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September 30, 2008

Eschenbach looks forward to Washington 'haven'

Christoph EschenbachChristoph Eschenbach, looking as trim and fashionably attired as ever (a crisp study in black-on-black), paid a brief visit to Washington to get better acquainted with the next stop on his career -- the dual posts of music director of the National Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Kennedy Center, starting full-time with the 2010-11 season. I stopped by the Center yesterday to interview the German-born pianist and conductor about his new appointments, as well as the negative talk about his short tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Here's a sampling of what he had to say:

On Eschenbach's prior experiences with the NSO: "I conducted this orchestra several times in the early '90s and had a very good impression. The hall lacked focus, so I did not hear the total sound of the orchestra. But I liked the attitude of the orchestra."

Last February, Eschenbach made an unexpected appearance with the NSO in what he described as "a concert we provoked." The late addition to the orchestra's calendar served as a trial run to see how conductor and ensemble might click: "The sound was much better in the renovated hall. I was curious how the orchestra would react to the sound I wanted for ...

Brahms' Symphony No. 1. They were able to change their sound in just half an hour. At the concert, the playing was very involved, with joy and emotional depth. And it was technically brilliant. I was very taken with it. It was at that moment that I said I thought I could build on this, and we began to look into details -- on both sides."

The NSO was strongly identified with Russian repertoire when Mstislav Rostropovich was music director, then with American repertoire during Leonard Slatklin's just-completed tenure. What are we most likely to identify with the Eschenbach era? "I have to study the programs that have been done by Slatkin and [principal conductor Ivan Fischer], and, from that, see what repertoire should be the niche. It could be German – Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms. I have a very big repertoire by now and a very big heart for music. There is hardly any composer I do not like. [He pauses and gives a slight laugh.] Except maybe for Pfitzner and Lortzing."

What attracts Eschenbach to take on the newly created job of Kennedy Center music director as well as the NSO post, and how does he feel about having Washington as a major center in his professional life: "The double position is very interesting, a thing one can hardly resist. It will be very stimulating and inspiring to make synergies between the NSO and the Kennedy Center ... to program special things with both organizations. The Kennedy Center is so full of art, and this city is so full of art. There are some of the greatest museums of the world here. And it is all compressed into a not-too-big place. Plus, it is a very international city. I hope to get in touch with many of the embassies, not just the German and French, to get acquainted with their activities."

Eschenbach's five-year stint with the Philadelphia Orchestra included talk of resentment from players on the way he was hired; some dissatisfaction within the ensemble after he started; and sniping from at least one corner of the local press. "Why read the reviews of a critic I know doesn’t like me? I’ve also given performances, and here I'm speaking of my whole life, where I think, 'My God, that wasn’t as good as it could have been,' and yet I would get a very good review. That is also not good. I’m pretty sure to [continue] my way of music-making, I’m old enough now. I’m not a student anymore. I have seen and heard so many things. I know what is my honest expression. I certainly have not swallowed a metronome. I certainly am not just a CD of my last concert. And I am not a copy of Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So. I am myself. I am true to myself, but always respecting the composer. In every orchestra, some people don’t like the conductor. In the Philadelphia Orchestra, there were eight or nine who didn’t like me, certainly not 80 percent, which was reported ... After the last concert of my tenure a few months ago in Shanghai, the orchestra gave me a dinner party, not the management. I was very touched by that. There were beautiful speeches. In the end, we shared the dinner expenses half and half."

Eschenbach is not scheduled to conduct the NSO again until early 2010, as music director-designate. That's the year he steps down as music director of the Orchestre de Paris. Meanwhile, he couldn't sound much more upbeat about his new association: "I said to the orchestra and the board (of the NSO) that I feel so happy to come into a haven here, where everybody is working together -- board, administration, management, orchestra. That became very important to me after two very difficult times, in Philadelphia and Paris, because of management. I am very much looking forward to my work here. I am sure it will be very inspirational and creative."

FILE PHOTO/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Posted by Tim Smith at 5:44 PM | | Comments (0)
        

September 29, 2008

Concert Artists open season in French mood

Edward PolochickIt was a dark and stormy night, but the season-opener by the Concert Artists of Baltimore went on -- and on -- at the Gordon Center with an imaginatively chosen, dynamically delivered French program. I just wish there had been less chat along with it. The 8 p.m. performance started at 8:17, thanks to various preliminary remarks (and didn't end until around 10:20). Artistic director Edward Polochick also added more commentary throughout the evening, as he is wont to do. Maybe it was just me (I admit to being extra antsy that night, wanting to get back to help with a flooded basement), but I really do think that all the talk just got in the way. This music could have easily spoken for itself.

It spoke in a particularly colorful voice at the start with Ibert's wild and wacky Divertissement -- sophisticated cartoon music, really -- which Polochick fired up mightily. Ravel's Mother Goose Suite came in for a sensuously molded account that found the ensemble's woodwinds in admirable form (the solo strings less so). Lalo's Iberian-flavored Cello Concerto doesn't turn up too often. It was offered here as a vehicle for Concert Artists' principal cellist Gita Ladd, who produced a deep, often luxurious tone. She was a little cloudy in some of the bravura elements of the score, but the phrasing was always communicative.

The choral contingent of the organization got a chance to shine in songs by Debussy and Faure (the Cantique de Jean Racine, beautifully realized). There were also some vivid French-language pieces from 1946 by Dutch composer Henk Badings; the womens' voices sounded particularly warm in La complainte des ames.

By the way, seeing Concert Artists' assistant concertmaster Nicholas Currie onstage Saturday reminded me of his participation a couple Sunday's ago in the season-opening presentation of Music in the Great Hall at Towson Unitarian, a program of trios by Hummel, Schubert and Stanley Silverman (a cool, clever, jazz-inflcted score). I had to be in Washington that afternoon, but stopped by for some of the final rehearsal the day before and enjoyed hearing Currie's sure, elegant playing in an ensemble with the fine cellist Pei Lu and always expressive pianist Virginia Reinecke (indefatigable founder and former artistic director of Music in the Great Hall). I imagine they delivered an eventful concert.

BALTIMORE SUN FILE PHOTO OF EDWARD POLOCHICK

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:51 AM | | Comments (0)
        

September 26, 2008

Petition to reinstate Cleveland Plain Dealer critic

The controversy over the shabby treatment of Cleveland Plain Dealer music critic Don Rosenberg -- barred by the paper's editor from covering the Cleveland Orchestra -- continues to reverberate. A "Free Press Cleveland" movement has emerged, organized by concerned Clevelanders, to gather signatures online for a letter of protest to that editor, Susan Goldberg, and the paper's president/CEO (and Cleveland Orchestra board member) Terrance Egger.

It's a hard-hitting letter that that describes the situation as "an act of censorship and an embarrassment to the city." The final plea: "Restore Donald Rosenberg to his post as Music Critic, with no restrictions. Restore our faith in the Plain Dealer." I couldn't agree more.

The full text of the letter and instructions on how to ...

add your name are given below. Obviously, you don't have to be from Cleveland to be interested in this issue, which affects anyone who cares about the art of music and the role of music criticism in the service of that art.

FROM FREE PRESS CELEVLAND:

Let's not tolerate censorship!  The many comments posted on Tim Smith's blogs and other blogs reveal widespread outrage against the Plain Dealer.  It's now time for us to write to the PD.  There have been examples in other cities where a newspaper has fired a critic, then reversed the decision after being swamped with letters. If enough of us write and demand Rosenberg's reinstatement as Music Critic, the PD may back down. 
 
If you prefer safety in numbers, (especially if you are a musician in Cleveland, fearing reprisal) you can join us in signing this petition (see below).  Please email me at FreePressCleveland@live.com, to indicate that you want to be listed as a signator on the letter.  If you are willing to have your title or affiliation also listed, please indicate that.  When we have collected a healthy number of signators, we'll send the letter to the PD.
 
If you prefer to write your own letter, go to www.cleveland.com/plaindealer/lettertoeditor.ssf and send 200 words or less.
 
Free Press
Free Criticism
Free Rosenberg!
LETTER TO THE PLAIN DEALER

To: Terrance Egger, President & C.E.O. Susan Goldberg, Editor

We, the undersigned, protest the Plain Dealer's treatment of nationally respected Music Critic Donald Rosenberg. Your decision to ban him from reviewing the Cleveland Orchestra is an act of censorship and an embarrassment to the city. Since you failed to clearly report the action to your readers, we had to find out the truth from the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe.com, etc.

Rosenberg did not resign, as the Plain Dealer seemed to imply. He was demoted, for having respectfully and intelligently criticized a conductor who has met with mixed reviews around the world. As stated by Musical America.com, Rosenberg is "among the most respected music critics in the business." His reviews were not biased; he reported what he heard, and fostered healthy and intelligent debate. That is a critic's job. The integrity of the Plain Dealer is in question. Your action has sullied the reputations of both the PD and the Orchestra. Since Plain Dealer C.E.O. Terrance Egger is a trustee of the Orchestra, the politics behind the decision are obvious.

Restore Donald Rosenberg to his post as Music Critic, with no restrictions. Restore our faith in the Plain Dealer.

IF YOU WANT TO ADD YOUR NAME TO THE LETTER THAT WILL BE DELIVERED, SEND AN EMAIL TO:  FreePressCleveland@live.com,

Posted by Tim Smith at 3:28 PM | | Comments (5)
        

Eschenbach: music director of NSO, Kennedy Center

Christoph EschenbachAs expected, German-born conductor and pianist Christoph Eschenbach has been named music director of the National Symphony Orchestra and of the Kennedy Center (a newly created position). After serving as music-director designate during the 2009-10 season, the conductor will officially start his tenure; the initial contract is for three years, beginning 2010-11.

Eschenbach, 68, recently stepped down as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. That association with one of America's so-called "Big Five" orchestras (with New York, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland) was not entirely successful, although the Philadelphians seem to have warmed up considerably to him in his final year or so there. Eschenbach's previous tenure as music director of the Houston Symphony was, by all accounts from all sides, exceptionally fruitful. My own experiences hearing him conduct in Philadelphia, Houston, Miami (with the New World Symphony) and elsewhere have always been memorable. He strikes me as one of the most interesting, incisive conductors in the business, a conductor who has something meaningful and imaginative to say.

There has not been a longtime connection between Eschenbach and the NSO, but a specially organized concert last season, viewed as something of a trial run, generated lots of positive buzz. He was the unanimous choice of the NSO's search committee. He will make a strong contrast with predecessor Leonard Slatkin, who championed American repertoire. Eschenbach's strongest background is in the European classics.

Having input into the Kennedy Center's music programming, as well as the NSO's should provide a keen outlet for the conductor. "No other organization in the world is mounting festivals of the scope and the variety of the Kennedy Center, led by its president Michael Kaiser, and I look forward to participating in these projects," the conductor said in a statement released this morning. " I am particularly pleased at the prospect of working closely with the National Symphony Orchestra. It will be my mission to bring this great orchestra, in a great city, in a great country, to greater prominence around the world."

In a tangible vote of confidence in Eschenbach's appointment, NSO donors Roger and Vicki Sant announced a $5 million gift to the orchestra, bringing their total contributions to $20 million since 1999. Their gifts form the endowment to support  the music director chair.

BALTIMORE SUN FILE PHOTO

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:57 AM | | Comments (0)
        

September 24, 2008

Catching up on Washington National's 'Traviata'

Washington National Opera TraviataAssorted distractions kept me from getting back to the subject of La traviata, Washington National Opera's season-opening work at the Kennedy Center. Here goes: It's only been four years since the company offered this production, directed by Marta Domingo. It remains a servicable, mostly traditional approach, but I think the company might have provided more in the way of freshness this time.

That said, there are still some wonderful things here. They start with Elizabeth Futral's portrayal of Violetta. I can't remember the last time I got misty-eyed at a performance of this work, but Futral got to me in the final act at last Sunday's matinee. She inhabited the role so fully that the hopeless struggle between Violetta's consumption and all-consuming desire for love registered with remarkable force. The soprano's voice has hardened somewhat over the years, but remains a basically attractive and vibrant instrument. Although it took Futral a while to warm up on Sunday, her individuality asserted itself in the second verse of Sempre libera, delivered with an edge of grit, even anger, revealing the character's internal conflict; it sounded like Violetta was forcing herself to believe in her always-free philosophy. The remaining acts found Futral's singing remarkably sensitive and incisive, the work of a substantial artist.

Arturo Chacon-Cruz, as Alfredo, showed promise. The tenor shaped phrases stylishly, but I wish his tone had more variety and evenness. Lado Ataneli sounded like an old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness Verdi baritone early on, with a warm, smoothly produced timbre. Although he lost vocal steam later on, his singing still hit the mark. Among those in the supporting roles, Margaret Thompson (Flora) and Yingxi Zhang (Gastone) made strong impressions -- appealing voices, lots of attention to text and inflection.

Dan Ettinger's conductor was a consistent plus. The way he drew the very first string notes of the Prelude commanded attention; the sound seemed to start in another world and gradually materialize in ours. I loved Ettinger's willingness to bend tempos, the way conductors routinely used to do in the good old days (as evidenced, at least, by vintage recordings). This was a classy, personal and affecting interpretation of the indelible score.

Marta Domingo's direction sticks to the tried and true, except for a (presumably) dream sequence, complete with dry-ice fog, in the last act. That sequence somehow seems less hokey than it did four years ago. If you'll pardon the obnoxious self-quoting, what I said about Giovanni Agostinucci's designs back then still holds: the "traditional costumes do the trick, but his scenery is too greeting-card pretty in Act 1, too boutique-hotel-lobby in the first scene of Act 2, too screamingly bordello in the second."

PHOTO (Elizabeth Futral, Arturo Chacon-Cruz): Courtesy of Washington National Opera

Posted by Tim Smith at 2:18 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Peabody introduces audio program notes

Jeffrey SharkeyCuriously missing from most concerts at the Peabody Conservatory has been program notes, even for unusual repertoire. Well, audiences can now take advantage of advance audio introductions via the Web. For tonight's chamber music concert featuring Peabody's director and pianist Jeff Sharkey, violinist Jonathan Carney, violist Maria Lambros and cellist Alison Wells, Sharkey has recorded remarks about each piece on the program, complete with illustrations at the keyboard.

And for Saturday's concert by the Peabody Symphony Orchestra, conductor Teri Murai offers a guide to an award-winning work by Peabody alum Geoff Knorr. Cyber program notes are in use by lots of music organizations; it's good to see Peabody getting into the act.

 

BALTIMORE SUN FILE PHOTO OF JEFFREY SHARKEY

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:27 AM | | Comments (0)
        

September 23, 2008

Metropolitan Opera at home in Baltimore (on screen)

Renee Fleming Metropolitan OperaLast night's performance at the Lyric Movie Palace, I mean Lyric Opera House, was notable on several fronts. The theater has been effectively refitted to accommodate simulcasts via satellite from the Metropolitan Opera. The Met's high-def broadcasts, introduced a couple seasons back, have been an extraordinary hit at cinemas across this country and in several others. Locally, they've been available previously at cineplexes in Abingdon and Columbia. Now, downtown Baltimore has been added to the mix, thanks to Baltimore Opera, which spearheaded the needed additions to the Lyric's technical equipment. With a nice, big screen, the place really looked like an old-fashioned movie house last night; popcorn was even for sale in the lobby. Several hundred turned out and, other than a couple of noisy talkers near me (why are they always, always near me, no matter the theater or the occasion?), everyone seemed quite taken with the whole experience. I found the picture quality of the transmisison excellent, the sound decent, if a little boxy. (The sound quality might have been a result of this particular simulcast, not the newly upgraded sound system. One problem definitely was on the Met's end; it took a while to jump-star the subtitles. Their appearance after about 20 minutes into the broadcast prompted applause from the Lyric audience.)

The Met's HD series, previously limited to Saturday matinees, was expanded this season to include opening night, a gala revolving around soprano Renee Fleming. It was the first time a soprano had been given ...  

such a distinction for the Met's season-launcher. Fleming was featured in three chunks from three separate operas, affording her an opportunity to show off not only her musical versatility, but the costumes created for her by three big-league fashion designers -- Christian Lacroix (Act 2 of La traviata), Karl Lagerfeld (Act 3 of Manon) and John Galliano (final scene of Capriccio). Those designers and those gowns got a few too many plugs during the pre-performance on-air features. For that matter, all of those features could have used a firmer directorial hand. Mezzo Susan Graham was a bubbly host, interviewing various A- and B-list celebs, but there are only so many "fabulous," "amazing" and "fantastic" adjectives that one can stand. Deborah Voigt looked, well, fabulous, amazing and fantatsic, standing in Times Square to cover the outdoor simulcast there, but her segments couldn't disguise their time-killing purpose.

Renee Fleming Metropolitan OperaBut, hey, this was Fleming's night, and she seemed determined to make the most of it. I bailed out after three hours, before Capriccio, pleading fatigue and hunger, but I'm sure she soared in that scene, too. In the Traviata excerpt, she dug deep into Violetta's character to reveal the mix of consuming joy and creeping consumption; every gesture and glance could be appreciated in the vivid, close-up filming. Her voice sounded a little husky, but had expressive power throughout. Ramon Vargas was a vocally elegant Alfredo. Thomas Hampson completed the starry casting as Germont. He pushed his baritone hard at times, but his singing was alive with communicative nuance. James Levine, looking robust after his recent cancer operation, conducted with his usual authority. Marco Armiliato took over the podium for the Manon act, which found Fleming delivering a sturdy, colorful account of the Gavotte and then, in Scene 2, really driving it home for the duet with an equally impassioned Vargas.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer my opera live and in person. Still, the Met's HD revolution has undeniable appeal, and it's fun to see people get fully into the proceedings, breaking into applause when the Met's audience does. At the Lyric, even some of the things only seen by simulcast viewers generated clapping, like the appearance of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg for an intermisson chat with Graham. I thing the many backstage things that are shown, the scene-changes and the like, are especially engaging.

One goal of these simulcasts is to bring in new audiences for opera. That may still take some selling -- last night's crowd was heavy on regular, older-age patrons (a common occurence elsewhere, from what I've read) -- but the potential is certainly there.    

PHOTOS: Top, Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson in dress rehearsal of 'La traviata'; also, Renee Fleming in dress rehearsal of 'Manon' (AP/Metropolitan Opera)             

Posted by Tim Smith at 4:54 PM | | Comments (5)
        

More thoughts on Cleveland critic's fate

The reaction to the news from Ohio last week -- that the chief music critic in town, Don Rosenberg of the Plain Dealer, has been taken off his prime music beat, the Cleveland Orchestra -- continues to reverberate.

In Don's view, Cleveland Orchestra music director Franz Welser-Most is not entirely worthy of leading one of the world's greatest music institutions. It's a view you can hear expressed by other critics. But even if Don were the only person in the universe who ever sounded a discouraging note about Welser-Most, he would remain well within his rights, and obligations, as a critic. Our job is not to echo the enthusiam of the audience or the board of directors or the musicians themselves. That's what claques are for.

Naturally, my colleagues in the ever-dwindling circle of music critics have a particularly strong feeling about this, for it cuts all too close to home and raises troubling issues about what we try to do for a living, and what newspapers and musicians expect from us. Members of the profession weighing in on this unfortunate business include Steve Smith, Tim ManganSarah Bryan Miller, Geoff Edgers, Clarke BustardJanelle Gelfand, Andrew Patner, and David Stabler. (The indispensible Opera Chic has also had something to say.)

It's one thing to bring down a critic who is demonstrably uninformed, or, as they say on Perry Mason, "incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial." Not to mention unethical (I owe my last two newspaper jobs to guys who crossed that line and were fired). But it is quite another ...

to target a critic expressing informed opinions. I've been struck by the accusation made by some Welser-Most supporters placing comments on my original blog about Don; they consider him just too biased, someone with a personal ax to grind. I wonder how many op-ed writers discussing a certain president have just been grinding personal axes for the past seven years, rather than simply expressing honest, deep differences with his decisions and qualifications.

One thing this sorry episode has done is trigger lots of memories. Most of us in this biz have come up against pressure at some point, to some degree or another, from those we review. Within the first year of my stint as critic at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel back in the 1980s, I had the odd experience of finding on my concert hall seat, and all other seats that night, a leaflet urging everyone to write the publisher and demand the removal of "this very young man" (I actually liked that part) who had dared come down from Washington, D.C., and tell people that the Fort Lauderdale Symphony and its conductor were not world-class. Later, I faced a delegation from that orchestra in the chief editor's office. He listened politely, told the visitors that I was hired to be a critic, not a publicist, and that was that. A few years ago, top management officials of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra came to The Sun to complain to a room full of editors about my allegedly biased coverage of financial and administrative problems at the BSO. The editors listened politely, asked some questions, expressed confidence in me and thanked them for coming. This is how it's supposed to be, not because of some rule that newspapers and critics are perfect or above reproach, but because this is what it means to have freedom of opinion, freedom of the press. When we're wrong, we issues corrections. When critics express their honest, reasoned viewpoints, we're doing our job.     

I can't blame the folks at the Cleveland Orchestra and their most ardent supporters if they felt threatened by Don's presence. After all, they've signed up Welser-Most through 2018, guaranteeing him a 16-year tenure, an astonishing vote of confidence for any music director these days, let alone someone who generates mixed reviews (except in certain repertoire and, especially, when on tour with the orchestra in Europe). The prospect of having a naysayer in the local press all those years must have seemed scary. Cleveland Orchestra executive director Gary Hanson just posted these comments on my original blog about the Rosenberg case: "In recent days, the music writers’ blogsphere has been rife with assumptions and even accusations that the management of The Cleveland Orchestra engineered personnel changes at Cleveland’s daily newspaper, The Plain Dealer.  These accusations are false.   

"I want to set the record straight: I was completely surprised by the news ... I have never met with [editors] to protest Donald Rosenberg’s opinions ...  I have delivered compliments and concerns about their news and feature coverage as well as their editorial positions and decisions.   But in every case I have also said, very explicitly, that the Orchestra’s management understands and respects the paper's and the critic’s role in expressing opinion about our artistic activities. And whether or not we agree with the opinion we fully accept and support their right and responsibility to publish it ..."

Meanwhile current editor Susan Goldberg has said only that it's "an internal personnel move."

I still think something is rotten somewhere. In the end, it may not matter too much who led the charge, who exerted influence, who gave in to pressure or doubt. The damage has been done. Zach Lewis, who has been told he will now cover the Cleveland Orchestra for the paper, is a good guy and good writer placed in an impossible situation. If he says positive things about Welser-Most, some people will think he's just doing that to keep his job. If he says negative things, some people will think he's under Don's influence and will have to be replaced, too. As I said before, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Plain Dealer are worse off, not better off, as a result of this controversy. Music and journalism have taken a painful hit.          

PHOTO: Cleveland Plain Dealer

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:34 PM | | Comments (8)
        

September 22, 2008

Lorin Maazel to launch festival at his Virginia estate

Lorin Maazel

When Lorin Maazel finishes his tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic in June he will not move anything like a retirement mode. Instead, he will head to his bucolic, 550-acre estate in the Virginia countryside, where he and his wife, actress Dietlinde Turban-Maazel, will launch an annual music festival. This festival on those picturesque grounds of Castleton Farms in Rappahannock County will bring together young professionals and students for intensive training and experience. The inaugural venture, July 4-19, will focus on  chamber operas by Benjamin Britten, with public performances in the extraordinarily intimate and inviting 130-seat theater that has been in use at the Maazel home since 1997, and in a new theater twice that size being built in a renovated barn and silo. 

For several years now, Castleton Farms has been the site of a nurturing program for young artists in the summer, a private music camp in a most idylic setting. It's a project of the Maazels'  Chateauville Foundation. A rehearsal I saw there of Britten's The Turn of the Screw a few years ago easily revealed how much care and quality was going into the training (the production was later presented at the Kennedy Center). Expanding to a full-fledged festival "is something no one, especially me, had in mind," Maazel said in phone call yesterday. "My wife and I lived here in utter solitude for 20 years. The idea of ...

        

anything reminiscent of the year behind or the year in front of us was anathema. We had that joy, those years of quiet. But we have an interest in young people and we felt we have a repsonsibility to them, to help them."  Out of that came the idea of summer residency for aspiring musicians and, with the creation of the first theater on the grounds, the tackling of opera production and that remarkable Turn of the Screw staging. "I had no idea it would become so fruitful," Maazel said. "We realized we had a festival in the making and we should thus give it shape and thrust."

So, after opening on July 4 "with the appropriate fireworks," the conductor said, the Castleton Festival will offer four Britten chamber operas: The Turn of the Screw, Albert Herring, The Rape of Lucretia and Britten's version of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. In between all the performances, there will be career-honing activities for the young musicians. "I'll be giving a master class in conducting for the first time with selected students," Maazel said. Workshops for young people interested in theater production will also be a part of the experience. "There will be wall-to-wall programs covering just about every aspect of opera," Maazel said. The eminent conductor plans to invite notable artists from the opera world to the festival to mentor and coach the participants. "That's something desperately needed," Maazel said. "Young people are always asking me 'where do we go, how do we learn.' They need points of reference."

Maazel said he has "major commitments" for funding for the first three years of the festival. And he's already looking ahead to 2010. "There are hundreds of chamber operas that are never performed," he said. Cimarosa and early Mozart works are likely to get attention. Details on tickets for the public will be released in early 2009. Meanwhile, a fundraising concert for the festival, "An Evening with Marvin Hamlisch," will be held at the Kennedy Center on Oct. 10. Maazel will join in the concert, which will feature some of the festival's young artists.  

BALTIMORE SUN PHOTO OF LORIN MAAZEL (conducting at Castleton Farms)       

Posted by Tim Smith at 5:15 PM | | Comments (1)
        

WNO offers prismatic 'Pearl Fishers'

Of the many operas that aren't widely recognized as masterpieces, few exert as much interest and appeal as Bizet's The Pearl Fishers (Les Pecheurs de Perles). As the current issue of Opera News points out, this supposedly second-rate piece coincidentally is turning up all over the country this season, including Washington National Opera. That company, which last performed The Pearl Fishers in 1993, brought it back to the stage Saturday night at the Kennedy Center in a widely traveled staging that originated at the San Diego Opera with sets and costumes by Zandra Rhodes, the famed British fashion designer favored by Princess Diana, among other celebrities. It proved to be quite the visual treat, full of hot '60s colors amid simple fairy-tale scenery.

It all fell pleasantly on the ears, too, thanks especially to tenor Charles Castronovo as Nadir, whose dulcet tone caressed the exquisite aria Je crois entendre encore to telling effect. And he held up his end of things quite expressively in the opera's one huge hit, the tenor/baritone duet Au fond du temple saint, with Trevor Scheunemann, who also offered a good deal of vocal warmth and finesse throughout the evening. Soprano Norah Amsellem, as Leila, added her own share of limpid sounds to the engaging production, which also featured beautifully molded work by the chorus and some spirited dancing. I'll post some more detailed thoughts later on today about The Pearl Fishers, as well as the company's production of Verdi's La traviata, which I caught up with yesterday afternoon.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:58 AM | | Comments (0)
        

September 19, 2008

More thoughts on BSO's season-opener

Last night's season-opening concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (reviewed in today's paper) is still resonating with me this morning -- above all, the sound of the ensemble. Something in the consistent richness really caught my ear, and brought back memories of the Temirkanov years. I didn't spot any numbers of extra players; this seemed to be just the good old BSO, operating at its best, producing an admirable depth and solidity of tone. Maybe it was an aural sign of how comfortable the musicians are these days, what with a recently negotiated, and favorable, three-year contract; more recording projects; the prospect of a high-profile return to Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center next month. And there certainly was every indication last night at the Meyerhoff that the players are clicking more tightly than ever with music director Marin Alsop, who also was in terrific form in this performance, adding layers of nuance and sensitivity to the momentum and structural clarity that are her trademarks. I was, frankly, amazed how much I enjoyed hearing Holst's The Planets again, and I realized that it was because Alsop managed to make it all sound so fresh and alive, as well as substantive. This was classy, involving, arresting music-making, and it bodes well for her work with the orchestra during the rest of the season.

One thing I missed, though -- some lighting effects to match the other-worldly, fade-out ending of The Planets. Earlier, for Michael Daugherty's UFO, theatrical lighting was effectively employed throughout (helping distract the eye from the work's less interesting musical bits), so it would, I assume, be easy to do something for the Holst piece, too. Not during each movement, mind you, just a slow dimming of all the lights as the women's' voices gradually evaporate into the distance. Like the Maria Callas line in Master Class has it, "Never miss an opportunity to theatricalize."

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:12 AM | | Comments (1)
        

September 18, 2008

Cleveland critic who dared criticize is reassigned

Don Rosenberg, music critic at the Cleveland Plain Dealer for 16 years, was told yesterday by the paper's editor that he will no longer be covering the famed Cleveland Orchestra. He has been given the option of reviewing other musical events in town, as well as dance. Another writer at the paper, Zack Lewis, was told he will now be orchestra's reviewer. First, the full disclosure: I've known Don and Zach for years; both are members of the Music Critics Association of North America and its board of directors; Don is the immediate past president of that organization; I'm the current president. Now, the full, unbridled response to this news: It stinks.

Franz Welser-MostMusic critics are hired to deliver critical opinions. If those opinions are not popular with some people, tough. As long as the critic demonstrates musical knowledge and a keen ear for what is involved in the art of music-making, the critic is fulfilling the job requirements. Don's musical background is as good as it gets, his evaluations reasoned and sensitive. He has covered the Cleveland Orchestra for nearly three decades (including a stint with another area paper), and he's the author of the definitive book about that orchestra. So what did he do wrong? He has questioned, more than once, the sanctity of the Cleveland Orchestra's music director, Franz Welser-Möst, who started in 2002 and has had his contract renewed a couple times, the last extension taking him all the way to 2018. Don has judged that Welser-Möst is lacking in certain abilities in certain repertoire, that he doesn't necessarily get the best out of music or the eminent ensemble. Yet, Don is also the first to admire what the conductor does best, as was the case a few months ago after a performance of Dvorak's Rusalka. Don wrote that Welser-Möst "was in his element ... shaping a performance full of atmosphere and energy. He emphasized flexibility and shaded Dvorak's luminous paeans to nature with tenderness." Don went on to suggest that more spacious phrasing would have benefited a couple of passages, "but  Rusalka is surely one of the highlights of Welser-Möst's tenure."

Take a look back through the Plain Dealer archives and you'll find plenty of balanced examples like that. A critic hell-bent on bashing a conductor wouldn't hear a single worthy note. But, apparently, some Cleveland Orchestra boosters can't accept any negative words about the music director. I imagine they dismiss as irrelevant the fact that the orchestra, while on tour, has been known to generate reviews by other critics expressing reservations about Welser-Möst. Of course, there's nothing that can be done about out-of-town naysayers, but there's always good old-fashioned lobbying that can be tried at home. That, it seems, has now been successful. The Plain Dealer has clearly caved into pressure from a faction representing the orchestra and the man on its podium. By silencing Don, those myopic folks must think they've achieved a great victory. They haven't. They've made a venerable newspaper look cheap and act cowardly. They've made a sterling orchestra look a little less so. Ultimately, this calculated attack on a music critic doing his job casts a suspicious light on his detractors and their motivations.

Like Somerset Maugham wrote: "People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise." Any orchestra's player, conductor, board member, lofty patron or ordinary ticket-buy who only wants to read praise has missed the whole point of the artistic process. Not to mention a free press. Then again, any newspaper that would silence a serious, bona-fide voice because some people don't like hearing it may need a refresher course, too.  

AP PHOTO       

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:21 PM | | Comments (147)
        

September 17, 2008

The curse of Sunday concerts

The music season has barely slipped into gear, and I'm starting to get cranky already. Not because I'm nSimone Dinnersteinot looking forward to all the music-making, but because I know that, like every other year, I'm going to miss an awful lot of stuff, especially on Sundays.

I understand that there are only so many days in the week, and I certainly wouldn't want to seem like I'm not appreciative of all the effort being made by so many people to provide musical attractions to the community. But do we really have to end up with two, three, four or more enticing performances on a single Sunday, most of them right around the 3 o'clock hour, week after week? Isn't there some way to spread everything out a little more?

 Of course, I'm speaking selfishly, since I'm a one-person operation here and I hate having to make tough choices on what to attend. But I can't be the only one who gets all conflicted when the music gets too plentiful. (I don't even want to think about, say, Oct. 19 or Nov. 2, when there will be at least six worthy concerts.)

The first Sunday pile-up of the new season is heading our way Sept. 21. One option is remarkable pianist Simone Dinnerstein, who will play Bach's Goldberg Variations at 3:30 p.m. for Community Concerts at Second Presbyterian Church.

 Her career-jolting recording of this great work was a major news-maker last year, revealing a combination of technical fluency and highly individualistic styling. Dinnerstein played the Goldbergs last September at An die Musik, reconfirming everything that was notable about her CD (including her unconventionally slow tempo for the quodlibet variation), and I'm sure Sunday's performance will prove just as satisfying.

Also of note on Sunday: Music in the Great Hall opens its season at 3 p.m. at Towson UnitarianVirginia Reinecke Universalist Church with pianist Virginia Reinecke, violinist Nicholas Currie and cellist Pei Lu performing works by Hummel (his music doesn't turn up in concert very often), Schubert and Stanley Marguerite LevinSilverman.

And clarinetist Marguerite Levin gives the world premiere of a work by Christopher Ariza for bass clarinet and real-time signal processing during a recital at 3 p.m. at Towson University. Levin's program also offers pieces by Charles-Marie Widor and David Baker.

Good luck deciding which performance to attend. As for me, I'm not even going to try: I'll be at the Kennedy Center Sunday afternoon to catch up with a Washington National Opera production I had to miss last weekend because of different schedule conflict entirely (it's always something).    

PHOTOS: Top left, Simone Dinnerstein (Lisa-Marie Mazzucco, Telarc,); left, Marguerite Levin (courtesy Towson University); above right, Virginia Reinecke (Elizabeth Malby, Baltimore Sun ) 

Posted by Tim Smith at 4:03 PM | | Comments (2)
        

September 14, 2008

BSO gala features Yo-Yo Ma and community groups

Marin Alsop and Yo-Yo MaThe Baltimore Symphony Orchestra packed the house and the coffers Saturday night, raising $1 million at a gala concert featuring stellar cellist Yo-Yo Ma and an eclectic program led by music director Marin Alsop. Last year, launching her inaugural season with the BSO, Alsop opened up the annual fundraising gala to the community in two big ways. The public got to buy tickets to the concert, mingling with the usual black-tie set of political, business and social elite who traditionally pour out for the occasion and are wined and dined in private, pre- and post-performance events. And the concert itself was opened up to include performers from the wider community, a potent gesture of welcome and inclusiveness.

Alsop took the same basic path for this 2008 gala, and it was encouraging once again to see a big, happy crowd of top-dollar patrons and everyday concertgoers mingling happily at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Everyone seemed particularly enthusiastic about Yo-Yo Ma, a longtime local favorite.  He played ...

Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations with his accustomed technical aplomb and elegant phrasing, backed smoothly by Alsop and the orchestra. The cellist also delivered Bernstein's Three Meditations from 'Mass' with considerable expressive weight. Mass is a major component of the BSO's '08-'09 season, and Alsop used this concert to provide a preview of what's in store when the complete Bernstein work is presented next month. (Those Meditations were written for the late Mstislav Rostropovich a few years after the 1971 premiere of Mass, based on orchestral passages in the original.) Alsop spiced the program with other excerpts from Mass and brought the Baltimore City College Choir and Towson University Marching Band into the picture to help perform them. Coordination wasn't exactly dead-on (the band members played in the aisles), but the spirit of the score infused the hall.

There was an off-beat finale, which reiterated both the community-embracing theme of the evening and the humanity-embracing theme of the Ode to Joy from the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. (Bernstein incorporates references to that Beethoven piece in Mass.) In Variations on 'Ode to Joy', created for the gala by BSO trumpeter Phil Snedecor, the orchestra basically stuck to Beethoven's original material, interspersed with kinetic contributions from Charm City Steel, a steel drum band located in one balcony; a rousing, gospel-style version of the big tune sung with infectious enthusiasm by the Harriet Tubman Elementary School Choir, located in the opposite balcony (the BSO's new OrchKids music education program has just started at that school); then some more jazz takes on the Beethoven theme from vocalist MaShica Winslow and trumpeter Dantae Winslow; and, for the big finish, the City College Choir and TU Marching Band jumping in to rev up the decibels. Somewhere in the midst of all that, Yo-Yo Ma had various solos, which were mostly hard to hear. In terms of coherence and substance, the whole thing never quite added up, but the concept had "feel good" and "festive" written all over it. The crowd roared through several curtain calls.   

PHOTO: Colby Ware/Special to the Baltimore Sun

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:47 PM | | Comments (1)
        

September 13, 2008

Jessye Norman sings Ellington at UM

Jessye NormanThe prospect of hearing Jessye Norman, the sensationally gifted soprano, sing the music of jazz great Duke Ellington Friday night at the Clarice Smith Center was too enticing to pass up. The concert produced some really magical moments, along with others that were, well, deliciously awful. Norman, who turns 63 on Monday, came to attention nearly four decades ago with the unusually wide range and sheer richness of her voice. Judging by Friday's results, a lot of that quality still shines. (Most of the time, Norman used mild amplification, but she also moved the mike away now and then, and there was still plenty of vocal presence unaided.)

I've never been able to warm up to Ellington's religious music; it always seems just a few degrees shy of the melodic inspiration that makes his jazz tunes so indelible. Norman devoted the first half of the concert to items from the sacred repertoire of Ellington, and certainly delivered plenty of expressive commitment, as did her top-notch instrumental quartet: pianist Mark Markham, saxophinist Bill Easley, bassist Ira Coleman, drummer Lewis Nash. But things got really interesting after the long, long intermission ...

when the focus shifted to such standards as "Sophisticated Lady," spun out most eloquently by Norman, with Coleman providing suave support. The singer's account of "In My Solitude" was another standout, wonderfully intimate and affecting. But more upbeat numbers didn't mean a thing, 'cause she just didn't have that swing. And a few attempts at scat singing were ill-advised. Even more ill-advised was the choice of a non-Ellington encore, "When the Saints Go Marching In" -- Norman should never have wanted to be in that number. Still, for all of the strange or mannered bits along the way, the whole concert, capped by a plaintive version of Gershwin's "Summertime," was a fascinating experience.   
Posted by Tim Smith at 5:13 PM | | Comments (0)
        

September 12, 2008

BBC show gives classical music the 'Idol' treatment

Try as I might, I can't imagine any TV network in this country giving us an American Idol-like reality talent show with a classical music focus. But across the pond, the BBC did just that with a program called Maestro, which wrapped up this week. The gimmick was that several UK celebrities competed as amateur conductors of an honest-to-goodness symphony orchestra, with some training along the way and a panel of judges that included such notables as Roger Norrington. What an imaginative way to demystify classical music a little and demonstrate just how tough it is to conduct. Sue Perkins, a comedian and writer, won the popular vote, edging out an electronic music guy who goes by the name Goldie.  (Although I'm prone to anglophilia, most of the contestants were news to me; the only ones I had heard of were David Soul, the Amercian-born, now British citizen singer and actor from way back, and actress Jane Asher.) 

Maybe there's a way we could get something like this going over here. What passes for celebrity in this country already hogs the airwaves, dancing and whatnot on various competition shows. So, considering how much has been made of the celebrity issue in the current presidential race, how about seeing what the candidates could do in a U.S. version of Maestro, trying to inspire a bunch of musicians to cooperate and function tightly? I can envision it now: Sarah Palin aiming at the Overture to Weber's Der Freischutz (The Free-Shooter) -- or maybe Ives' The Unanswered Question.  John McCain mustering the ensembe for Stravinksy's A Soldier's Tale. Barack Obama charging through the Overture to Verdi's La forza del desitno (The Force of Destiny). And Joe Biden seeing if he could limit himself to Copland's A Short Symphony. To add a little edge to the program, Karl Rove could pop up for an excerpt from Boito's Mefistofele, and, to round things out, various cable news types could take turns with Vaughan Williams' The Wasps. Think of the ratings. 

Feel free to suggest your own match up of celebs (political or otherwise) and repertoire for an imaginary American version of Maestro.
Posted by Tim Smith at 3:48 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Former BSO president launches online classical site

He's back.

James Glicker, who nearly sunk the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra during his messy tenure as president, but gets credit for seeking Marin Alsop as music director and rescurer of the institution, has returned to his former cyber milieu. The BBC reports that Glicker is the founder of Passionato, an online company being launched in the UK to provide what is billed as the world's largest stockpile of high-quality classical downloads (prices are currently only in British pounds). You may recall that Glicker, who had never worked for an orchestra before, came to the BSO with a resume heavy on dot.com work; he also had worked for BMG/RCA records. When he departed in early 2006, after 18 months on the job, his track record in Baltimore included plummeting morale and sky-rocketing debt ($18 million or so).

It's obvious that downloading is the present and immediate future for recorded music. It will be insteresting to see how successfully Passionato capitalizes on that.  I took a quick look and found it to be a handsome site with lots to choose from, and even a daily special.    

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:06 AM | | Comments (0)
        

September 11, 2008

Get ready for Mass

(Sanctus of Bernstein's Mass from a 2007 performance in Riga, Latvia. YouTube)

 

If you've never been to Mass -- Leonard Bernstein's Mass, that is -- there's a great chance for you to get the faith. Next month, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will give a rare performance of this eclectic, challenging, fascinating and moving "theater work for singers, players and dancers" from 1971. Music director Marin Alsop is one of its few champions today. Her conviction is such that when the subject came up in Denver last June, during a discussion before members of the Music Critics Association of North America, she said she was sure she could ...

persuade skeptics that Mass is a masterpiece. I'm happy to say I don't need any persuading (I got to attend the very first performance, and the experience left an indelible mark on my oh-so-very young, impressionable and did I mention very young mind), but I know I'm in the minority among members of my profession. I also know that some concertgoers may be hesitant, too, not just because Mass has the reputation of being flawed, but because it raises big questions of faith (and politics, for that matter).

So I'm glad to see that efforts are under  way to help people get more comfortable with the issues raised by this work before it arrives at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Oct. 16-18). Later this month, the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies and the BSO will hold a public forum called: "Bernstein's Mass: An Evening of Musical and Spiritual Discovery." Alsop will join the Rev. Christopher Leighton, executive director of the Institute; Rabbi Mark Loeb, recently retired from the Beth El Congregation; and Rosann Catalano, associate director of the Insitiute.  The forum, which will look at the text and the context of Mass, is at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at Central Presbyterian Church, 7308 York Road. Tickets are $25. Call 410-494-7161 or go register online.

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:00 AM | | Comments (1)
        

September 10, 2008

TV show marks Pavarotti anniversary

PavarottiIn case you missed earlier showings on local PBS TV stations, there's another chance to catch the excellent Great Performances program Pavarotti: A Life in Seven Arias at 8 p.m. tonight on WETA, Ch. 26.

The show, marking the first anniversary of the great tenor's death, includes invaluable early footage of Pavarotti in performance (some folks may have forgotten how much brighter and warmer the voice was in his early days, not to mention how much leaner the body was -- well, less full, at least).

There are also telling interviews with several of the singer's eminent colleagues. No tenor has had quite the impact on the opera world, and the world, at large as Pavarotti did, and this program reminds us why. 

BALTIMORE SUN ARCHIVE PHOTO (AFP)

Posted by Tim Smith at 4:20 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Mobtown Modern kicks off season

Mobtown ModernMobtown Modern called its second season-opener last night "Too Cool for School." Some folks might wonder if this adventurous and often wry organization is too cool for Baltimore, given that its programs come from the front lines of the new music scene. But, considering the positive response to the inaugural concerts last season and the nice turnout on Tuesday at the Contemporary Museum, it looks like Mobtown Modern has a future. And that's great news.

Although you can find some cutting-edge events here and there around town each year, this venture strikes a whole new chord. It also has the advantage of being more, well ...

more cool. A lot more cool than anything I've come across here so far. The museum space, a plain upstairs room rendered informal and cozy by low lighting and a sprinkling of candles, sets the mood (last night, a spread of peanut butter and jelly snacks for the audience played neatly off of the school theme). And Mobtown founders, sax man Briana Sacawa and composer/turntablist Erik Spangler, set the tone with pieces that exude now-ness, even when some of the actual composition dates are more like yesterday. Composers with followings in New York (including veterans of the Bang on a Can outfit there) seem to be particular favorites.

The highpoint for me last night came with the presentation by Jody Redhage of Anna Clyne's Paint Box, a 2006 work for cello and tape. A progression of long, dark string notes created a kind of elegy against electronically filtered and modified breaths and word-snippets, as well as louder sounds of a sometimes aggressive, scary world. David Lang's The Anvil Chorus, from 1990, was a vivid adventure in solo, non-traditional percussion. Steve Owen delivered the snaps, bell tones and wicked whomps in taut, bravura fashion. Julia Wolfe's Lick from 1994 suggested a rock band doing a jam session where each player takes a separate path that, somehow, keeps intersecting perfectly with all the other players. The heady, absorbing exercise was tightly performed by Sacawa, DJ Dubble8 (Spangler's stage name when he's operating turntables and other electronic devices), Matthew Everhart (electric guitar), Nathan Bontrager (cello) and Joel Ciaccio (bass).

The concert was bookended by Sacawa and Spangler, starting with the latter's pastlife laptops and attic instruments written for the saxophonist in 2004. The score's mix of live and processed sonics seemed a little short on substance, but had an effective urban edge. The finale, Grab It, a punchy item from 1999 by Jacob van Terveldhuis, had a similar feel, only edgier still. Among the many sampled sounds are utterances by prison inmates using a certain, four-syllable curse word I don't typically hear in my sheltered concert-going life. It's provocative stuff, geld together by the power of the sax riffs and the punchy rhythmic tracks. In this performance, there was the added impact of video by Guy Werner, who incorproated bits of old sitcoms and vintage TV ads for cereals, action figures, fast food -- the rapid visuals became an increasingly ominous counterpoint.

Mobtown Modern clearly has what it takes to become a fixture on the Baltimore scene. The only stuffy thing about last night was the lack of air conditioning in the performance space, but no one seemed to mind, and the occasional street sounds coming through the open windows only added to the atmosphere of spontaneity.

BALTIMORE SUN PHOTO (Karl Merton Ferron): Erik Spangler, left; Brian Sacawa

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:01 PM | | Comments (1)
        

September 8, 2008

Washington National Opera says 'Play Verdi'

Opera-in-the-Outfield_FINAL%5B1%5D.jpgThree years after launching annual outdoor simulcasts on the National Mall, Washington National Opera is about to move on up -- to the ballpark. While the usual well-connected and more or less well-dressed crowd will be packing the Kennedy Center Opera House Saturday night for the season-opening performance of Verdi's La traviata, thousands more are expected to pour into Nationals Park and watch a simulcast of that performance for free. The cast is headed by soprano Elizabeth Futral as Violetta and tenor Arturo Chacon-Cruz as Alfredo. Dan Ettinger conducts. Marta Doming (wife of Washington National's general director Placido Domingo) directs. The performance is at 7 p.m. Saturday at Nationals Park, 1500 South Capital St., S.E. Gates will open at 5:30.  

The opera company is collaborating with Target, Rolex, the Washington Nationals and D.C.'s Metro system on the venture.  

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:54 AM | | Comments (0)
        

Moyer delivers another memorable Messiaen recital

Jonthan MoyerThere is nothing like the sound world created by Olivier Messiaen, and there's nothing like experiencing it through his works for the organ, especially when they are performed on a top-notch instrument in a massive cathedral where pedal notes can create seismic waves and the most delicate of tones can haunt the air. Messiaen, a fervent Catholic who poured his faith into his music, produced an amazing body of repertoire for "the king of instruments," and Jonathan William Moyer is giving Baltimore a chance to hear all of it this year, to commemorate the centennial of Messiaen's birth.

On Sunday evening, the third installment of that survey was delivered in the ideal space of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen (the first concert was given there on Feb. 24, the final one will be held there on Nov. 23). Moyer has been presenting the organ works in chronological order. This program, covering the 1950s and '60s, contained about two and a half hours of music, all of it played with admirable technical control and expressive force. In a couple of spots, I think there would have been room for a little more breadth -- a more elongated silence after a massive chordal outburst, perhaps, or a slightly slower, subtler fade-out of a delicate coda. But the intellectual and spiritual power of the music came through all evening, nowhere more viscerally than in the brilliant collision of tonalities in Les yeux dans les roues, or the complex harmonic progressions that make such exquisite sense at the end of the eighth movement of Meditations sur le Mystere de la Sainte Trinite. The latter work's recurring song of the yellow-hammer -- Messiaen had a lifelong obsession with birdcalls and heard in them a translation of the language of God -- left a vivid impression.

Moyer, who is working on his doctorate at Peabody, has clearly thought deeply about each note, chord and tonal coloring in these pieces, the multiple layers of texture and meaning. He continues to impress me as a musician with extraordinary poise and promise, and his Messiaen marathon represents an unusually valuable gift to the community.

BALTIMORE SUN PHOTO: Algerina Perna (2003)

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:33 AM | | Comments (0)
        

Welcome to my blog

Tim SmithThanks for checking out my blog, where you will find my blithering bloviation on the classical music scene. I don't want it to be entirely about me (honest, really, I mean it). Please feel free to post your comments, recommendations, links, etc. Why should political blogs have all the fun? We classical music types can be just as emphatically opinionated as anybody else, so don't hesitate to prove that. I'd love to hear from you.

Although I plan to continue attending all sorts of performances in the Baltimore/Washinton area (and beyond), just as I have for the past eight years, I won't be able to get as many reviews into the print edition as I used to.  A lot of those reviews will be posted here from now on. I'll also be using the blog to alert you to notable events or developments, recordings and DVDs -- anything I think will be of interest to those who love classical music (or want to learn more about it).

Thanks again for reading. I'll be talking to you soon.

BALTIMORE SUN PHOTO: Gene Sweeney, Jr. (2008)

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
        
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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at baltimoresun.com/artsmash. This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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