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January 23, 2009

Kalmar leads BSO in colorful, engaging program Kalmar is back on the Baltimore Symphony podium this week as guest conductor, once again assuring an engaging peformance. This time, the music director of the Oregon Symphony chose a rather off-beat mix that had a colorful connective thread. To open, Haydn's Military Symphony, followed by two pieces from the Czech repertoire, Martinu's Oboe Concerto and the complete Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, by Dvorak.

There could never be enough Haydn; the BSO, like most orchestras these days, gives the "father of the symphony" short shrift. And when was the last time you heard all eight of those Dvorak dances at a single sitting in a concert hall? A couple of them are usually reserved for the occasional encores, the rest pretty much ignored.

It was not only enjoyable to find a Haydn symphony and all those Slavonic heel-kickers, but also to savor what they had in common -- the triangle, cymbals and bass drum, used so daringly by Haydn, so naturally and frequently by Dvorak. It's a very clever link that, frankly, escaped me when I first glanced at the program book. It all hit home during last night's performance at Strathmore. At the first sound of the percussion in a Dvorak dance, the resonance from the earlier Haydn work jumped out delectably.

Kalmar fashioned an admirably polished, character-rich account of that Haydn symphony, with buoyant tempos and delectable subtleties of phrasing. The orchestra responded in dynamic, highly sensitive form, with the strings sounding particularly lithe. Martinu's taut, rather subtle concerto enjoyed the admirable solo work of the BSO's principal oboist, Katherine Needleman, who offered her familiar technical agility and vibrant phrase-molding. Kalmar was an attentive partner and, a minor slip in synchronization aside, the ensemble maintained a cohesive presence.

The Slavonic Dances exerted all of their charm and animation thanks to Kalmar's vivid touch, which produced equal portions of lyricism and snap. The melodic line in No. 1 had trouble coming through, but after that, the balance between winds, strings and percussion was carefully controlled, enabling the distinctive colors of each to emerge tellingly. This was a great ensemble night, but some notable efforts stood out, especially the sparking playing of trumpeters Andrew Balio and Rene Hernandez. The program repeats tonight and, minus the concerto, tomorrow morning at Meyheroff.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:34 PM | | Comments (2)


Martinu was amazing. I know you've highlighted Ms. Needleman before, but it can't be said enough how lucky the Baltimore Symphony is to have her. I'm not sure what "subtle" means in reference to Martinu. It is an upbeat, winding, crazy piece that was performed astonishingly by Needleman. More more more.

Very true that it's rare to hear either set of Dvorak's complete Slavonic Dances live. The only time I've heard them live was at this concert.

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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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