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October 20, 2009

Music we've been missing (part 12): Charles Ives

As Tuesday happens to be the 135th birthday of Charles Ives (2009 marks the 55th anniversary of his death), it seems as good an excuse as any to return to my list of music we've been missing -- especially orchestral repertoire that gets too little exposure, or none at all, around here.

During my recent trip to New York, I enjoyed greatly the chance to hear Ives' Second Symphony, played with typical brilliance by the New York Philharmonic, led by its new music director Alan Gilbert. It reaffirmed my conviction that American audiences should get to hear this piece a lot more often. And not just the Second, of course.

The Third is a wonderful work. (Last season, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra almost got to perform the Third, before having to suspend operations due to financial pressures; the orchestra is back in business, but that symphony has not been re-programmed.) And what about the

fascinating Fourth? A huge challenge in many ways, but an amazing sonic and intellectual experience.

There are other orchestral pieces, too, of course, that we need to hear. Then there's the more intimate Ives -- all the sonatas, quartets and songs. We really could, and should, be having Ives feasts on a regular basis.

So here's a nod to the composer on his 135th (movements from the Second and Fourth symphonies), and a plea to programmers: more Ives, please.

Posted by Tim Smith at 8:27 AM | | Comments (2)


I love Ives and each season I look to see if any Ives is programmed in the Baltimore area, and I'm usually disappointed. I was happy to hear Ives' Symphony 2 on WBJC last night. I'd like to see his string quartet performed, with the "Allegro con scratchy" movement. I guess I love his sense of humor and his music seems so quintessentially American to me.

Thanks for commenting. There is nothing quite like Ivesian humor, that's for sure. TIM

For all the Ives fans:
An die Musik Live is presenting American pianist Heather O'Donnell on Tuesday Nov 10 @ 7:30 pm. She has emerged as a distinctive and probing new voice on the music scene, presenting a repertoire that spans the 18th through the 21st-century with "masterful playing" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), "fine intelligence" (Philharmonic Magazine), and "fiery performances" (the Village Voice).
The performance is titled
Imaginary Spaces: Five works that reflect on unlimited possibilities of the imagination. Schumann's sublime Fantasie is joined with two works for piano and electronics by one of the most prominent German composers of the younger generation, Oliver Schneller, whose piece "And tomorrow..." pays homage to the founding father of American experimental music, Charles Ives.
The concert is part of a CD release tour for "Responses to Ives" on Mode Records.
The complete program is as follows:
Oliver Schneller- Five Imaginary Spaces for piano & live-electronics
Charles Ives- 3 pieces for Quartertone Pianos (new version for piano & electronics)
Oliver Schneller- And tomorrow... for piano & electronics (inspired by Ives' quartertone pieces)
Charles Ives- The Celestial Railroad
Schumann- Fantasie op. 17

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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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