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December 31, 2010

My Top 10 classical music events of 2010 in Baltimore and Washington

Since the performing arts world is more about seasons than the standard Jan-Dec calendar, I don't usually think about Top 10 lists at the end of the year.  But, hey, people love lists, so here goes: My favorite musical moments on the Baltimore/Washington classical music scene during 2010 -- in chronological, not qualitative, order. Please feel free to tell me yours (and to dispute mine to your heart's content.)

Jan. 17: The recital by Peabody student Hans Kristian Goldstein for Music in the Great Hall. It was fun hearing a cellist so young with the artistic and technical chops to launch a serious career. Great tone, great musical feeling.

Feb. 6: Recital by pianist Till Fellner presented by An die Musik at the BMA. First, it was cool that the event happened at all, since we were still all coping with the blizzard that ate Baltimore. Then, there was the enjoyment of hearing a very intellectually and technically gifted artist exploring Beethoven sonatas in such vivid, absorbing style.

Feb. 15: The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with conductor Mariss Jansons and violinist Janine Jansen, presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society at the Kennedy Center. There was an electrifying performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, filled with fascinating details and earthy emotion. I also loved Jansons' sumptuous, no holds-barred account of Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony. A magical night.

Feb. 21: Pianist Yefim Bronfman in a recital for the Shriver Hall Concert Series. It's always rewarding to be in the presence of this keyboard tiger, but the extra fun this time was that he brought along the 30-minute, zillion-note Tchaikovsky sonata that hardly anyone ever plays in this country. He made as strong a case for it as you're likely to hear anytime soon. 

May 12: The Contemporary Museum's Mobtown Modern concert at Metro Gallery. Darryl Brenzel's jazz band version of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" got beyond the expected snap to create a whole new way of appreciating the grit and power of the original score. And the Mobtown musicians were really smokin.'

June 4: Washington National Opera's production of Ambroise Thomas' "Hamlet" at the Kennedy Center. Director/set designer Thaddeus Strassberger's Cold War-era setting was full of compelling visual touches. Liam Bonner looked the part of the Danish prince and acted the heck out of the role; the young baritone's beautifully nuanced singing proved just as expressively. Elizabeth Futral was the telling Ophelia.

Oct. 2, 15 (a tie): Two National Symphony Orchestra concerts with Christoph Eschenbach in his first weeks as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. On the 2nd, a gripping local premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s thorny "Herodiade-Fragmente" with the sensational soprano Marisol Montalvo; then, a freshly considered, deliciously romantic interpretation of Beethoven's Ninth. On the 15th, an intensely personal, affecting performance of 


Mahler's Fifth. The chemistry of conductor and orchestra was palpable.

Nov. 11: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra led by Marin Alsop at the Meyerhoff and, two nights later, at Carnegie Hall. This vivid program offered a striking affirmation of the steadily strengthening musical bond between music director and orchestra. There was a remarkably poetic version of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 with soloist Simon Trpceski. To mark the Mahler anniversary season, Alsop dusted off the composer's arrangement of Beethoven's "Eroica." She seemed truly inspired by it and drew from the BSO considerable sonic richness. A cool performance.

Nov. 18: Peabody Opera Theatre's production of Massenet's "Manon." A lot of things clicked so tightly here that it was quite easy to forget that it was a student performance. The singers, especially soprano Jennifer Edwards and tenor William Davenport as the doomed lovers, got into their roles and sang with considerable style. I thought it was one of the best Peabody productions in my 10 years here, so it certainly deserved a spot on this Top 10.

Dec. 6: The Evolution Contemporary Music Series at An die Musik. Judah Adashi led a finely responsive vocal quartet in a mesmerizing account of David Lang's "The Little Match Girl Passion," winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for music. Lang added many layers to a Hans Christian Anderson tale of a poor girl left to die in the cold; both the words and the music touch a nerve. The performers brought out that subtle emotional power with remarkable skill. A most rewarding experience.





Posted by Tim Smith at 7:30 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Classical, Clef Notes


It's a shame that there aren't any choral performances that made this list.

I was hoping Beethoven's Ninth would count. And remember I can only list things I actually got to hear; I know there's a lot of good stuff I miss. Anyway, please let me know your choral faves of the past 12 months. TIM

Towson University's choral program, along with the Maryland State Boychoir, gave a rousing performance of Carmina Burana on December 4th. They were accompanied by double piano and percussion ensemble. Dr. Karen Kennedy was able to achieve a remarkable sound from a choir of nearly 200. The soloists were remarkable as well. It was a real treat.

Shriver Hall Concert Series has just announced the addition of a free recital by cellist Hans Kristian Goldstein on Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm at the Baltimore Museum of Art to its 2010-11 Discovery Series. Goldstein will play works by Boccherini, Bach, Britten, and Schubert. Reservations are suggested. Visit for more information.

There is a wonderful Tuscan Sun Festival in Cortona Italy July 31 thru August 6 with world renowned classical music artists performing daily, along with lectures, art, and total experiences for all the senses. Please look up Tuscan Sun Festival 2011 Cortona Italy and advise your readers. Thank you.

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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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