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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)


Oh, how I would have loved to have seen that!

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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 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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