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January 26, 2009

Stellar clarinetist, embattled orchestra shine in concert

Richard StoltzmanThe future of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, a fixture on the local scene for more than 25 years, remains uncertain. After being hit hard by a drop in ticket sales and contributed income, the organization has suspended operations for the remainder of this season, in the hope that fundraising will be successful enough to re-launch in the fall. The unfortunate cloud over the BCO lifted for a couple of bright hours on Sunday afternoon at Kraushaar Auditorium, where the ensemble delivered its swan-song-for-now.

A near-capacity crowd, the largest BCO audience I've seen in quite a while, was on hand, and rewarded the musicians with a standing ovation before they played a note, to thank them for donating their services to save the concert. The conductor and soloist also donated theirs.

That guest artist, eminent clarinet virtuoso Richard Stoltzman, gave a sublime, time-stopping account of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, reaffirming the technical mastery and refined musicality that made him a star in the mid-1970s. Stoltzman's silken tone spun Mozart's exquisite melodies with seemingly effortless grace, especially in the Adagio, which also benefited from the clarinetist's stylish ornamentation of the five-note descending theme that ranks among the most poignant of all Mozart inspirations. BCO music director Markand Thakar (he has donated back his salary all season) dovetailed the orchestral side of the concerto with considerable sensitivity, and the ensemble did some downright glowing work.

Markand ThakarAs if Soltzman's remarkable gesture of performing free for the BCO weren't enough, he added a substantial encore, Poulenc's saucy, compact Sonata for Two Clarinets, with Eyal Bor, director of education for the Beth El Congregation and an accomplished player. (The BCO originally was to have performed the program at Beth El, as well as Kraushaar.)

The afternoon also featured the orchestra on its own in Bartok's Romanian Dances, which Thakar shaped with admirable nuance and the ensemble articulated in dynamic fashion. The initial novelty of Robert Frank's 2005 Figaronacht Overture, a collage of familiar Mozart snippets put through an occasionally piquant prism, wore off as the music bubbled rather pointlessly along.

At the end of the concert, Thakar drew out the drama, not just the charm, of Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, and the ensemble delivered a mostly tight performance. (Before the financial crunch, Charles Ives's Symphony No. 3 was to have opened the program, but the cost of score rental proved prohibitive. If the BCO does revive, I hope the Ives work will get another chance, too. As I've said many a time, we don't get nearly enough Ives around here.)

All in all, the afternoon underlined the significance and quality of this orchestra. If we're lucky, it will survive to play another day.


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:02 AM | | 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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