Not that I ever put much forecasting faith in a groundhog who may or may not see his shadow on Feb. 2. But this time, maybe blinded by the TV klieg lights, Punxsutawney Phil couldn’t see a thing. Nevertheless, his early spring prediction has long passed us by. Yet winter now seems to be ebbing and spring may yet arrive for good sometime between two momentous events on the music and sports calendars.
First up – delayed one day because of the Leap Year Feb. 29 – is the Elizabeth Loker International Concerto Competition, which has gained worldwide attention in this edition of the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra annual event pitting young musicians, ages 12 to 25, for a cash prize and a chance to play with a full professional regional orchestra – the MSO. This year, however, in just the second season of maestro Michael Repper’s time as music director of the Easton-based orchestra, the competition has been expanded to a whole night of orchestral concerto competition with three finalists performing solo portions of their repertoire with the MSO under Repper’s baton.
This live competition among a trio of accomplished young musicians who have survived two previous rounds, which included a blind judging of tapes by a record 155 competitors to narrow the global field to 20 semifinalists among whom Repper selected the three finalists performing on March 24 at Chesapeake College’s Todd Performing Arts Center at Wye Mills.
The finalists are Sophia Geng of Andover, Massachusetts, performing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major; harpist Rebekah Hou of Cleveland, who will play Ginastera’s Harp Concerto, followed by cellist Alejandro Gomez Pareja on Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1. The three finalists compete for recognition as the top-prize winner for what has become a prestigious international competition, but also a cash prize of $5,000 with awards of $2,500 and $1,500 going to second and third finishers.
A three-person panel of jurists will decide the final awards: They are Edward Polochick, music director of Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra of Nebraska, James Kelly, executive director of the D.C.-area National Philharmonic Orchestra that performs at the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda, and Sachi Marasugi, concertmaster of the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra of Maryland’s Salisbury University.
Awards will be announced shortly after the 3 p.m. concert at Chesapeake College.
As for the second momentous event marking, hopefully, the end of winter, the Eastern Division Champion Baltimore Orioles open at home for the first time in years against the Los Angeles Angels at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 3 p.m. March 28. The O’s seek to improve their 101-win season by advancing far enough in the post-season to win the World Series for the first time in 41 years. The 2024 season also marks the 70th season of the Orioles’ return to major league baseball in 1954. The team lost 101 games that year but finished next to the last in the American League. We trust that whatever celebrity the new Oriole front-office brass chooses to sing the National Anthem will be forewarned of the roar of “O!” from the fans on the vocal beat of “Oh, say can you see!” It’s one of the hippest traditions in local MLB traditions ever. Baltimore owns the anthem. Check it out at Fort McHenry.
Just as winter loosens its grip – it’s not even spring on the calendar yet – Chesapeake Music launches its spring-summer season, the first ever with recently retired Don Buxton not in charge. An Interlude Concert brings Ensemble/132, a rotating collection of 11 American soloists and chamber musicians, to the resplendent Ebenezer Theatre stage at 2 p.m. March 10 with a quintet. Pianist Sahun Sam Hong, violist Luther Warren, cellist Zachary Mowitz, and violinists Abi Fayette and Stephanie Zayzak present a program of Haydn Piano Trio in A Major, Robert Shumann’s “Carnaval” arranged by Hong for piano quartet, followed after intermission by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s String Quartet No. 1 “Calvary” and Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka,” also arranged by Hong for piano quintet.
This Interlude Concert previews the astounding musicianship you can expect from Chesapeake Music’s upcoming marathon Chesapeake Music International Chamber Competition on Saturday, April 13, and the annual Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival, June 7-15, for whom the promotional phrase “experience the extraordinary” is well deserved.
Judges have already selected finalists for the chamber competition in April. Vying for the top juried prize and an audience choice award are five young professional chamber ensembles, including two violin, cello, and piano trios, a pair of quartets featuring two violins along with a cello and viola. Another quartet is all saxophones – soprano, alto, tenor and baritone.
The day-long competition opens at 11 a.m. and continues through 6 p.m. with a break for late lunch/early dinner. Each chamber group in the competition plays a complete set of music. Judging begins after the final performance, and results are announced later that evening.
The nine-day, 39th annual Chesapeake Music Chamber Festival program has yet to be announced. The festival is led by co-artistic directors cellist Marcy Rosen and violinist-violist Catherine Cho, with several festival regulars returning year after year along with some notable guest performers.
For the second year in a row, the Ocean City Film Festival welcomes John Waters, widely known as the “Pope of Trash” and lately as the self-described “Filth Elder” of American movie-making – this time for its eighth annual edition of this cinematic celebration at the beach. Native Baltimorean and lifelong resident of Charm City, Waters appears live for a screening of his movie “Hairspray,” which also launched his hit Broadway musical. The film will be accompanied by Waters’ live commentary at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 9, at the Ocean City Performing Arts Center.
Expect him to recall the under-the-boardwalk inspiration for “Hairspray,” which challenges both racism and “sizeism” as the teen heroine Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) and her mom, played by drag queen Divine, aim to promote acceptance and diversity. In his teens, Waters attended live performances of the after-school T.V. dance and top-40 program, “The Buddy Deane Show” in Baltimore. An all-white cast of teen regulars populated the Buddy Deane cast, which, once a month, declared “Negro Day” so black kids could show off their dance moves. But Deane’s producers refused calls to integrate, and the host called it quits. At a “Buddy Deane Show” reunion in the 1980s, Waters was inspired to create his most mainstream hit in his filmography of culturally edgy, to say the least, movies.
But there’s so much more to the star director promising “Hair-Raising Fun!” Among the eclectic lineup of feature films is “Ali vs. Ali,” from Iran, about a fan who embarks on a globe-trotting quest to meet Muhammad Ali, and “American Meltdown,” the “best picture” winner of the 2023 Chattanooga Film Festival, a “coming-of-age” movie about a young woman who, struggling to pay the rent after losing her job, befriends a pickpocket named Mari. Dozens of shorts range from “Heritage Award: Waterfowl Festival,” about the 2022 accolade bestowed on the Easton-based festival held each November since 1971, to “Salted Earth,” spotlighting the invisible threat of saline inundation poisoning water and land alike in the looming co-disaster of rising sea-levels in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Check it out – more than 100 films, including shorts.
Steve Parks is a retired New York arts writer and editor now living in Easton.