Musical week in review: Baltimore Symphony, Opera Show, Mobtown Modern
My latest week of musical experiences included a first-rate concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall. If you can make it to Strathmore Saturday night or Meyerhoff on Sunday afternoon, I think you'll find it well worth the effort.
Yes, I'm still disappointed that a change in conductors -- Jiri Belohlavek had to cancel after injuring his back over the holidays, and Gunther Herbig stepped in -- meant some adjustments to the program. Out went rarely encountered works by Dvorak and Janacek and in came Schumann's considerably more common Symphony No. 4. But the performance Herbig led of that symphony was hardly common.
There's no mistaking this conductor's authority in the German repertoire (and much more), and there was no missing the structural unity, expressive warmth and rhythmic solidity of his interpretation. He had the players responding with admirable discipline and lyrical sweep. Concertmaster Jonathan Carney and assistant principal oboist Shea Scruggs offered particularly shining solos.
The rest of the program, devoted to Beethoven, remained the same as originally slated. The Piano Concerto No. 3 proved a superb vehicle for the soloist, Garrick Ohlsson -- come to think of it, is there any work that isn't a superb vehicle for this brilliant American pianist? He did some marvelous things here, especially in the first movement cadenza (a mix of fiery spontaneity and wonderful dabs of subtle coloring) and throughout the Largo (his poetic touch was magical). Herbig provided attentive support, and, excepting a thinning out of tone in the violins, the ensemble responded vibrantly. A taut account of the "Coriolan" Overture got the evening started.
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Thursday night found me at the Lyric for the local debut of a UK import called The Opera Show. A nice-sized crowd was on hand and appeared to have a grand time. I may have gotten greater enjoyment out of this heavily-produced hybrid of hit opera numbers, kinetic dancing, big-statement costumes and heavy-duty lighting effects had the singers been more distinctive (in some cases, more fully developed). Of course, sometimes it was hard to concentrate on the singing, since there was so much staging going on beneath and around the set, akin to the tickertape blurbs crawling at the bottom of the screen on TV newscasts.
Still, the object of dressing up opera arias for the MTV (or ADD) generation has its merits, and The Opera Show, presented in three unrelated acts, certainly went the extra mile in snazzy (sometimes sugary) coatings. You had to admire the commitment to entertain, and the level of respect for the music that came through (even when arias were turned into duets, duets into quartets). Real opera isn't amplified, of course, but I admired the restraint used in the miking of the first two acts; the vocalism never sounded artificial. The third act, alas, veered dangerously into the Schlockera Show, revved up with electric guitars and leather, and peppered with woefully-out-of-place versions of a Bach fugue and the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin."
Wednesday was Mobtown Modern at the Metro Gallery. The founders and co-curators of the intrepid contemporary music venture, Brian Sacawa and Erik Spangler, performed their imaginative interpretation of Stockhausen's "Tierkreis," fusing the 12 Zodiac-related pieces together into a mostly seamless aural journey. I won't presume to judge whether this particular mix of live and sampled music, often backed by an impulsive urban beat, honored Stockhausen's original intentions. But I found the parade of sounds, from caffeinated sax riffs to cool, crisp bursts of toy piano, to be quite persuasive. (The accompanying video didn't do quite as much for me.) It was, as usual with Mobtown Modern, an experience outside the Baltimore norm, which alone would make it worthwhile. But, also as usual, it had considerable artistic merit and, without the slighest whiff of pretension, offered serious ideas about significant contemporary music.
All in all, not a bad run of concert-going for one week.
PHOTO OF GARRICK OHLSSON (by Philip Jones Griffiths) COURTESY OF THE BSO