At 22, Joseph McNure was already a winner in the realm of music performance before he captured the top prize of the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra’s inaugural Elizabeth Loker Concerto Competition in January. In 2019, he won both the Penn State University woodwinds and the University of Maryland concerto finals, the latter against 50 fellow College Park students.
But McNure is a rookie in another regard. Thursday, March 5, in Easton, marks his debut as soloist with a professional symphony orchestra, playing the same piece, Paul Creston’s Concerto for Alto Sax, that won him first place at College Park. He’ll follow that with two more performances—one at Ocean View, Delaware, Saturday, March 7, and at Ocean Pines Sunday, March 8. The concerts, along with a $2,000 check, were his prize for winning with flawless virtuosity at the Avalon Theatre.
“It’s a rite of passage for a musician playing his first time with a full symphony orchestra,” McNure says. “You have to prepare differently than you do with just a piano accompanist,” as he did in competition. “With an orchestra, there are so many more musicians to keep in time with.” He’ll have a couple of rehearsals with the MSO musicians under the direction of Maestro Julien Benichou before his “rite of passage.”
McNure chose the Creston concerto because “it’s challenging in a couple of different ways. There are fast sections that switch gears a lot. It’s so dynamic. The second movement is beautiful and heartfelt, while the other two provide more showmanship. You get to show the judges quite a range.”
A native of the Virginia Beach area, McNure graduated with a music education major from James Madison University in the Shenandoah region. At College Park, studying for a master’s in music performance, he credits professor Tim Powell, a fellow saxophonist and interim director of jazz, with helping him prepare.
McNure started on piano at age eight and took up saxophone in middle school. “I’m interested in a military band career someday,” he says. But he also wants to teach. “Music is more of a craft than a job,” McNure says. “I feel a responsibility to teach the next generation.”
This from a 22-year-old.
“I’m really proud to have won this competition supporting live, orchestral music,” he adds.
To help promote the event, the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, and the Dunes Manor Hotel in Ocean City are offering a “cultural music package”—oceanfront accommodations and tickets for two at either of the Ocean City area venues for $150. Total. As a bonus, music director Benichou will be at the same resort hotel for a morning-after coffee chat on the veranda or in the lobby lounge, depending on the weather.
“With so many snowbirds, we thought this would be a good way to entice some of them to return a little early,” says MSO general manager Dane Krich. After all, most of the celebrity groundhogs on the East Coast, including Punxsutawney Phil, predicted an early spring this year.
Aside from the performance by competition-juggernaut saxophonist McNure, the orchestra will perform Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question” and Mozart’s rarely performed (for a Mozart piece) Symphony 33.
There will be a second annual Loker Concerto Competition, Krich says.
Of the competition namesake, who had a distinguished career before falling in love with the Easton-based regional orchestra, Benichou says: “Beth Loker was a most personable, dedicated, and knowledgeable music lover. She came to every concert . . . and always seemed to hear everything during the performance. After her time as the first female vice president of the Washington Post, former publisher Donald E. Graham described her as ‘brilliant, farseeing and gutsy,’ a person who ‘shaped the Washington Post of the last 40 years as much as anyone.’
The same is true of her work at the Mid-Atlantic Symphony. Through her gift to the orchestra and her membership on the board of directors, she provided support and vision, and gave the orchestra a direction for years to come.” Elizabeth Loker died of cancer at her home in Royal Oak in 2015. She was 67.
Inaugural MSO Competition Concert
Thursday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m.: Easton Church of God, 1009 N. Washington St., Easton, Md
Saturday, March 7 at 3 p.m.: Church of Christ, 55 West Ave., Ocean View, Delaware
Sunday, March 8 at 3 p.m.: Community Church, Route 589 and Racetrack Road, Ocean Pines, Maryland
Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer, editor, and critic now living in Easton.
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