The Eastern Shore and southern Delaware’s only professional symphony orchestra opens its 22nd season with an American premiere and one of several world-class soloists scattered throughout six sets of concerts beginning Sept. 26 and running through April 5. This season also marks Julien Benichou’s 15th as music director of the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, which plays half its concerts in Easton or nearby Chesapeake College.
“We’ve come a long way,” says Benichou, looking forward to the new season. “I think our orchestra has become one of the better regional orchestras in the wider mid-Atlantic region.”
A native of Lyon, France, Benichou opens the season, as he has the last few years, with a performance at the French Embassy in Washington. “It’s an artistic experience and opportunity for them to showcase their skills on the Western Shore,” the maestro says of his musicians—free-lancers who supplement their MSO work with other gigs or by teaching.
The embassy concert, a tune-up for the “From Movie Themes to Classics” season opener Sept. 27 at Chesapeake College’s Todd Performing Arts Center and Sept. 29 in Ocean City, is highlighted by the aforementioned U.S. premiere: Lalo Schifrin’s Mandolin Concerto performed by internationally acclaimed mandolin artist Vincent Beer-Demander. “His creations reflect his musical versatility and virtuosity,” former French President Francois Hollande remarked in 2017. “Through a rich repertoire and a renewed vision of the mandolin, he helps highlight this remarkable instrument.”
The movie themes of the concert title are represented in the “Mission Impossible” variations composed by Nicholas Mazmanian, while the classic that tops off the opening-night program is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, performed ahead of the 250th anniversary next year of his death. “The power is just shared joy,” Benichou says of the 7th.
November brings a widely varied autumnal “Appalachian Spring” concert—Dvorak’s “String Serenade,” Vivaldi’s Two-Cello Concerto, Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D Major, featuring soloist Dider Castell-Jacomin, plus the Copland classic and concluding with a “surprise encore,” Benichou says. The annual holiday concerts in December feature Metropolitan Opera baritone Kevin Short in a salute to pops orchestras from the Big Band era and beyond. Short, who performs the title role of “Porgy and Bess” at the Met through Feb. 1, will be accompanied by a student opera chorus from the University of Maryland along with, of course, the MSO. The holiday spirit continues on New Year’s Eve with the annual Easton Christ Church celebration, this year with two guest soloists—trumpeter Andrew Balio and soprano Rochelle Bard.
The finals of the first of annual Elizabeth Loker Concerto Competition Jan. 9 at the Avalon Theatre are followed March 5-8 with the winning concerto performance in Easton, southern Delaware and Ocean Pines, plus what Benichou describes as Mozart’s “beautiful but rarely performed” Symphony 33.
The season finale, “Portraits of Life and Love,” opens with “Creation of the World” by the late Darius Milhaud, once a professor at Baltimore’s Peabody Institute, where Benichou earned a graduate degree. “It’s a Franco-Russian jazz fun piece,” the maestro says. Tchaikovsky’s stirring Piano Concerto No. 1, with soloist Boris Slutsky, and Mussorgsky’s fabled “Pictures at an Exhibition” wrap up the Mid-Atlantic’s subscription season April 3 at Chesapeake College and two nights later in Ocean City.
“We hope to keep on growing as we have the last few years,” says Benichou, noting last year’s season finale: Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” Symphony No. 9 with two regional chorales. “We hope to get to the point where we can play all of Mahler, Strauss and Wagner. You need a certain number of musicians and they need to be paid. We’ll get there. Word of mouth helps.”
In my experience as an arts critic on Long Island for 30 years, the Mid-Atlantic is comparable to the late Long Island Philharmonic, led in its hey-day by Marin Alsop, now music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately, Long Island’s professional free-lance orchestra succumbed to debt. The BSO has its own labor issues now. No symphony orchestra of worth should be taken for granted. Neither the BSO nor the MSO. If you appreciate classical music, check out your local symphony orchestra if you haven’t heard them play, and come back if you have.
Steve Parks is a retired arts writer and editor now living in Easton.
MSO 2019-20 Season
“From Movie Themes to Classics”: Nicolas Mazmanian’s “Mission Impossible Variations,” Lalo Schifrin’s Manolin Concerto, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Vincent Beer-Demander, mandolin soloist; Sept. 27, French Embassy, Washington; Sept. 27, Todd Performing Arts Center, Chesapeake College, Wye Mills; Sept. 29, Roland Powell Convention Center, Ocean City; all concerts at 7:30 p.m.
“Appalachian Spring”: Dvorak’s String Serenade, Vivaldi’s Two-Cello Concerto, Haydn’s D Major Piano Concerto, Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” Dider Castell-Jacomin, piano; Nov. 7, Easton Church of God; Nov. 9, Ocean View Christ Church, Ocean View, Delaware, both concerts at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 10, Community Church, Ocean Pines, concert at 3 p.m.
“Holiday Joy: Salute to Great Pops Orchestras,” selections highlighting the big band era, baritone soloist Kevin Short, Dec. 6, Avalon Theatre, Easton; Cape Henlopen High School, Lewes, Delaware, both concerts at 7 p.m., Roland Powell Convention Center, Ocean City, 3 p.m.
“A Toast to the New Year,” celebrating impending arrival of 2020, soprano Rachel Bard and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra trumpeter Andrew Balio, 7-9:30 p.m. Dec. 31, Christ Church, Easton
Inaugural Concerto Competition Concert, winning concerto of first-ever MSO competition to be announced in February, also Mozart’s rarely performed Symphony No. 33, 7:30 p.m. March 5, Easton Church of God; 3 p.m. March 7, Church of Christ, Ocean View, Delaware, 3 p.m. March 8, Community Church, Ocean View
“Portraits of Life and Love,” Darius Milhaud’s “Creation of the World,” Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” Boris Slutsky, piano, 7 p.m. April 3, Todd Performing Arts Center, Chesapeake College; 3 p.m. April 5, Roland Powell Performing Arts Center, Ocean City
Tickets: single concerts $30-$85, season tickets $195 (5 concerts) to $750 (new-subscriber discounts); 888-846-8600, midatlanticsymphony.org