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September 11, 2011

Baltimore Symphony kicks off season with eclectic gala concert

The annual Baltimore Symphony Orchestra gala gives each new season a jolt of cash and energy.

Saturday's event at the Meyerhoff raised $750,000, which has a nice ring to it ($1 million would sound even nicer, but we're still struck in a recession, after all). It also provided a good deal of musical refreshment.

This wasn't the most cohesive of programs, but the eclectic mix chosen by music director Marin Alsop held its rewards.

There was one big classical work, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, featuring Baltimore's favorite daughter, Hilary Hahn, as soloist. And there was a significant premiere, David T. Little's arresting salute to Baltimore, "Charm."

These items were book-ended by fanfares from Aaron Copland (his saluting the "common man") and Joan Tower (hers saluting the "uncommon woman") at the start, and, of all things, a gospel version of the "Hallelujah" Chorus from Handel's "Messiah" at the close.

There was room, too, for ...

participants in the BSO's commendable educational initiative, OrchKids. The gala is an excellent opportunity to remind the orchestra's patrons of the good this project is doing, and how much greater the impact could be if more funding is found.

Given the nature of the occasion, speeches took up part of the evening, but these were the most effective I can remember at a BSO gala.

Incoming board of directors chairman Kenneth W. DeFontes, Jr., who also happens to be president and CEO of BGE, got some laughs -- and, surprisingly, no boos -- when he mentioned the "interesting and demanding time" we had all just been through, what with an earthquake and two power-cutting storm systems. The gala chairs, Tom and Barbara Bozzuto, likewise delivered concise and wry remarks.

For me, the musical highlight of the evening was the premiere of "Charm." Little generates great melodic and rhythmic energy from a compact motive in this pulsating, vividly orchestrated work. There are traces of minimalism and rock in the score, applied with freshness and individuality.

Listeners may debate whether the composer captured Baltimore in the music, but there certainly is a suggestion of urban bustling here, especially from the way Little employs a potent array of percussion instruments.

The coolest part of the work, though, is the ending, when the strings offer reflective musings, suggestive of the dawn after a rambunctious night. The soft, delayed resolution of the final chord seems to recall a similar effect in the Adagietto from Mahler's Symphony No. 5.

Alsop drew a taut, bracing performance of "Charm" from the BSO. She should find room for the new piece later on in the season, so more people can enjoy it.

Hahn was her usual, impeccable self in the Mendelssohn concerto, her intonation spot-on, her tone exquisitely refined. More personality in the phrasing would have been welcome. Alsop was an attentive partner, and the orchestra played with considerable finesse.

The eager young students from West Baltimore public schools where the OrchKids program flourishes offered a propulsive number, punctuated by the pounding of the Bucket Band and a burst of kinetic krumping from one of the youngest performers.

A choral ensemble made up of singers from the choirs at Morgan State University, Baltimore City College and Baltimore School for the Arts, along with parents of OrchKids members, tore into the "Hallelujah" with crowd-pleasing results.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:22 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop


Dear Tim,
So glad to read your review of the BSO Gala concert. Bob Christianson did the arrangement of "Hallejulah" from "Too Hot To Handel" and it is nice to know that the audience enjoyed the performance.

Hilary Hahn was more than impeccable- her elegant demeanor, beautiful dress, willingness to take part in the Orchkids segment, all add to her legend for me.

I agree with David of Mt. Washington. Hahn was spectacular.ion

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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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