A salute to some unsung orchestras of the Baltimore region
Not surprisingly, when it comes to orchestral thought, this is pretty much a Baltimore Symphony-centric area. It's got the biggest budget, the most musicians, the most concerts, the most famous music director, etc.
So it's easy to overlook all the other orchestral activity going on, especially by the orchestras that are either beyond the beltway or on a community level, with fewer professional players involved.
I am often struck by the sense of musical adventure generated by ensembles of modest means. Whatever limitations there may be on the music-making, there seems to be no restriction on the programming.
Some of the most imaginative repertoire choices I've seen around here lately are from orchestras that, for various reasons, get the smallest share of the spotlight.
Let me give you a few examples ...
That single program also included an excerpt from John Adams' recent opera "Doctor Atomic" and even Radiohead's "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)." A lot of big-league orchestras would never risk putting such an assortment, or even such a weighty philosophical topic, in front of their subscribers.
For 2011-12, the Columbia Orchestra offers, among other things, a "final words" program, featuring Verdi's last work, "Stabat Mater," and the Adagio from Mahler's unfinished 10th Symphony. Another concert balances warhorses by Beethoven and Rimsky-Korsakov with works by contemporary composers Zhou Tian and Arturo Márquez. Cool.
There's quite an impressive mix of familiar and fresh planned by music director Sheldon Bair for the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra's 35th anniversary season, too. A program that finds room for Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and a Grateful Dead-inspired symphony by Lee Johnson is plenty interesting.
Add into that same program arias from Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and a gorgeous excerpt from Tchaikovsky's "Mozartiana" Suite, and you're talking extra-clever.
Even the orchestra's holiday concert will be packed with unusual items before getting to the Christmas sing-along, including pieces by William Grant Still (why, oh why is this composers music so routinely ignored?), Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Malcom Arnold.
One more example.
The Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, led by Jed Gaylin, has plenty of standard fare listed for 2011-12, but still has room for music by Lutoslawski and Michael Daugherty.
I would point as well to Vaughan Williams' "Serenade to Music" and Barber's underrated Piano Concerto on the Hopkins Symphony lineup, wonderful works that do not come around every day. (I wonder if the BSO has ever programmed either of those. UPDATE: As noted in the comments below, the BSO did program the Barber with Garrick Ohlssohn in 2007. I should have remembered that. Ditto for the Serenade to Music, done in 2006.)
The thing these groups have in common is a willingness to leave safe havens, where community orchestras might reasonably be expected to stay, and head out into less traveled territory. That's good for their musicians, good for their audiences.
PHOTOS OF JASON LOVE, SHELDSON BAIR, JED GAYLIN COURTESY OF THEIR ORCHESTRAS