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May 26, 2009

More from Dresden festival: organ recital in great church; plus the city prepares for Obama's visit

Dresden’s Catholic cathedral is as grandly beautiful as you would expect for an Italian-German baroque edifice from 1755, with many a carved cherub cavorting about, espcially above the grand pulpit.

Up in the ornate organ loft is a restored Gottfried Silbermann organ, also from 1755. It was given a long workout Monday night in a recital by American organist Gail Archer, who balanced works by Bach, Buxtehude and Mendelssohn with items by American composers Samuel Barber, Vincent Persichetti and David Noon – in keeping with the Dresden Music Festival’s New World theme.

The performance didn’t ...

do much for me, I confess; the playing seemed earthbound, sometimes technically cloudy. I enjoyed the endless reverberation, though, and I was impressed that the church was full for the event – organ recitals don’t necessarily pack ‘em in back in the States.

But, then, Dresden is a very musical city, and its festival draws in even more music lovers. Festival director Jan Vogler told a group of us visiting critics that during the regular season you can often see crowds pouring out of the city’s centrally located opera house, concert hall and other venues from sold out performances, all on the same night.

And for a city of about 500,000, it says a lot that that there are three newspapers, each with its own music critic on staff. Pretty humbling.

Dresden is abuzz with next week’s Obama visit. The advance security and logistics teams have been seen checking things out and today’s Sachsische Zeitung paper devotes a full page to a story and photo spread on the suite (5,500 Euros a night) at the Hotel Kempinski where the presidential party will be staying. Great-looking digs. (The paper's online photo gallery of places the president will visit provides a quick overview of this richly beautiful city - just click on the bar at top to see each of the seven pictures.) 


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:48 AM | | Comments (1)


Dresden should be applauded for having no fewer than _3_ Baroque cathedrals with absolutely _cavernous_ acoustics. If you love reverb (and I do!), then any performance in these structures that takes the reverb into intelligent consideration should be enormously-rewarding. (Ooooo, I'm jealous about that Schubert mass!!! Daniel Harding's a good Brucknerian, too! ;^)

And then, not two beats away from some of the most magnificent Baroque splendours, the city has some of the ugliest buildings I've ever seen (with dubious architectural philosophies responsible, to boot!). Talk about a split personality! What mad people _make_ these decisions?!?!!

The organs (like the one in the Hofkirche), however, could get out of hand very easily. Just looking at all of those softly-rounded arches and substantial vertical spaces makes me wince. I don't envy any organist who would have to contest with those awesome dimensions.

One of the ugliest buildings is surely the Kulturpalast, where the Dresden Philharmonic performs -- a Soviet era bunker with a communist manifesto sort of mural filling an exterior wall. Maybe, in time, it will be replaced, or simply obscured by more of the renovations and historic recreations going on around it. TIM

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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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