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July 14, 2012

BSO, Bach and the Brandenburgs prove to be potent draw

You've heard this song before, but I might as well try another chorus: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra should offer a solid dose of classical fare every summer.

Sure, it's the time of year when pops fare is more the norm with orchestras across the country. And, yes, the BSO has had trouble selling some summer classical events in the past.

But, as Friday night's marathon of the complete Brandenburg Concertos at Meyerhoff Hall proved (at least to me), there is still plenty of room for the BSO to do besides something besides play John Williams film scores and back up tribute bands.

There was a very good turnout for this Bach event, which was a late addition to the originally announced summer season. And the audience sure sounded like it was fully engaged in the experience of hearing all six Brandenburgs in a single evening.

I found myself thinking again that there just has to be a market for a nice little series of summertime greatest hits-type programming -- how about three evenings devoted to the kind of music that makes you fall for classical in the first place? Instead of pops, popular classical -- there's a big difference.

If Bach can do so well here on a July night, surely an evening that features, say, ...

Handel's "Water Music" would be a hit, too -- as well-loved as that work is, you don't get a chance to enjoy a live performance by a top-notch orchestra every day. And that's just to keep with the baroque theme.

You know it wouldn't take long to put together a short series of programs filled with great, highly popular stuff that would be fun for the orchestra and fun for listeners. Hard to believe it's just not feasible from a marketing, or any other, standpoint.

But enough of my annual kvteching. What about Friday night?

Each of the concertos was led by a BSO string player -- concertmaster Jonathan Carney or associate concertmaster Madeline Adkins for the concertos with violins, principal violist Richard Field for the fiddle-less No. 6.

Fuzziness of articulation and loss of cohesiveness cropped up from time to time. And, while fast movements typically flew by (the finale of No. 3 may have set a speed record), some of the slow movements felt a little draggy (the Adagio in No. 6, for example, seemed far from "ma non troppo").

That said, this was still a good showing by the BSO -- a chamber-sized version thereof. There was a consistent warmth to the playing all evening, a sense of everyone onstage fully relishing Bach's melodic spark and contrapuntal brilliance.

Solo highlights (in order of appearance) included oboist Katherine Niedleman's lyrical phrasing in No. 1; the sweet blending of Adkins and flutists Marcia Kamper and Genevieve Briggs in No. 4; Andrew Balio's crystalline trumpet playing in No. 2; and Lura Johnson's no-holds dash through the extensive harpsichord cadenza in No. 5 (she was a sturdy, stylish collaborator all night).


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:55 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes


Amen, Tim. Why don't you send the BSO a list of summertime greatest hits? I loved this concert, and so did my neighbor who came with me, but it is the only BSO concert I will go to all summer. Why they do all that other garbage is beyond me.

I was there and also pleasantly surprised by how well sold this concert was. It was a very enjoyable evening of lighter classical music--perfect for the summer. I also wish the BSO would program some real classical music during the summer. I normally don't go to BSO summer concerts. For me, anyway, its usually not what a symphony orchestra is all about. I'm sure there would be a market for right material and especially so if the engagement was limited to one night, as the Brandenburgs were. Nice to hear them ALL for a change and with home-town favorites, Jonathan, Madeline and Lura. Hey, when was the last time the BSO featured a harpsichord? As I said, very enjoyable and a surprisingly full house.

Very good article :)

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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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