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March 30, 2012

Out West With the BSO: The critical view after the first concert

And now a few words from the Southern California critical community about the Baltimore Symphony performance Wednesday at the Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa with Marin Alsop conducting, percussionist Colin Currie as soloist:

Timothy Mangan, Orange County Register: Jennifer Higdon's Grammy-winning Percussion Concerto took the center spot in the program.

It certainly is an entertaining show, especially with percussionist Colin Currie as soloist, running around stage to his various set ups and pounding the living daylights out of them ...

Alsop led it enthusiastically.

Her moment, and the orchestra's, to shine, though, came ... with a performance of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5. We've heard this work a few times in recent seasons here, including with some world class ensembles. If this performance didn't quite reach the sheer luxury and virtuosic brilliance of those others, it had plenty going for it.

The Baltimore Symphony sounded ...

bright and gritty. The violins, well unified, laid into their parts with vehemence. The lead trumpet player allowed no one in his way ...

Alsop dug into the work unrelentingly. Her phrasing never became heavy or overbearing, though, thanks to her animated rhythms, purposeful accents and forward momentum. It was a fiery and thrilling performance.

Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times: An uncommon woman, Alsop began her program Wednesday by pairing Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” with Joan Tower’s cheeky “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman.” That was followed by Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto. It is, unfortunately, a commonplace concerto, but Alsop ended with a dynamic performance of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 ... Alsop ... made the symphony sound intriguingly American.

She is a conductor who insists on rhythmic cogency, sometimes to the point of hammering. That can be an enlivening approach, and it was here ...

The Baltimore brass players don’t hold back. The orchestra has color, especially in its woodwinds. It was wonderful to hear the violins’ competing rhythms of two against three in the slow movement as tartly distinct, not Romantic and misty ...

Alsop did something new. She made a neo-Classical counterrevolutionary symphony feel newly revolutionary.

Photo Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.
Posted by Tim Smith at 1:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop

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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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