- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

A sixth-grade cellist and a world-renowned violinist christened the Music Center at Strathmore yesterday with selections from Bartok and Bach, ushering in what officials hope to be an era of artistic and economic growth in Montgomery County.

“Over time, this center will change the physical and cultural landscape of this region,” Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said during the dedication ceremony. “The benefits here will not only be measured in years, but measured in lifetimes.”

The $100 million center sits on a hillside just off the Rockville Pike near the Capital Beltway in North Bethesda, and boasts a new 1,976-seat concert hall that will become the second home for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO).

The facility features a wing with classrooms, dance halls and rehearsal space that will offer area residents up to 75 educational opportunities each week.

At yesterday’s ceremony, sixth-grader Summer Hu from the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras and BSO violinist Jonathan Carney gave hundreds of center supporters and donors a demonstration of the concert hall’s acoustics.

Afterward, state poet laureate Michael Glaser read aloud “The Luminous Dream,” a poem commissioned for the event.

The ceremony featured several speeches and a ribbon-cutting by state and county government officials, who heralded the suburban building as a means to reach a diverse audience with a variety of artistic programs.

“This is no longer a bipolar state,” said Aris Melissaratos, Maryland’s secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development. “This is a state that pulls together around our assets, with cultural assets being at the top.”

Designed by Boston architect William Rawn, the Music Center was built on the parklike grounds of the Strathmore Mansion, a 19th-century home owned by the county and used for art exhibits, concerts and other events since 1983.

Construction began on the 190,000-foot center in April 2001, but was nearly brought to a halt when costs skyrocketed above the initially proposed $68 million. Montgomery County had to come up with an extra $10 million last year to prevent the center from being put on hold.

State Sen. Ida G. Ruben, Montgomery Democrat, said arts programs brought in $1 billion to the state last year, and the new center will aid the rapidly growing county and its surrounding region.

“People think we’re just throwing away money, but we’re not,” she said. “We’re bringing in revenue for the social change we need.”

With the internationally recognized BSO calling the center its second home, officials expect to see a surge of interest in the center. BSO President James Glicker said the orchestra intends to spend $6 million to facilitate playing in Bethesda.

“We are proud to share our musical obsession with you,” Mr. Glicker said. “We intend to be a part of the community here.”

The center will officially open tomorrow with a concert featuring the BSO and Grammy Award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Other performers scheduled for later dates at the facility include jazz artist Peter Cincotti and Broadway stars Barbara Cook and Sauvion Glover.

Tickets for events are not expected to exceed $78, and free events also are scheduled, including an informal performance of “Peter and the Wolf” Feb. 26 featuring members of Strathmore’s resident partners and education groups.

The center’s opening is the culmination of a $200 million county investment in major building projects.

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