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May 13, 2010

John Adams conducts Elgar and other surprises during National Symphony residency

John Adams has emerged over the years as more than just a major composer. Turns out he knows his way around a podium, too, and orchestras seem to enjoy offering theirs to him.

Three years ago, he conducted the Baltimore Symphony in a potent program that featured one of his most profound pieces, "The Wound-Dresser," and Beethoven's Seventh. The latter didn't seem all that surprising a choice for Adams, given the almost minimalistic reiteration of some thematic ideas in that score.

But I must say I was a little surprised, and certainly intrigued, by what Adams will be conducting during his two-week residency at the National Symphony.

This week's lineup offers

"The Wound-Dresser" (Eric Owens will be the baritone soloist), balanced by pieces that might not leap to mind as being in the conductor's repertoire, especially Elgar's "Enigma Variations," along with Copland's "Billy the Kid" Suite and Barber's "Adagio for Strings." Cool. And check out Adams' blog for some typically enlightening and provocative comments about the Elgar classic. I was especially pleased to see him discuss Elgar's own recording of the Variations.

Next week, two big Adams works, "The Dharma at Big Sur" and "Dr. Atomic" Symphony are on the bill (the BSO played "Dharma" in 2007 and will tackle "Dr. Atomic" next season), along with Stravinsky's "Feu d'Artifice" and the Four Sea Interludes from Britten's "Peter Grimes." Both programs are loaded with potential.


Posted by Tim Smith at 9:32 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 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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