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McLean Orchestra Takes Music Outdoors

An outdoor concert that was a gift from the McLean Orchestra to the community came in a colorful summertime package on Sunday.

The orchestra’s first open-air performance at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens was enhanced by a sunny day with low humidity, good food and profusely blooming day lilies all around.

Music was a natural additive to such a setting. The orchestra overcame challenges from insects and such natural sound baffles as grass, trees and the openness of outdoors, as it played favorites including Copland’s “Rodeo,” the theme from “Star Wars,” and selections from Broadway musicals such as “Les Miserables” and “West Side Story.”

“I am so thrilled with the result,” said Toni MacAulay, president of the Orchestra’s board of directors. “We had 352 people at an event we’ve never had before, at a place not well-known to people in McLean,” she said.

“I think we are going to try to make it an annual event, as long as Meadowlark is willing to donate the venue.

During the concert, she said, “[Park Administrator] Keith Tomlinson asked people to hold up their hands if they had not been there before.” More than half indicated they had not previously visited Meadowlark.

They came at the height of the day-lily-blooming season.

“They change the plantings every season,” MacAulay said.

Photographer Bill Folsom, who works for both the McLean Chamber of Commerce and Meadowlark Gardens, suggested to MacAulay that the orchestra perform at Meadowlark, she said.

When she first discussed scheduling the orchestra’s traditional community concert at Meadowlark in July, a month later than the usual June date, Tomlinson suggested Meadowlark would be “at the height of its tropical glory,” MacAulay said. “We hit it right at the peak.”

After the concert, many patrons walked around the gardens to admire a colorful display of day lilies, in bloom at Meadowlark throughout July. As a backdrop, a brilliant sunset lit up the sky.

The community concert is an orchestra tradition, sometimes held on Father’s Day but pushed later this year because of an extended season.

“It is a way to thank our current patrons, because it is a free concert,” said Parisi. “We certainly hope that people who didn’t know about us, now do, and can come in the future.”

Because the concert was outdoors, she said, “The children could run around and play, and it is not as formal as in an auditorium.”

“We have the most wonderful production manager on earth,” said Executive Director Joy Parisi, referring to percussionist Craig Teer. “He actually sprayed the grass where the musicians would be playing.”

Helen Manning, daughter of former Langley High School principal Jay Manning and a new member of the orchestra’s board of trustees, chaired the event. “She had been volunteering, and I talked her into coming on the board,” said Parisi.

“She was the chairperson for this event. We couldn’t have done it without her.”

“Bach” suppers catered by Vie de France were available if ordered in advance. Audience members could select turkey, roast beef, vegetarian sandwiches or the top seller, chicken Caesar salads.

The guest director was Mark Deal, one of six conductors who tried out with the orchestra over the past year.

When the Orchestra begins its 2003-04 concert season on Oct. 4, a new music director will be on the podium. On July 10, Sylvia Alimena, a horn player for the National Symphony, signed a two-year contract with the orchestra.

“I am the happiest person in the world,” MacAulay said. Alimena, who will conduct the orchestra, succeeds Col. Arnald Gabriel, who retired at the end of 2001-02 season after 16 years as music director. He will retain the title of “music director emeritus” for the McLean Orchestra.

“This was really tying him down for his travel schedule,” said Parisi. “He guest conducts all over the world.”

Ed and Edwina Rogers will hold a “Meet the Conductor” fund-raiser in McLean on Sept. 13; tickets are available from the Orchestra office.