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January 16, 2012

A lesson in passionate music-making from Concert Artists of Baltimore

At the risk of repeating myself, I must reiterate a few observations:

a) Baltimore is fortunate to have several quality music ensembles beyond the main attraction, the BSO;

b) intensely committed, vividly expressive music-making is rewarding to experience, even if it is not at a Vienna Philharmonic level technically;

and c) Concert Artists of Baltimore routinely delivers impassioned, involving performances, thanks to founding artistic director Edward Polochick.

Saturday night's program at the Peabody Institute was devoted to lushly romantic works, including Tchaikovsky's well-worn Serenade for Strings.

Polochick succeeded in giving that familiar music a jolt of fresh energy and poetic intensity. The slow movement, in particular, was superbly sculpted to extract the maximum sentiment, without getting sentimental.

The players responded with admirable discipline and nuance; the pianissimo close of this movement was achieved most tellingly.

The strings ...

did not necessarily have the richest tone, or, especially in the upper reaches, maintain ideal clarity of articulation, but they invariably made the music speak. That made all the difference throughout the Serenade, as well as in Arensky's beautifully crafted Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky.

The full orchestra took the stage after intermission for Brahms' Double Concerto, featuring the ensemble's concertmaster, Jose Miguel Cueto, and principal cellist, Gita Ladd. Both have been with the ensemble since its beginning 25 seasons ago.

Polochick signaled from the opening tutti that his was going to be an all-out, no emotion-barred account of the deeply lyrical piece. With her first entrance, Ladd did the same; her plush tone and extrovert phrasing dominated the performance. Cueto did what he could to make his presence felt, but his comparatively slender sound and sometimes not-quite centered notes limited his otherwise attractive work.

The orchestra encountered a few rough patches, but largely rose to the occasion with terrifically vivid playing to cap a consistently rewarding night of music.

PHOTO (by Richard Anderson) COURTESY OF UMBC


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes


It was a great concert! But I was disappointed that they weren't sold out. Beyond our own self interest in the chance to hear some really wonderful music fabulously performed, this is a wonderful Baltimore musical treasure and we should be supporting them.

I can hardly wait for their next concert which will be the Monument Piano Trio at the Engineer's Club/Garrison mansion.

I, for one, really fell in love with this trio a while ago while they were "Artists in residence" at An Die Musik, Live.

Other than a wonderful performance as part of the 2nd Pres series, I've been disapointed not to have heard more about them and I am very much looking forward to renewing the aquaintance. It was great to notice them on the program with the Concert Artists.

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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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