- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

The Music Center at Strathmore, the striking-looking building that has been rising along Rockville Pike for the past four years, is ready for business.

The grand opening of the 2,000-seat concert hall is more than a fortnight away, but the center is already bustling with the sights and sounds of art being created and nurtured.

Soaring glass windows reveal dancers vaulting across studios in space-devouring leaps; children walk through hallways carrying instrument cases almost as big as they are; and from behind closed doors come the sounds of instruments being tuned, scales being practiced.

The state-of-the-art building is unique in the way it embraces art from its tiniest beginnings to its loftiest expressions. Five-year-olds learn how to hold a violin correctly; 3-year-olds can take tap dance with their mothers or fathers. When the concert hall opens next month, cellist Yo-Yo Ma will be center stage; later, Sauvion Glover will bring his thrilling kind of tap to the hall.

The resident groups that play an integral, daily role in the new center’s life also make it exceptional.

The Levine School of Music moved the 575 students and 30 teachers in its Maryland branch to Strathmore last week.

CityDance will be teaching more than 100 classes every week in the music center’s stunning new studios. Students “from 3 to 93” will find new ways of moving in modern dance, ballet, hip-hop, African, jazz, tai-chi, stretch, yoga, and Pilates classes.

Unlike the Levine School, CityDance is starting from scratch in Montgomery County, so beginning Monday, it is introducing itself with a week of free classes open to all.

This first phase of the music center is a dream come true for Eliot Pfanstiehl, Strathmore president and chief executive officer.

“We wanted people to understand there’s a cycle to the arts — it takes years of work and study. But it’s democratic because anybody can do it,” Mr. Pfanstiehl says. “That was the message we wanted. So the architect built these huge windows so you would see people working as you come to a performance. If we don’t build tomorrow’s artists and audiences with an education center, who will be in those seats 10 years from now?”

The music center also has the National Philharmonic, which includes a chamber orchestra and chorus, and the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra, an umbrella for five performing orchestras, which takes over the center one evening a week — “like locusts,” as someone described it.

Mr. Pfanstiehl says as far as he knows there is no place else in the country where education and performance come together in such abundance. “Many arts groups are trained to be competitive; this place immediately says, ‘Your strength living here is what you can do together.’ You have a major performer — Bobby McFerrin or Yo-Yo Ma — and if you can get them to walk down the hall to several classrooms, those kids will never forget that moment.”

Peter Jablow, director of the Levine School, is equally enthusiastic about the prospects for artistic cross-pollination. “The most exciting decision that Eliot and everybody involved made was having an education building attached to the music center,” he says. “We are now in a facility that has other cultural organizations, so the opportunity for doing things together is fabulous.”

The organization that probably already has benefited the most at the music center is CityDance. It has a continuing outreach program in four schools in Anacostia, reaching 10,000 students a year in DARE America’s largest after-school dance program. CityDance also directs the dance program at the Madeira School in McLean.

Paul Gordon Emerson, artistic director of CityDance, says the move to Strathmore is the most transforming event in the company’s 10-year history. “Being at Strathmore dramatically changes our dance company’s possibilities and also our educational programs,” he says.

As a modern-dance group, the company draws on many disciplines, which is reflected in the diversity of classes it will be offering at Strathmore. CityDance doubled its budget in anticipation of the move.

“You come into a space like this,” Mr. Emerson remarks, “and it says, ‘You are what you dream.’ You think as big as you want, you work as large as you want — and this place can hold all that.”

An early example of the music center’s synergy is the plan for a children’s “Peter and the Wolf,” suggested to Mr. Emerson by Gina Di Medio Marrazza, director of the Levine School’s Maryland branch. “It’s an informal performance,” Miss Marrazza says, “that takes place in the lobby of the grand hall and down the stairs.”

The collaboration involves members of CityDance performing and Levine teachers providing a chamber-music version of Prokofiev’s score. The performance will take place at noon Feb. 26 and be followed by a tour of the facility. Admission is free, but RSVPs are required because space is limited.

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