able to experience first hand from this orchestra.

The second symphony, Mozart’s Symphony No. 36, was definitely much more light-hearted then Bruckner’s. Being such, I favored it out of the two. And it was performed magnificently. The way each section transitioned and played off one another was breathtaking. The Symphony’s performance of just the first movement brought a smile to my face. Sadly the end of this symphony came too soon. And although Music Director José-Luis Novo was quick to fix minor mistakes, it all seemed so flawlessly performed to me.

The Bruckner and Mozart concert was sure to be loved, I know I enjoyed it greatly. I left the concert hall that night will chills down my back and not just from the cold. I wish I could have heard it all again that weekend during their concerts. I greatly look forward to hearing the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra perform again in the upcoming months. I hope to be absolutely blown away once again.

-Samantha Balazs, ASO Tweet Seat Student


My fascination with the upcoming Annapolis Symphony Orchestra’s November 1 & 2 concerts began well before I attended the dress rehearsal.  Who can resist Peter Serkin?!  And, how clever, the “Three B’s”! Here is the spoiler alert: the Three B’s are not what you might have been expecting (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms); once again they take their own creative twist on the Three B’s: Brahms, Bridge and Britten.  I was hooked, that was for sure.  Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I am an advocate of live music.  There is no technology out there, in my opinion, which can replace the true brilliance and experience of a live music performance.

Continue reading

ASO Extends Music Director Contract

Jose-Luis Novo

José-Luis Novo, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director

The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra (ASO) is pleased to announce the extension of its contract with José-Luis Novo, engaging him for another five years as Music Director. Under the direction of Maestro Novo since 2005, the ASO has experienced unprecedented artistic growth and enthusiastic reviews from audiences, press and music critics.

“It is a tremendous coup for our organization and the community that Maestro Novo will continue his career here in Annapolis,” remarks Katharene Poston Snavely, ASO Executive Director. “He is a great asset to not only the orchestra but to the arts community at large.” Continue reading

ASO Announces 2013-2014 Season

The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra (ASO) is pleased to announce its 2013-2014 concert season.  Under the continued artistic leadership of Music Director José-Luis Novo, the season will feature the Lexus Classic Series, a combination of five classical concerts, as well as a Holiday Pops concert sponsored by PNC Wealth Management, a Family concert and a free summer Pops in the Park concert presented by Lexus.  All concerts are performed at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis, MD with the exception of the Pops in the Park concert which is held at Quiet Waters Park amphitheater, also in Annapolis. Continue reading

An ASO Prelude for Autism Awareness Month (April)

Guest Post from Sarah Hart, Principal Viola, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra:

Sarah Hart

Sarah Hart

I woke up this morning with the slow movement of Mozart’s 12th Piano Concerto running through my head.  I’m not surprised; I often hear these so-called ‘earworms’ after a performance.  Sometimes welcome and sometimes annoyingly persistent, they are always reminders of a recent performance and a chance to reflect on things that went well or that I’d like to do better next time.

This particular ‘earworm’ warms my heart.  It’s not only beautiful music but a reminder of a very special collaboration between ASO musicians and a young pianist named Evan Bertrand. Evan has only been playing the piano for five years and gave a beautiful performance of the Mozart Concerto yesterday, accompanied by our quartet of ASO principal string players.  This is all the more remarkable because Evan is autistic.

I didn’t know what to expect before we met Evan.  I’ve read enough about autism to guess that Evan was very bright but also to worry about how to best rehearse with him.

I didn’t need to worry.

Evan is polite, kind, and charming.  In the brief time we worked together, I was reminded of several truths.

  • Powerful focus can do incredible things.
  • It takes a village: every musician, autistic or not, is shaped by family, friends, teachers, and mentors.
  • A few choice words can carry great impact.
  • Simple phrasing is beautiful.
  • Chamber musicians should protect each other.

Evan, if you read this, thanks for sharing your hard work and talent with the ASO.  Please don’t be a stranger!  Nick, Christian, Todd and I loved meeting you, and we hope to see you at ASO rehearsals and concerts.

Special thanks also to those who made this collaboration possible through the ASO’s newest community outreach program, Music Heals.  I am certain this program will continue to help music touch lives in unexpected ways.


Sarah Hart, Principal Viola, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra

Special ASO Performance at Nordstrom to Kick Off Autism Awareness Month

evanThe Annapolis Symphony Orchestra (ASO) recently announced its newest community outreach initiative, Music Heals, and now, is thrilled to showcase the program to the public through a special event in partnership with the non-profit organization Autism Speaks and Nordstrom in the Westfield Annapolis Mall.  On Thursday, March 28th at 6 PM, 20 year old Annapolis resident, Evan Bertrand, who was diagnosed with autism at a very young age, will demonstrate his musical talent by performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major with a quartet of principal string members of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.  The performance at Nordstrom is free-of-charge and open to the general public. Continue reading

After-Action Report from the Viola Section

Guest Post from Sarah Hart, Principal Viola, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra:

Sarah Hart

Sarah Hart

Thank you to all who joined us for our Schumann and Symphonic Storytelling program last weekend.  The orchestra celebrated the centennial of Lutoslawski’s birth and bid farewell to our beloved composer-in-residence Gabriela Lena Frank with expressive works by both, concluding the concert with the 2nd Symphony of Robert Schumann.

As promised, I pondered the challenges of these pieces throughout the week, deciding what to share with you here.  The works by Lutoslawski and Frank were both new to me, requiring lots of focus on rhythms, counting, and quick switches between bow techniques.  The Schumann is an old favorite, its familiarity affording the opportunity to focus mostly on singing, shaping, and tapping into the orchestra’s collective experience.

On Saturday night, I felt especially engaged in this group experience, perhaps due to my activities earlier that day.  For musicians, performing and teaching are not exclusive career paths, and I count myself lucky to do some of both.  I spent Saturday morning with students at the DC Youth Orchestra Program where the advanced Youth Orchestra musicians were rehearsing the Bruch Violin Concerto with the winner of the annual concerto competition.  After several weeks of work, the students were executing their individual parts adeptly so the conductor focused on their flexibility to play as a group to accompany their colleague.  This type of awareness differs from subjects taught in school, or even private music lessons, and we coaches attempted to explain in various ways, reiterating the importance of paying attention to the conductor, listening to each other, playing under the soloist, and so on.  As we parted ways for lunch, the violin coach delivered a final reminder to the group: their friend had invested months of preparation into this performance and their level of attention could affect her success.  They could support her as a friend by supporting her musically.

It struck me that this sense of empathy is really quite similar to the inner experience of creating music in an ensemble.  We must expand our focus beyond ourselves to “walk in the shoes” of another musician, inwardly singing their part even while playing our own.  Engagement in this collective awareness is truly rewarding, and luckily it’s not limited to those on stage.  Listeners can feel equally involved in the musical experience, especially with the knowledge that they contribute to the orchestra not only with their ticket purchase, but with the energy of their presence.

I very much enjoyed being a part of great music-making from my chair in the viola section last weekend.  I hope you felt that from your seat too.


Sarah Hart, Principal Viola

Written by Sarah Hart, Principal Viola, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra: Violist Sarah Hart, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, is an active chamber musician, soloist, and educator in the Washington, D.C. area. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri in 2006, Ms. Hart pursued graduate studies in music. She received her Master of Music degree in Viola from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music where she studied with Atar Arad, formerly of the Cleveland Quartet, and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Maryland in College Park with Dan Foster, Principal Violist of the National Symphony Orchestra. An active string educator, Ms. Hart maintains a private violin and viola studio in Hyattsville, Maryland where she resides with her husband, Nicholas Hart. She is currently Principal Viola with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.