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December 18, 2008

Obama inaugural ceremony could use fine-tuning

Arteha FranklinAs much as I'm looking forward to Inaguration Day, the news about the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol isn't exactly thrilling for some of us music lovers.

I won't get into the controversial selection of evangelist preacher Rick Warren (although I find that personally disheartening on several levels), but the musical portion looks, at least on paper, like a big let down. I have great R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Aretha Franklin, and I'm one of the few opera fans who actually loved the way she tore up Puccuni's Nessun dorma years ago, but I'm not crazy about losing this slot on the program more traditionally filled by a classical-trained singer. (I know, I know, the election was all about change.) A few weeks ago, I heard the majestic Leontyne Price sing the heck out of "America the Beautiful" at 81 years of age, and I'd bet that she would gladly deliver it for the Inauguration. What a richly layered statement that would make. Of course, I haven't seen any word yet on what Aretha will perform, so maybe I'll be persuaded in the end.

Likewise, maybe the supposedly classical portion of the event will be convincing, but I doubt it. Here's the lineup: violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, clarinetist Anthony McGill (he's a Peabody faculty member as well as principal clarinetist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) and pianist Gabriela Montero (she gave an improvised recital in Baltimore a couple weeks ago). The problem for me is that this ensemble will play a new work composed by John (Star Wars and every other blockbuster film) Williams. Excuse me, but he's not this country's finest composer, just one of the most famous. He's certainly not a front-rank classical composer. Yes, I know his music was played during the victory night outdoor celebration in Chicago, so he obviously resonates with the Obama team, but (to borrow a phrase being tossed out by top members of the current administration these days), so what?

I wouldn't expect the Obama folks to commission Elliott Carter or someone like that, but it would be great to have someone else writing something else. That said, I'm still curious how any piece of chamber music, however amplified, is going to work at and for an occasion like this. Strange. 


Posted by Tim Smith at 4:21 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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