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May 22, 2009

Mellow rock from Trey Anastasio gets smooth partnering from Marin Alsop and Baltimore Symphony

Trey Anastasio and Marin AlsopTrey Anastasio proved to be quite the mellow fellow Thursday night when he collaborated with the Baltimore Symphony in a program of his music. My review is in Friday's paper.

Ably partnered by conductor Marin Alsop, he made a good case for his ambitious 30-minute piece Time Turns Elastic. In that work and a selection of Phish songs, he offered some suave improv on the guitar and somewhat less steady vocals.

It all added up to something a little less, I suspect, than either Anastasio fans or the orchestra expected. ...

Rather than a pointedly rock kind of night, this was a subtle, intimate occasion, overall, an opportunity to focus in on Anastasio's slow-to-burn guitar viruosity and distinctive songwriting style.

Those songs may or may not have derived great benefit from their orchestral trappings, but I found myself generally liking the directness and sincerity of the arrangements, the easy-going nature of the music-making.

The coolest thing, though, was seeing such a non-symphony crowd in the place. Some of them surely didn't know from the BSO. I heard that one audience member asked an orchestra staffer how long Meyerhoff Symphony Hall had been there.

At first, the Phish folk sounded ready for a rock concert -- lots of whoops and hollers and shouted requests, as you would expect. Gradually, when the nature of the evening became clearer, it seemed as if the audience pretty much switched gears as smoothly as the BSO players were doing onstage, taking in the music in a different way.

These classical/non-classical unions don't necessarily change either world, but it's interesting to see the two sides share the same space, if only for the occasional night.

Baltimore Sun photo of Trey Anastasio and Marin Alsop: Gene Sweeney Jr.

Posted by Tim Smith at 8:06 AM | | Comments (1)


I receive the impression, especially from the "No casualties..." title of the article, that this was a little underwhelming. I _want_ casualties in this kind of situation!!! I mean, seriously, the electric guitar _alone_ can, with judicious (yet tasteful) amplification, go toe-to-toe with the entire orchestra, much like a big pipe organ! I'm not saying that we have to be deafened by the experience (which is usually why I avoid concerts in arenas, where the amplification is so overboard as to guarantee hearing loss with, a-hem, "louder" bands in all genres), but a little bit of give-and-take in the sonic territory certainly livens the scene and makes for a much more memorable impression!

(This is, of course, in great contrast to the acoustic [classical] guitar, which is simply overmatched in larger orchestral settings and requires a great deal of reserve on the part of orchestral players.)

For once, I'd like to an electric-guitar player really play _through_ an orchestra, instead of just accompanying it. Actually, the orchestra usually just accompanies the "novelty" player, regardless of the "non-orchestral" instrument involved. Thus, these pairings often seem so forced. Argh.

(Yes, I'm tired of that stupid chime/bell-tree tinkling, too! This betrays the cheesy-film-score origin of so much modern orchestration. And I'm certainly not knocking the _great_ film scores...)

I must say I was surprised that the concert never really rocked, but I ended up enjoying the mellowness for some reason. Thanks again for commenting.

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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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