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September 20, 2011

A few words about String Orchestra of New York City, Monument Piano Trio

I spent Sunday afternoon in the company of some first-class music and some admirable music-making.

First up was the conductor-free String Orchestra of New York City (cute acronym -- SONYC), opening 2011-12 season of Community Concert at Second. The event also marked a debut for the newly renovated sanctuary of Second Presbyterian Church.

An already elegant room now looks even more so. The acoustics seemed about the same to my ears; this is a very inviting space sonically -- or should I say sonyc-ally?

After some jarring intonation problems in the New York ensemble's opening burst of baroque (a concerto grosso by Torelli), things steadily improved. Two short, deliciously moody pieces by Sibelius received warm and absorbing performances, and Elgar's soaring Introduction and Allegro found the players, well, soaring.

The program also offered a vibrant account of ...

Jonathan Leshnoff's String Quartet No. 2, which lends itself easily to string orchestra arrangement.

From the descending motive that haunts the first movement to the giddy perpetual-motion finale, not to mention some great chords of almost Elgar-like lushness along the way, the score reveals the distinctive flair of this Baltimore-based composer. (The very last notes make for an overly conventional finish, but that's a minor disappointment.)

From Second Pres, it was a downright idyllic drive to St. John's in pastoral Glyndon for the season-opener of the Music in the Valley series.

Baltimore's Monument Piano Trio was joined by BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney, here playing viola, and Florida-based violinist Aleksandr Zhuk. The program opened with the A major Piano Quintet by Dvorak and closed with the F minor Piano Quintet -- which is sort of like having filet mignon followed by roast beef.

(Speaking of food, I was disconcerted -- I've been disconcerted a lot lately in concert settings -- to see a buffet being laid out for post-concert noshing, in full view of the audience and at least some of the musicians while the Brahms was still being performed. I have only been to this church hall a couple of times, so I do not know if this is standard procedure, but I sure hope not. There has to be a way to avoid such distraction.)

I always enjoy hearing the Monument personnel --violinist Igor Yuzefovich, cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski, pianist Michael Sheppard -- and this was no exception. Their considerable individual talents came through vividly, as did those of the guest musicians, but this was all about fully integrated chamber music playing.

The Dvorak score was delivered with great color, rhythmic snap and poetic expression. In the darkly dramatic Brahms quintet, the group again produced tightly meshed articulation and phrasing and maintained a very effective tension from opening to close.

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:32 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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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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