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September 29, 2010

Towson University's Weill Festival shines light on composer's classical side

The biggest draw of Towson University's ambitious and enticing Kurt Weill Festival is no doubt the production of "The Threepenny Opera" that runs Thursday through Saturday. But there was quite an attraction Tuesday evening at the Center for the Fine Arts, where the spotlight focused on Weill's classical side.

His rarely encountered Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra from 1924 received a remarkable performance, featuring Baltimore Symphony concertmaster Jonathan Carney as soloist and a well-matched ensemble led by Concert Artists of Baltimore's artistic director Edward Polochick.

The score bristles with dissonance in that very 1920s way, and, though a glimmer of jazz influence pops up here and there, the overall abstractness seems at times light years away from the more familiar Weill. The concerto is constructed in a clear-cut fashion, and its thematic ideas move in ever-interesting directions, creating a most eventful experience. The central movement, itself divided into three sections with hints of nocturnal imagery, recalls the three inner movements of Mahler's Seventh Symphony (recently played by the BSO).

Tension, drama, elusive resolution -- they're all part of the work's expressive force. And the stark aural contrast of solo violin against a mass of wind instruments, percussion and double bass allows Weill to create a distinctive sound-world.

Carney has done some marvelous work over the years; this

may well be the most impressive yet. His tone had a kind of radiance, even in the wildest passages, and he negotiated fiendish passage-work with aplomb. Above all, his phrasing communicated and engaged on a deep level. Polochick was a sterling partner, gaining an admirable response from the dozen-member ensemble.

Music for winds written during those same Roaring '20s by other composers filled out the program: Hindemith's Kleine Kammermusik (a work that may have influenced Weill's concerto) and an earthy quintet by Villa-Lobos. The Quintigre Wind Quintet -- Sara Nichols, flute; Fatma Daglar, oboe; Marguerite Levin, clarinet; Gabrielle Finck, horn; Terry Ewell, bassoon -- delivered both works with considerable technical and interpretive flair.

These taut, vivid performances affirmed that the school is fortunate to have these players on the faculty.


Posted by Tim Smith at 3:11 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Classical, Clef Notes


I love love love love love love love love love love love love love Weill. I'm not in town this weekend, but am very hopeful that the Weill festival goes very well for TU. It's an exciting sort of event for their music department to host. Best of luck to everyone!

Separately: when was the drama queens added to your blog banner? I like the visual contrast, and it makes the banner less....white and gray. :)

Just launched the new and improved, double the pleasure, double the fun blog yesterday. It's a soft launch, 'cause I haven't gotten around to thinking of a splashy way to announce it. 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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