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May 3, 2010

Baltimore Chamber Orchestra strings together a pleasant season finale

Like a lot of other arts groups, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra took something of a roller-coaster ride through the dark economy last year, at one point suspending operations. But the ensemble managed to bounce back sufficiently to offer a 27th season, which wrapped up Sunday evening at Goucher College with an attractive program for strings. And, in one more sign of renewed strength, a 28th season has been announced (more on that in a moment).

The big item on Sunday was Tchaikovsky's Serenade, and BCO music director Markand Thakar shaped the well-worn score with considerable care. Phrases were given room to blossom fully, and keen attention was paid to dynamic subtleties, especially at the pianissimo end. The players did impressive work; I don't think I've ever heard this orchestra's string sections sound quite so luxurious.

Thakar turned the first half of the concert over to Christopher Chen, an Australian conductor who did some of his training at Peabody and who runs an arts center in China where the BCO performed this past New Year's. Chen fashioned a smooth, if a little too laid-back, performance of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 by Villa Lobos (a string orchestra arrangement of the familiar version for soprano and cellos). He then assured attentive, vibrant support from the orchestra for Xiang Gao, an impressive Chinese soloist, in the C major Violin Concerto by Haydn.

Gao's tone had an appealing sweetness (a few frayed edges aside), and his phrasing was consistently elegant. His style may have been more Mendelssohn than Haydn, but the lyricism proved quite engaging. Gao was joined by

Su Xu and Courtney Chang (the latter two are winners of the Delaware International String Competition) in a pleasant account of Vivaldi's F major Concerto for Three Violins, with Thakar conducting.

Four concerts have been planned for the BCO's 2010-11 season. Concertmaster Madeline Adkins (she has clearly been a positive influence in that chair) will step into the limelight for Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in a November program that includes Beethoven's Seventh. BCO fans will get a New Year's-style concert of light Viennese music in early January.

Noted flutist Chris Norman will play some Bach in a February program that also features string serenades by Dvorak and Elgar. And the season will close in April with Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony, Brahms' Double Concerto (violinist David Perry, cellist Michael Mermagen) and -- the only offbeat item on the season lineup -- Ives' Symphony No. 3.

PHOTO OF MARKAND THAKAR COURTESY OF BCO

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:38 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 baltimoresun.com/artsmash. 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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