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December 15, 2008

BSO's holiday show almost Scrooge-proof

BSO Holiday SpectacularYou've got to have a fairly advanced case of humbugitis to resist the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's annual Holiday Spectacular. Even after questioning one element or another, I ended up feeling  good about this year's version. For one thing, Sandi Patty is back as host and vocal soloist, and she's just as welcoming as she was two years ago. She knows how to put seasonal music across without ever slipping into cloying territory, and her voice has an appealing freshness. This year, she shares the stage with the African Children's Choir, a remarkably cohesive and spirited ensemble of orphans (if they don't tug at your heartstrings, you may want to check your pulse).

I caught the opening performance Friday at the Meyerhoff. Jack Everly, the BSO's principal pops conductor and primary architect of the holiday show, exuded his usual calm authority on the podium and drew smooth playing from the orchestra. Most of the repertoire choices proved agreeable, and the performances were full of life. On the purely orchestral side, Barlow Bradford's arrangement of "Carol of the Bells" was a particular treat, not just colorful, but what you might even call hip. Patty had fun with "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and turned in a charming "Getting to Know You" with the sweet-voiced children, who offered several highlights of their own along the way.

On the down side, I'm just not sold on the " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas" number, which is a traditional part of the program. The music is bland; the props and choreographic elements could use some extra flash (a colleague at the paper who was there Friday wondered why the puppet-handlers just walk around in street clothes); and the amount of time eaten up by the whole thing doesn't have a corresponding amount of diversion.

But the biggest drawback came in the second half of the show, when pacing turned strangely sluggish, with two slow items back to back. There should be a rousing finish to equal the now famous tapping Santas who bring down the house before intermission (the dancers from the Baltimore School for the Arts kicked up a storm). Tapping angels? No, I guess not. But there's got to be something.

More problematic was what happened after Patty and company delivered the official finale, "O Holy Night." She stopped the applause to deliver thanks to the sponsors. Talk about deflation. Even the encore sparked by the African Children's Chorus couldn't get the spirits back up to speed after that. The thank-you's could surely be delivered at a different point in the production, leaving room for some sort of show-biz splash to send the crowd out properly.

Still, the basic soundness and appeal of the Holiday Spectacular remains. It's a feel-good effort that seems doubly welcome these days. And the festive transformation of the hall, from the lobby to the proscenium, is achieved with great flair.


Posted by Tim Smith at 12:47 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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