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January 18, 2009

Pre-inaugural concert by Yo-Yo Ma, Silk Road group

A good portion of the liberal establishment gave itself a musical party last night in Washington to celebrate the Obama/Biden inauguration. The event, presented by The New Republic, featured a performance by celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble at the Harman Center and attracted various movers and shakers, including senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman (no, the latter was not booed when recognized from the stage) and various media types, including Margaret Warner of the News Hour with Jim Lehrer and Charles Krauthammer (yes, even conseravtives got in -- then again, he's a major music lover who recently founded a concert series in DC).

Before the performance, there were remarks from New Republic editor-in-chief Marty Peretz and three prominent political figures: two from the incoming administration, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (he's got a future in stand-up if his new gig doesn't work out) and National Economic Council director Larry Summers; and someone who will have a lot to do with both of them up on the Hill, congressman Barney Frank (he quipped that all four speakers responded when told that "the arrogant Jewish guy" should come to the stage).

As for the concert, a tight 90-minutes or so, it showed off the Silk Road Ensemble's trademarks -- technical panache and a seamless, totally persuasive blending of musical idioms from various cultures. Heard in this context, that fusion seemed the perfect artistic metaphor for the bringing together of disparate elements that Obama made a cornerstone of his campaign message. (Yo-Yo Ma will be one of the four musicians who will premiere John Williams' Air and Simple Gifts during the inaugural ceremony.)

Highlights included Lou Harrison's dynamic, atmospheric Concerto for Pipa and Strings, with brillaint soloist Wu Man; the darkly beautiful Prayer by Ernest Bloch; and virtuosic, prismatic arrangements of traditional Romanian gypsy songs. It was also wonderful to hear "Ashokan Farewell" again, the haunting tune by Jay Ungar that was used so effectively as the theme music for the Ken Burns PBS series The Civil War. The concert-launching arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner," complete with bagpipe, was a winner, too -- a remarkably colorful, respectful, engaging treatment that found fresh expressiveness in a melody that will be heard often, and resonate deeply, in the days ahead.

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:40 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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