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October 14, 2008

Baroque concert swallowed up by Basilica

Baltimore BasilicaBaltimore's lovingly restored Basilica looks like a great place for a concert. Too bad it doesn't sound like one.

The reverberation, up to four seconds by my unscientific count, is just too great to allow for clarity; the music can't help but turn mushy. That's particularly problematic for baroque repertoire, with its complicated contrapuntal lines. None of this stops the indefatigable presenter Henry Wong of An die Musik Live. On Sunday night, his "Barqoue at the Basilica" series offered top-notch musicians from France (the French Embassy was a co-presenter) in an attractive program performed on period instruments.

I stayed for the first half. Although a lot of the effort was swallowed up in the acoustics, it was still possible to savor violinist Patrick Bismuth's technical elan, especially in a Corelli sonata, and the vivid playing of the ensemble called La Tempesta. I also admired harpsichordist Helene Dufour's assured, colorful, rhyhmically alive solo turn in some pieces by Antoine Forqueray.

The series continues Dec. 13 with a Christmas program by the delectable Baltimore Consort.


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:03 AM | | Comments (1)


Dear Tim: where did you sit for this concert? We were in the front row, and experienced an exquisite concert. For past baroque concerts (Henry's), we sat at about the sixth row, and found the sound and acoustics to work very well together. We've sat in other areas for Tom Hall's concerts, and only once had a bad sound because of the column next to us. Perhaps if you love the Basilica, you can hear things others can't. We love the Basilica.

I was at about halfway back, where the sound was decidedly mushy. But I can well understand the appeal of attending events there; it's an inviting, exceptionally beautiful space. -- Tim

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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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