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November 23, 2008

Alsop, BSO hit new peak together

Yesterday afternoon's collaboration between Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra joins my list of favorite concerts in the music director's young tenure. You can read a longer review in my column in Thursday's paper, but here's a brief report on what I found so memorable.

Christopher RouseChristopher Rouse's Concerto for Orchestra, dedicated to Alsop and premiered at her Cabrillo Festival in California last August, is a big, impressive work, full of compelling thematic ideas. The most striking of them starts in the basses with what appears to be a quotation from the last measures of the Prelude to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. That angular theme expands into a full-throated lament from the English horn and works its way through the orchestra in vivid ways. The score contains a startling variety of tone coloring from each section of the orchestra, including a  passage of stark contrast involving violins and basses, and several barrages of brass chords that dart out and fade just as suddenly to unnerving effect. Although there are moments of reflection and near-lyricism in the piece, the overwhelming impression is of energy and force, often with the wallop of heavy metal. Alsop had the massive work well under control and drew a brilliant performance from the BSO.      

The concert also offered an impressive account of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique. Alsop, who sometimes seems to hold back on emotion, let it loose here and the results were quite gripping. There was a good deal of spaciousness for the first movement, plenty of buoyancy for the second (but always with an underlying sense of stress to keep the tension going). The third movement march had terrific drive, plus a veryt effective downshift in tempo for the last big statement of the main theme. Alsop brought plenty of poetic intensity to the finale, although the coda was just little hurried for my taste. And the final fadeout from the basses was not as poignant as the one the Warsaw Philharmonic playewrs managed Friday night at Strathmore (their dimunendo seemed to go on for days, conveying the music's sense of mortality with extra depth). The BSO excelled throughout the Tchaikovsky score, with great waves of rich tone from the strings, plenty of bite from the brass and warmth from the woodwinds.  

Alsop, who was very active as a violinist during the early years of her career, picked up a fiddle at the start of the concert and joined a contingent of string players from the orchestra to deliver a brisk, spirited performance of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. 


Posted by Tim Smith at 4:53 PM | | 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 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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