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June 23, 2010

Musical novelty for your weekend pleasure, including viola, Viardot and Vitebsk

The summer season around here can be a little iffy for classical music. Conventional wisdom seems to be that people get out of their classical mood as the temperature and humidity rise, a point of view I've never been able to embrace.

Well, I'm happy to report that you can, indeed, find substantive classical events on the calendar if you look hard enough, this weekend being a fine example.

To begin with, how about an operetta by Pauline Viardot? Who's that? I'm glad you asked.

Her father was Manuel Garcia, the tenor who premiered the role of Count Almaviva in Rossini's "The Barber of Seville." Her sister was mezzo Maria Malibran, one of the most sensationally talented and celebrated opera singers of the 19th century.

Pauline was awfully talented, too, as a mezzo (she premiered Brahms' "Alto Rhapsody"; Schumann and Saint-Saens dedicated pieces to her) and as a composer. Her speciality in the latter field was

operetta, and her "Cendrillon," a version of the Cinderella fairy tale composed around 1895 and first heard in Paris in 1904, reveals her considerable gifts for melody and charm.

Viardot wrote "Cendrillon" with only piano accompaniment, making it more of a salon piece -- and ideal for modest-sized companies. The Baltimore Vocal Arts Foundation, a recent addition to the area's musical scene, will present a production of "Cendrillon" at the Theatre Project Saturday and Sunday, performed in a new English translation by Robyn Stevens of the French libretto. (A concert version of the operetta will be offered first at Germano's on Thursday night.)

"Cendrillon" is easily the most unusual item this weekend, but there are a couple of other surprises out there. How about an all-American chamber music program? The West Garden Trio -- violinist Luke Wedge, cellist Benjamin Wensel and pianist Danielle DeSwert Hahn -- will perform infrequently encountered trios by Ives, Copland (an early work, "Vitebsk: Study on a Jewish Theme"), and Bernstein. This ensemble-in-residence at the National Gallery of Art will be presented Sunday at An die Musik (where you'll find some unusual jazz the night before from a group called Fire in July that mixes voice, cello, trombone and vibraphone).

Anytime the viola steps into center stage -- and isn't just there to encourage more viola jokes -- is unusual. Peter Minkler, a longtime Baltimore Symphony member, is a first-rate violist who received one of the 2010 Baker Artist Awards. Although a rotator cuff tear has caused him to curtail what would have been a full recital at the BMA to celebrate the Baker prize, Minkler will still have a program there on Saturday afternoon that includes live performances of excerpts from his CD of solo viola works and a conversation with Tom Hall.

That's still not all you'll find during what is shaping up to be a nicely classical weekend. This next item may not have unusual repertoire, but the talent involved is certainly uncommon: BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney will give a recital of sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven with pianist Lura Johnson on Sunday at St. John's in Glyndon.

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:18 AM | | Comments (1)


Tim, Thanks for being a town crier for the local classical scene. Did you happen to catch any of the local performances? I am looking reviews ?

I'll be checking out 'Cendrillon' this afternoon and Jon Carney this evening. (I was on theater duty Friday and Saturday.) 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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