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April 3, 2012

Out West with the BSO: Guest blog post from violinist Ivan Stefanovic

Here's another report from the Mild West, where the Baltimore Symphony has been touring. Violinist Ivan Stefanovic offers this report from the weekend the orchestra spent in Berkeley:

Dear blog readers, greetings from a land of huge eucalyptus, old olive, stately pine and tropical palm trees, town of many incredible farm-to-table restaurants, unsavory but entertaining characters on the sidewalks, ever-present fog and mist in the hills, and, of course, great coffee shops.

The BSO arrived in Berkeley on Thursday evening after battling rush-our traffic and crossing a bridge (not the Golden Gate) that, height-wise, makes our own Bay Bridge look like child's play.

The town is not very big, and the hotel we're staying in is near University of California at Berkeley, whose campus is adorned with the aforementioned beautiful tree specimens.

The campus paths are strangely empty and quiet this week, as most students are gone for their Spring Break.

On Friday morning, the BSO had ...

two concerts. The matinee, "LIFE: A Journey Through Time," was tailored for school children, as it featured the incredible photographs of nature by the world-renowned National Geographic photographer Franz Lanting.

Music that accompanies the movie was written by Baltimore native minimalist composer Phillip Glass. It requires at times razor-thin precision on part of the conductor in order to match the rapid movement of photographs on the big screen that hangs above the stage.

Our Music Director Marin Alsop, who has done this score (and many other live movie scores) many times with great success, yet again managed to bring it all to life with great accuracy. The children in this concert showed almost too much enthusiasm while we were playing, but that just may be preferable to them being bored.

The evening concert started with a pairing of two fanfares, by Copland and Joan Tower, which gave our brass a chance to shine even in the less than ideal acoustical environment.

Our featured soloist was the energetic, yet so cool and composed percussionist extraordinaire, Colin Currie, who displayed his rhythmical superiority (which he still matched with great sensitivity in slow and calm sections) on many instruments, and while he darted from one part of the stage to another in order to reach different groups of instruments.

Jennifer Higdon, who wrote the Percussion Concerto, ingeniously paired the soloist in front of the stage with orchestra's own percussion section in the back, often having them play off of one another in rapid succession, and especially so in the extended and rock-like cadenza.

Our guys were a great match for Colin, proving that the great distance between them and the soloist that they had to overcome didn't matter to musicians with great ears.

Second half of the concert featured Prokofiev's great Fifth Symphony, which gave a chance to the orchestra, under Marin Alsop's leadership, to show both its expressive capability and great sense of drive.

The Berkeley audience responded accordingly, and was quickly rewarded with a short excerpt from Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances."

Keep cheering us on from afar!

PHOTOS BY IVAN STEFANOVIC: A mission-style church across from Zellerbach Auditorium; Many choices of salsa in one of the excellent restaurants in Berkeley

Posted by Tim Smith at 5:18 AM | | 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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