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August 31, 2012

Pro Musica Rara offers student composer competition with royal twist

Competitions for young composers are not uncommon.

But one that asks contestants to incorporate a famous theme by Frederick the Great and score the piece for period instruments is about as unusual as it gets.

Pro Musica Rara, Baltimore's longtime champion of historically informed performances, has issued a fascinating challenge to students in the Baltimore-Washington area. They are invited to submit an original work that references the chromatic melody that Frederick the Great gave to Bach.

The king surprised Bach with that theme and asked the composer to generate a fugue from it, which was promptly improvised on the spot. Then Frederick got a little greedy -- you know how royals can be -- and asked for much, much more. Bach's ultimate response was "The Musical Offering," a brilliant demonstration in the art of counterpoint.

Currently enrolled students interested in taking the Pro Musica challenge may submit a previously unperformed work, up to 6 minutes in length, that incorporates Frederick's theme "in some way."

The piece must also be "suitably and idiomatically ...

scored for period instruments" -- transverse flute; baroque violin, viola and cello; harpsichord -- all tuned, baroque-style, at A=415 (rather than the contemporary standard of A=440). The rules state that any combination of those instruments is acceptable and that a second violin part may be included.

The winner will receive $250 and the new piece will get a public premiere (and live recording) at Pro Musica Rara’s annual SuperBach Sunday concert in February at Towson University.

Pro Musica artistic director Allen Whear will judge the entries "in consultation with PMR musicians and board members."

Deadline for submissions is Dec. 15. More information is available on the organization's Web site.

Here's Frederick the Great's tricky little theme:

 

PUBLIC DOMAIN PHOTO

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:06 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

August 30, 2012

Kathleen Turner shines as Molly Ivins in 'Red Hot Patriot' at Arena Stage

Molly Ivins made her indelible mark not just as an unwavering liberal, but as one who fought for her side with such a vivid, audacious sense of humor that even arch-conservatives would have to grant her a few points.

The Texas-born syndicated newspaper columnist, who died at 62 from breast cancer in 2007, left behind an oil-rich legacy that has been drilled in generally effective fashion to create a theatrical vehicle called "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins."

The show, starring the ever-impressive Kathleen Turner, has settled into Arena Stage for a long run neatly timed for our over-heated election season. Chances are, the play will preach more to the converted than the Rush Limbaugh-inclined; it sure could fire up the base.

Mostly using Ivins' own words (some of the best material comes from a couple pages in the preface to one of her first books), "Red Hot Patriot" was written by twin sisters and journalists Margaret Engel and Allison Engel.

They capture the essence of Ivins, who had ...

an uncommon knack for zapping pompous and inept politicians, especially those in the Austin statehouse ("Can you believe God gave me all this material for free?") and in big "bidness," as she called it.

Ivins worked for several publications and had her share of run-ins with most of them ("You know editors: They’re mice training to be rats"). She came to wider attention with a recurring gig on "60 Minutes," but never entirely fit in there.

Along the way, Ivins battled personal demons, especially the bottle ("Alcohol may lead nowhere, but it sure is the scenic route"). And she never came to terms with her tough father, known in her family as "The General."

But Ivins firmly maintained her faith in what she considered the good fight, and she also held onto her ability to laugh each step of the way -- a great combination. "Red Hot Patriot" offers a welcome opportunity to be reminded of the woman's spirit, and why so many folks miss her.

Turner created the title role in the 2010 premiere production by the Philadelphia Theatre Company, directed by David Esbjornson, and she seems to relish this reprise at Arena Stage. She's reunited here with Esbjornson, who keeps things flowing smoothly.

Turner's raspy, basso profondo voice is a few shades darker and harder than Ivins', and the accent misses the lilt that sweetened Ivins' Texan drawl. But the seasoned actress inhabits the role confidently and persuasively throughout the play's 75-minute running time. She truly owns the stage.

The set, designed by John Arnone, holds a vintage desk and an AP telex, with more newsroom furniture piled up in the background, like cluttered memories. Projected photos occasionally provide faces or scenes to go with the anecdotes that flow at a steady clip.

The telex, which comes to life periodically to spur some of those anecdotes, seems too dated a device. And having a copy boy (the silent part is played by Nicholas Yenson) pop up to deliver print-outs to Turner becomes a tiresome gimmick.

There are a few other questionable bits. The focus on Ivins' relationship with her father as a structuring device for the play doesn't deliver enough dramatic weight. Other subjects get raised tantalizingly, only to be swept aside by something else before any substantive words can be said.

But any disappointments can be easily forgotten thanks to the still-potent charge of the words and the dynamic performance by Turner, who has a disarming way of drawing the audience into the proceedings, just as Ivins could do.

The work couldn't be more timely. No matter which side of the political aisle you stand on, it would be hard to disagree with what Ivins said years before our current climate: "Politics today stinks ... These are some bad, ugly and angry times, and I am so freaked out. Hate has stolen the conversation."

The rants and reflections, not to mention all the wicked wit in between, sound fresher than ever, and they keep this "Red Hot Patriot" spinning. No, make that kicking ass. 

Performances continue through Oct. 28.

PHOTOS BY MARK GAVIN

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:45 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

August 29, 2012

Midweek Madness: A light-hearted moment with Van Cliburn

This week's news about Van Cliburn -- recently diagnosed with advanced bone cancer -- is very disturbing. It's a tough blow to this remarkable artist, a bona fide American icon, a classic gentleman, and a very funny guy to boot.

As we all send our best wishes, I thought it would be OK to devote this installment of Midweek Madness to enjoying the pianist's lighter side -- his appearance on ...

that great old TV panel show, "What's My Line?":

 

 

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Midweek Madness
        

August 28, 2012

Mobtown Modern 'on sabbatical' for 2012-2013 season

After five years of energizing Baltimore's contemporary music scene, Mobtown Modern has suspended operations.

The organization is on what director Brian Sacawa is calling a "sabbatical" for the 2012-2013 season.

"It's not that I couldn't have had the [concert] series, but that I chose not to," Sacawa said Tuesday.

"From a financial perspective, we could have done it. But I needed a break. I'm going to take a year off and maybe start it up again next year."

Mobtown Modern, co-curated initially by Sacawa and Erik Spangler, debuted with concerts at the Contemporary Museum and moved to other venues around town over the years. Programming has been remarkably adventurous, digging into repertoire that was new to Baltimore or rarely encountered here, and the quality of performances has been consistently high.

For the past few seasons, Sacawa essentially ...

ran the enterprise himself. "It's tiring," he said. "Fundraising is time-consuming and not my favorite thing to do. I don't like asking people for money."

Sacawa, a gifted saxophonist, is a longtime member of the U.S. Army Field Band. "I have a lot more responsibilities at my job now," he said, "and that's very important to me."

When -- or if -- Mobtown Modern cranks up again in the future will not be known for a while.

"I just felt that the series wasn't fulfilling the same need for me as it was," Sacawa said. "I have to try to evaluate if I miss doing it. I will have a better picture after this break. But I'm pretty proud and happy with what I've done with Mobtown and what it has meant to Baltimore audiences."

PHOTO COURTESY OF MOBTOWN MODERN 

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:41 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

Celebrated pianist Van Cliburn diagnosed with advanced bone cancer

Van Cliburn, the prodigiously gifted pianist whose victory at the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow gave Americans a welcome lift during the Cold War, has been diagnosed with advanced bone cancer.

Scott Cantrell reports in the Dallas Morning News that the 78-year-old Cliburn is "undergoing treatment and resting at his home in Fort Worth." The cancer diagnosis was made a little more than a week ago.

Cliburn remains an iconic figure in the piano world. Celebrated with a ticker-tape parade in New York after his Moscow victory, the pianist enjoyed an extraordinary level of fame and affection at the start of his career.

A couple of decades after that success, Cliburn cut back on performances and recordings. His primary concern since has been the international piano competition that bears his name in Fort Worth.

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

August 27, 2012

Final stay-cation report: National Portrait Gallery, D.C.'s best-kept secret

I know how anxious you all are to hear about more of my stay-cation adventures. Well, get over it. I didn't have any.

But on one my last days off, I did make a neat visit to my  hometown to spend a most enjoyable time in one of my favorite public places there, the National Portrait Gallery.

It shares space in a grand old building with the Smithsonian America Art Museum. The combo is one of Washington's best-kept secrets.

If you have never been, make plans at once. And I do mean at once.

Two terrific exhibits will be closing soon:  "African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond" (last day is Sept. 3); and "In Vibrant Color: Vintage Celebrity Portraits from the Harry Warnecke Studio" (last day is Sept. 9).

The extensive African American exhibit, including works by the likes of Romare Bearden, Alma Thomas and Melvin Edwards, has an electric vibrancy that carries from gallery to gallery.

The modest-sized photo display, confined to a corridor, is quite arresting. The faces are familiar -- Lucille Ball (gorgeous and pensive), Irene Dunne, Eisenhower, Patton, et al. But ...

these striking images from the 1930s and '40s achieve an almost surreal beauty from having been taken in color, a rare thing at the time (the process was created by Warnecke and his New York Daily News colleagues).

Other cool things await in just about every nook of this double museum, including a room devoted to portraits and documents of Ameila Earhart (the letter she wrote to her future husband detailing a rather advanced concept of marriage is especially fascinating).

And the bicentennial that we in Baltimore are particularly attuned to gets a sweeping, informative treatment here in "1812: A Nation Emerges."

In my youth, I found the National Portrait Gallery irresistible because of all the presidential portraits (including ones the subjects didn't like). This part of the collection is still a great draw, but it is just the starting point for quite an adventure. The place seems richer each time I visit. 

Neither the Portrait Gallery nor the American Art Museum gets the crowds of the National Mall. That's too bad in one way -- and great in another; there's plenty of elbow room.

Floor by floor, this treasure sheds a distinctive light on America's history and culture. Extensively and brilliantly renovated in recent years, the space also provides a consistently inviting ambiance (the atrium in the center adds the finishing touch). And it's all free. What more could you want?

AFP/GETTY PHOTO
Posted by Tim Smith at 9:11 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

August 24, 2012

A stay-cation interlude from the divine Leontyne Price

My thrilling stay-cation is rapidly drawing to a close. How does the time fly when you're not having all that much fun? One of life's mysteries.

Another mystery is the ravishing vocalism of Leontyne Price, which I share with you now -- one of my favorite arias, "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's "Louise," sung with incredible beauty at a concert recorded live in 1968.

This audio clip is offered in lieu of a proper blog post, just to hold you over until I am fully back to work. So take a short little break from whatever taxing or mundane tasks you may be engaged in, and just let this ravishing performance wash over you.

If Leontyne's singing doesn't transport you to a higher, sweeter, warmer place, your money will be cheerfully refunded:

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

August 23, 2012

'Looped,' starring Valerie Harper, headed for Hippodrome, replaces 'Lombardi'

There is a change to the lineup for the Hippodrome's 2012-2013 Broadway Series -- from Lombardi to Lombardo.

The originally announced play for March 5-17, Eric Simonson's "Lombardi," about the famed football coach, is not going to be touring after all.

It will be replaced during that same time slot by Matthew Lombardo’s "Looped," a play about legendary actress Tallulah Bankhead starring multiple-Emmy Award-winner Valerie Harper.

"Looped," which had a brief run on Broadway in 2010, was inspired by a true incident in Bankhead's twilight years, when she had to ...

re-record a line of dialogue (the process is called "looping") for the 1965 horror flick "Die, Die, My Darling."

What should be a quick session in the sound studio turns into something much more complicated in Lombardo's play, when Bankhead arrives just a wee bit under the influence.

The touring production of "Looped" that will visit Baltimore is the Broadway version directed by Rob Ruggiero. Although not a hit in New York, the work did yield a best actress Tony nomination for Harper.

She enjoyed considerable success in the play from the start, with its 2008 premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse, and in subsequent appearances around the country, including Washington's Lincoln Theatre in a production by Arena Stage in 2009.

That D.C. presentation revealed Lombardo's flair for camp and sentiment, while the play provided a fine vehicle for the rich talents of Harper, best known for her indelible Rhoda on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and its spinoff.

Harper, who starred in "Golda's Balcony" at the Hippodrome in 2006, said in a statement that she is "thrilled to be resuming the role of Tallulah Bankhead in a play that has brought me so much joy and excitement," and is "looking forward to returning to the Hippodrome Theatre and bringing this hysterically funny comedy to Broadway Across America audiences.”

Here's a little taste of what's in store:

PHOTO COURTESY OF BROADWAY ACROSS AMERICA

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

August 22, 2012

Young Victorian Theatre Company finds new home for 2013 summer season

Good news, Gilbert and Sullivan junkies. The Young Victorian Theatre Company, Baltimore's intrepid keeper of the G&S legacy for more than four decades, has found a new home.

You may recall that last month's vibrant production of "The Mikado" was the last to be held at Bryn Mawr School, where the company had been based for many years. The school plans to use the space for a theater workshop next year.

Young Vic's general manager Brian Goodman wanted to keep the troupe in the same general vicinity of North Baltimore. He has succeeded.

The company will relocate starting with the 2013 summer season to the ...

Roland Park Country School. Performances will take place in the Sinex Theater stage of the school's Macfarlane Arts Center. The theater has something Young Vic has badly needed -- an orchestra pit.

The Roland Park location will be the third home for the company, which was founded in 1971. Its first base was the Gilman School.

The 2013 season will offer a production of "H.M.S. Pinafore."

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

Midweek Madness: Thinking about buying an organ from Tex and Edna Boil

This commercial, which I just had to share for the latest installment of Midweek Madness, has me thinking hard about making a big, big purchase from the ultimate suppliers of keyboard instruments down on Route 29, Tex and Edna Boil:

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:05 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

August 21, 2012

How I spent my summer stay-cation, Part 1

Not that you care -- who would? -- but I've been on a stay-cation, with my mind practically a blank about most things, certainly not preoccupied with music and theater and all that sort of elitist stuff that consumes my work weeks.

I don't want to shut off all communication, though, since I value your clicking enormously, I really do. But what to write when I'm not covering performances or reporting newsy things?

Well, a lot of people post everything they do, from meals to their squeals, on Facebook, Twitter and what-not, so why can't I bore everybody with a quick recap of things that happen on my days off?

Easier said than done, since I am doing so little. But on Monday, thanks to a visit by an old buddy who had not seen all the Baltimore sights (or sites), I had a great excuse to stop by good old Fort McHenry, one of personal favorite places in this area.

It was my first time in the new visitors center, which has a lot more to offer than the old one.

I was especially glad to see the new film -- so much more interesting than that tired thing they used to show about some (fictional?) doctor who sort of knew Francis Scott Key and sort of knew what happened the night the bombs were bursting in air.

One odd thing, though, about Monday. Well, what didn't happen was the odd part.

At the old visitors center, the big finish of the film was ...

a recording of the national anthem as the curtains parted to reveal the current flag flying o'er the ramparts. Everyone in the room always stood up at that point.

The new film ends with that same flourish, only even more impressively (a higher-tech device replaces the curtains). But those viewers on Monday who were sitting (a lot of us stood through the whole thing)  never got off their rear ends when the anthem started and the real, live banner could be seen proudly waving.

These visitors were definitely American -- no mistaking their dress and voices -- so they presumably knew that Americans stand for the Star-Spangled Banner. If you're going to stand anywhere for it, wouldn't it be Fort McHenry?

Anyway, the biggest kick I get -- every time -- at Fort McHenry comes after walking along the perimeter clockwise, which provides such an uplifting view of the water, the fort, ships coming and going, etc. Then, as you round the western bend, there it is -- the giant statue commissioned in 1914 to commemorate Francis Scott Key's role in giving his country an anthem.

This is one of the great kitsch items of Baltimore, maybe the greatest. It's a wonder, as my visiting buddy remarked upon laying eyes on it for the first time, that John Waters has not given it a big role in a movie.

Key is not depicted in the statue, unless he just happened to have resembled a buff Greek mythological dude.

Somehow, out of 34 designs submitted in a nationwide competition, the commission went to Charles H. Niehaus, who sought to honor France Scott Key with an image called "Orpheus with the Awkward Foot." What were they thinking?

A couple of cool pictures on markers near the statute show the dedication in 1922, attended by President Harding. Quite a contrast between that soon-to-be-roaring-20s crowd and the backward-looking statue hovering over them.

I'd like to think that at least a few folks in 1922 saw Orpheus as an instant camp classic, on a par with Horatio Greenough's hilarious depiction of George Washington as a toga-wearing Roman (that 1841 statue has always been one of my faves at the National Museum of American History in DC).

At once mighty and absurd, Orpheus with the Awkward Foot (not to mention an awkward pinkie) is a treasure that makes me smile every time I see it. That might not have been what Niehaus intended, but not a bad way to be remembered.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF ROBERT LEININGER

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

August 17, 2012

One-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy defies odds, graduates from Royal College

The piano is on my mind. Having managed to sneak away from work for a few days of R&R, I figured my time off would be a good opportunity to have some fun with keyboard pieces I recently purchased.

(Yes, although I am addicted to the International Music Score Library Project and all the fabulous free goodies available there for downloading, I also still buy things from time to time -- and for that, it's hard to beat Sheet Music Plus, if you ask me.)

So, in between eating bonbons, I've been struggling through the "Orphee" Suite by Philip Glass and William Bolcom's concert paraphrase of the gorgeous aria "New York Lights" from his opera "A View From the Bridge" (if I had known that one was written with a zillion sharps, I might not have bought it).

After one bumpy session with those works, I headed for the computer to seek some distraction and happily discovered, thanks to Musical America, a terrifically inspiring story from England. It quickly put my complaints about myself in perspective.

Meet pianist Nicholas McCarthy. He was born without a right hand.

He taught himself to play at the age of ...

14 and set out to get formal training. Naturally, some folks told McCarthy to forget all about being a musician. One school even refused to let him audition.

But he persevered, and, at 17, McCarthy was admitted to London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he won the top piano prize. He went on to study at the Royal College of Music and, at 23, graduated last month.

We are used to hearing about two-handed pianists who, at some point along the way, lose the use of their right hand -- Leon Fleisher, longtime local hero here in Baltimore, is a prime case in point. But to start with that disadvantage, to have only left-hand repertoire as an option from the start, that's a whole different thing.

McCarthy's heartwarming story -- as well as that of the British Paraorchestra for disabled players that he performs with -- says so much about the potential of the human spirit and the magnetic force of music. I wish him well. (And, now, when I get back to the piano to face my own little hurdles, I'll be in a much better frame of mind.)

Check out stories this week about McCarthy from the BBC and the Independent, and visit the pianist's Web site for more. Here's a stirring sample of McCarthy at the keyboard:

 

 

PHOTO FROM NICHOLASMCCARTHY.CO.UK

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:13 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

August 15, 2012

Midweek Madness: Splittsville in the country

Yesterday was all about a marriage -- a happy, long-lasting one at that. Well, enough of the sentiment; on with the silliness. Let's hear about an unhappy union today, as only a great country singer could describe it.

For your Midweek Madness pleasure, folks, here's that great hit song "S.P.L.I.T.," about a relationship that just didn't work out, and the difficult effort to ...

keep the news from Junior. (Just in case you need a refresher on where this tune came from, I've included the original version, too. Sometimes, I'm not sure which is funnier.)

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

August 14, 2012

Saluting a 66th wedding anniversary with Chopin's pop music hit

If you'll pardon the personal stuff today, Aug. 14 is my parents' 66th wedding anniversary, and I just had to send them a cyber shout-out -- especially since there's a Chopin connection.

When they were dating in Washington, D.C., they had their own special song (do couples still have their own special songs?). It was from the 1946 movie "Till the End of Time," the story of Marines adjusting after the war. The movie's theme song left quite an impression on my parents. (My father served in the Marines, so that provided another strong connection to the picture.)

The song, which became a big hit in those days, was based on Chopin's A-flat major Polonaise, the one known as the "Heroic." Any couple that can hang on for 66 years seems pretty heroic to me, so let's hear it for Ken and Betty Smith.

Here's their song in a tender 1940s performance by ...

Ginny Simms, followed by a fully heroic account of the Chopin Polonaise that inspired it, played by a great keyboard artist of the 20th century, Georges Cziffra:

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:25 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

August 13, 2012

Performance Workshop Theatre's 2012-13 season features British plays, tough themes

Performance Workshop Theatre, the Hamilton/Lauraville-based company known for thoughtful productions and educational activities, has planned a season of British plays and provocative themes.

The 2012-2013 lineup chosen by artistic directors Marc Horwitz and Marlyn Robinson, opens Sept. 28 with "Breaking the Code," Hugh Whitemore's drama about Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician born 100 years ago.

Turing, a key figure in the early development of computer science, led the effort to decipher the Nazi's famous Enigma machine (pictured), which helped give the Allies an invaluable advantage during World War II.

After the war, Turning was prosecuted under British laws against homosexuality, and he submitted to chemical castration to avoid prison.

He died in 1954 of poisoning -- considered a suicide by the authorities, an accident by some family and friends.

Horwitz will star as Turing in this Baltimore premiere, directed by Robinson, Sept. 28 to Oct. 28.

In December, just after Maryland voters will decide on whether to allow a broader definition of matrimony, the company will offer ...

"Mixed Doubles: An Entertainment on Marriage."

This work addresses all sorts of aspects of tying the knot, as viewed through short plays by eight British playwrights: Alan Ayckbourn, John Bowen, Lyndon Brook, David Campton, Harold Pinter, Alun Owen, James Saunders and Fay Weldon.

The production, directed by Horwitz, runs Dec. 14 to Jan. 13.

Harold Pinter's 1960 hit "The Caretaker," which the company has identified as another Baltimore premiere, wraps up the season. The play, about two brothers and a homeless man they take into their home, was Pinter's first significant success and earned a major place in 20th century theater.

The production, directed by Robinson, is slated form March 22 to April 21.

Subscriptions are currently on sale. Single tickets go on sale Aug. 27.

PHOTO BY KARSTEN SPERLING

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:26 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

August 10, 2012

Alexandra Arrieche receives BSO-Peabody Conducting Fellowship

Brazilian-born Alexandra Arrieche has been named the 2012 recipient of the BSO-Peabody Conducting Fellowship.

The fellowship, established in 2007 by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Peabody Institute and patterned after a similar project by the League of American Orchestras, provides intensive mentoring and experience for promising conductors.

The award includes full tuition to Peabody, where the recipient embarks on a one-year artist diploma program, and interaction throughout the season with BSO music director Marin Alsop.

In 2011, Arrieche received the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship, founded by Alsop to encourage women conductors. Arrieche also studied with in Brazil with Alsop, who is music director of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra.

In a statement, Arrieche said that "shadowing [Alsop] both in Baltimore and Sao Paulo has already benefited me immensely. It is inspiring to watch her conduct. Her passion for music is contagious."

Arrieche said that, in addition to improving her musical skills, she is eager to ...

gain a more full understanding of the additional skills in PR, marketing and fundraising, for example, that are required of music directors of modern orchestras."

Alsop praised Arrieche's "musical sensitivity [which makes] her a leader that orchestras respond to and want to follow.”

Arrieche, who won the University of Sao Paulo Symphony's conducting competition in 2007, has subsequently worked with such ensembles as the London Symphony, North Czech Philharmonic and Nashville Symphony Orchestra. She received a scholarship to Bard College in 2010.

Arrieche is the first woman to receive the BSO-Peabody Fellowship. She joins a roster of talented young conductors that includes Joseph Young, Ilyich Rivas and Lee Mills.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BSO

 

Posted by Tim Smith at 8:49 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

August 9, 2012

Micky Dolenz, Paul Vogt to head cast in Baltimore Symphony's concert version of 'Hairspray'

Back in February, when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced its 2012-2013 season, one event stood out as a guaranteed box office hit -- a concert version of "Hairspray" to mark the 25th anniversary of the John Waters film that inspired that Broadway musical.

The project, with Waters providing the narration, is bound to generate even more interest now that the BSO has added casting details.

"Hairspray: In Concert" will feature a blast from the past as Wilbur Turnblad -- Micky Dolenz of "The Monkees," the made-for-TV band that became a 1960s sensation. (He'll be reuniting with the remaining members for a tour this November; Davy Jones died last February.)

The drag role of Wilbur's wife Edna will be played by actor and comedian Paul Vogt, who has performed it on Broadway. His many television credits include appearances on "MADtv," "The Rerun Show," "Grey’s Anatomy," and "Glee."

The Turnblad's zaftig, racially colorblind daughter, Tracy, whose desire to dance on a TV show sets "Hairspray" in motion, will be played by Marissa Perry. It's a role she has done on Broadway; she's currently in the New York production of "Sister Act."

Tony Award winner (for "The Drowsy Chaperone") Beth Leavel will play Velma Von Tussle, the evil TV producer who stands in Tracy's way.

Others in the cast: ...

Nick Adams (Link Larkin), NaTasha Yvette Williams (Motormouth Maybelle), currently appearing on Broadway in "The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess"; Rhiannon Hansen (Amber Von Tussle); and Bret Shuford (Corny Collins).

Although billed as a concert version, this "Hairspray" will hardly be immobile. There will be staging and choreography by Jennifer Ladner, costuming by Clare Henkel.

BSO principal pops conductor Jack Everly will lead the first performances with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Jan. 11-13 (he's also principal pops conductor of that ensemble).

The BSO performances will begin Jan. 24 at the Music Center at Strathmore, then move to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall for four performances, Jan. 25-27, including a just-added matinee on Jan. 26.

"All of the stars are aligned," Everly said in statement released Thursday. "We have the original filmmaker John Waters; a superior cast of actors, singers and Broadway stars, many of whom have performed in previous 'Hairspray' productions; the epitome of 1960s pop culture with musician Micky Dolenz; and two major orchestras collaborating in this significant full symphonic production."

SUN FILE PHOTO

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

A musical interlude: Reynaldo Hahn, Solomon

Not that you asked, but I have been absorbed with various work projects, some of them piled on top of each other now so I might take some time off in the days ahead.

All of this has me somewhat distracted from blogging -- although I have kept up with my globally beneficial Midweek Madness featurette -- not that anyone seems to have noticed lately. Come on, Der Bingle singing "Ob La Di" surrounded by go-go dancers and a marching band? How could you resist? Isn't that worth a comment or two? You're not going to find the likes of that on just any old blog, let me tell you.

Well, anyway, I have to get back to the grind, but I hated to leave you with nothing fresh today. So I did what I often do when pressed for time (and a topic) -- glance at my handy-dandy Boosey & Hawkes Music Diary and see if the date might yield any ideas, then rush to good old reliable YouTube. (Shameless, I know.)

Sure enough, two fascinating musicians happen to share an Aug. 9th birthday -- ...

Venezuelan-born French composer and journalist Reynaldo Hayn (1874-1947) and British pianist Solomon (1902-1988). They have nothing in common except that they both deserve to be a heckuva lot better known today.

I confess that I, too, needed to be reminded of Solomon, whose recordings I have not dug out in too long. He had tremendous artistic integrity to go with a solid technique. Like other keyboard giants of the past, he honored the music first and foremost, while still leaving his own imprint.

And I think it's cool that Solomon was a one-name artist long before the likes of Prince and Madonna got the idea. (His surname was Cutner, by the way.) It helped that the pianist looked so Solomon-like, with his classic profile -- that heroic nose, that firm chin, that balding pate.

A stroke cut short his career in 1956, but he made enough recordings before then to document his rare gifts. I've chosen a film clip of Solomon playing the finale of Beethoven's "Apassionata."

Hahn, who was involved with and inspired Proust, did not produce a large quantity of music. But there is a gem-like quality to his works -- effortlessly crafted melodies supported by the unfailingly elegant harmonies.

You can easily hear what I mean in these two eloquent songs, performed by soprano Ninon Vallin with the composer at the keyboard: "L'Heure exquise" (text by Verlaine) and "Tyndaris" (text by Leconte de Lisle).

 

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

August 8, 2012

Midweek Madness: Bing and the Beatles

I confess, devoted and needy Midweek Madness fans, that I sometimes feel a wee bit guilty going all madcap when things are so glum out there. But then I come to my senses.

I realize that I just have to carry on this infantile practice of trying to provide a whiff of levity every Wednesday, because so many people are struggling to deal with this confusing, cruel world. They may not make it if they don't receive my few minutes of distraction.

So I carry on my task, hoping that I can bring comfort, in the immortal words of Ethel Mertz, to "your drab, dreary little lives."

This week, I stumbled across something so deliciously absurd that it made me momentarily forget my cares and woes, so, hey, it's bound to do the same for you -- an annoying Beatles song from the famed White Album (even John Lennon thought it was awful) given a stupefying production number featuring, of all people, Bing Crosby, who ...

clearly hadn't a clue what he was singing. The choreography around him is priceless:

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:13 AM | | Comments (1)
        

August 7, 2012

Marvin Hamlisch left imprint on Baltimore as BSO principal pops conductor

UPDATE: A statement from current Baltimore Symphony principal conductor Jack Everly has been added below.

The sudden death of composer Marvin Hamlisch at the age of 68 has touched folks in many places, including cities where audiences got to experience him in person on a regular basis.

Mr. Hamlisch was principal pops conductors with several orchestras over the years, including the Baltimore Symphony, where he served from 1996 to 2000. (He is seen in this photo at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in 2000.)

Such posts gave him an opportunity to show off his charm and wit, as well as his music.

"He was a bundle of energy," said BSO violinist Greg Mulligan, "a real house on fire.

"He was very quick and very humorous, a great joke-teller, and an amazing showman. He loved a lot of different kinds of music and, obviously, was ...

great at conducting his own stuff."

Mr. Hamlisch was engaged by the BSO to give the languishing pops series a boost. It worked.

"His energy definitely had an impact on our pops programming," Mulligan said, "and he became a favorite of the pops audiences."

After leaving the BSO Pops, Mr. Hamlisch took up a similar position with the National Symphony in Washington. He developed relationships with quite a few other orchestras. At the time of his death, he was principal pops conductor for the Dallas, Milwaukee, Pasadena, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Seattle symphonies.

Word is that he was about to be named principal pops conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. And he was slated to lead the New York Philharmonic next New Year's Eve.

BSO Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly issued this statement Wednesday:

'Among the pivotal people in my life, one singular sensation was Marvin Hamlisch. After I conducted a production of "A Chorus Line," he asked me to take over his National Company of "They're Playing Our Song" and it was during that tour that he requested my presence for his symphony orchestra concerts. This was before he started conducting, so I witnessed his brilliant piano playing and humor from very close!

'Marvin first put me in front of symphony orchestras and this is where I am honored to be today. Working with Marvin always meant wonderful music-making and (of course) sharing the laughter. His wonderful years with the BSO SuperPops are warmly remembered by all. I consider myself fortunate to have known him and will miss him greatly.' -- Jack Everly

SUN STAFF PHOTO

 

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

EMI to release 'Fifty Shades of Grey' classical album selected by E L James

The hubbub about "Fifty Shades of Grey" seems to have focused primarily on all the sexy stuff and the efforts in some corners -- including Maryland, my Maryland -- to keep the hyper-bestseller by E L James off of library shelves.

But, for me, the hottest thing about the book is the classical music referenced in the steamy pages. Any mention -- non-dismissive mention, that is -- of classical music in mainstream culture has got to be a good thing.

Sure enough, one of the pieces that turns up in "Fifty Shades of Grey," a 16th-century motet piece by Thomas Tallis, is already a chart-buster.

A years-old recording of that music by the wonderful Tallis Scholars -- E L James' personal recommendation -- started a downloading frenzy on iTunes, helping it hit No. 1 on the UK Classical Singles Chart ("Fifty Shades of Grey" just became the best-selling book ever in Britain).

Pretty neat to think that so many E L James readers could be turned into early music fans.

Now comes word that James herself has chosen 15 shades of classical music from her trilogy -- "Fifty Shades of Grey," "Fifty Shades Darker," "Fifty Shades Freed" -- and these 15 tracks will be featured on an album from EMI. Among the stellar artists represented on the album: Adrian Boult, Riccardo Muti, Alexandre Tharaud, Arleen Auger and, of course, the Tallis Scholars. The digital release is set for ...

Aug. 15; the physical CD will be out Sept. 18.

You don't have to wait until then to get a taste of what's in store. As a public service, I have thoughtfully provided a sampler below, using YouTube versions of the tracks that will be on the EMI release.

Most of the music for the album is not as esoteric as the Tallis item. We're talking lots of greatest hits here -- maybe E L James did her writing while listening to one of the innumerable collections of reissued classical pieces EMI and other labels have released steadily over the years.

Nothing wrong with introducing a whole bunch of new listeners to certified classics, of course; that's one way to ensure that the hits will stay hits.

Bach is represented by three keyboard works -- the profound Aria from the Goldberg Variations, a transcription of the lilting "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring," and the sublime Adagio from Bach's transcription on an Alessandro Marcello oboe concerto.

The ubiquitous Canon in D by Pachelbel is included. Piano pieces by Chopin, Debussy ("The Girl With the Flaxen Hair") and Rachmaninoff (a movement from Concerto No. 2, of course) are also in the mix.

The world of opera is represented by the Prelude to Verdi's "La Traviata" and the lovely Flower Duet from Delibes' "Lakme," familiar from many a TV commercial.

The Tallis motet is in the mix. Another exquisite choral work, this one from centuries later, also made the cut -- "In Paradisum" from Faure's Requiem. A vocal solo is here, too -- the deliciously shimmering "Bailero" from Canteloube's "Songs of the Auvergne."

Here's a sampling of what's in store:

AFP GETTY PHOTO

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:09 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

'The Rake's Progress' gets potent staging from Wolf Trap Opera

Since the death of Puccini, few operas have established a foothold in the standard repertoire. "The Rake's Progress" is one of them.

The 1951 piece boasts a prismatic, rhythmically alive score by Stravinsky, in his most inventive neoclassical mode, and a clever, exceedingly literate libretto by one of the 20th century's greatest poets, W. H. Auden, and his partner, Chester Kallman.

The work, inspired by Hogarth's drawings, operates on various levels. It's an old-fashioned morality tale, with Faustian overtones (and a good deal of wicked comedy), demonstrating how laziness and greed can destroy love and honor.

There's also an argument here for simple country values versus the desensitizing effects of modern urban life, with its commercialism, materialism and hucksterism.

All of this can be richly savored in what easily ranks among ...

the most satisfying Wolf Trap Opera Company productions, musically and theatrically, of the past decade or so.

When "The Rake's Progress" was new, opinions about its worth varied considerably. In some corners of the music world, Stravinsky wasn't modern enough. The composer who had revolutionized the 20th century with "The Rite of Spring" was by this point channeling the spirits of the 18th century, which did not make much sense to those who were following (or trying to follow) Schoenberg.

Theodore Adorno tartly dismissed neoclassicism as "traditional music combed in the wrong direction" (a great line, you have to admit).

Olin Downes, the New York Times critic, revealed the same sort of attitude reviewing the first Metropolitan Opera production of "The Rake's Progress" in 1953.

Downes detected in the score "many different works which other composers were thoughtless enough to write before Mr. Stravinsky made his appearance." The opera was accused by being "artificial, unreal and actually unexpressive ... a study in still-life."

Today, when we are awash in neo-romanticism, objections to neoclassicism may seem rather quaint. But it's worth being reminded of how provocative this musical language once seemed.

Wolf Trap's "Rake" does that in bracing fashion, thanks to a remarkable potency onstage and in the pit.

Eric Barry does impressive work as Tom Rakewell, the young man who deserts his true love -- she's not named Anne Trulovefor nothing -- after being lured to the big, bad city of London by the demonic Nick Shadow.

With his boyish face, Barry captures the naive side of Tom particularly well, and he's adept, too, at conveying the decline into debauchery. The final scene, after Tom has been turned mentally unbalanced thanks to Shadow's parting shot, finds Barry especially affecting.

The timbre of the tenor's voice doesn't reveal the conventional operatic heft, but it's solid from top to bottom. And Barry used his vocal resources with admirable nuance and a touch of sweetness. His diction is exemplary, too, no small matter when dealing with such highly poetic English. (There are supertitles.)

Craig Colclough charges into the role of Shadow. He nimbly reveals the character's combination of charm and smarm, all the while producing a big, robust tone and animating his every phrase.

As Anne, Corinne Winters is a bit detached in her acting, but her singing has terrific impact, thanks, particularly, to the soprano's deep, lush low register. Her account of "Gently, little boat" in the last act has a melting radiance.

Aaron Sorensen is sympathetic and sure as Anne's father. James Kryshak exudes vocal and theatrical character as Sellem, the oily auctioneer who disposes of Tom's worldly possessions. Anthony Michael Reed steps out of the vibrant, polished chorus (prepared by Grant Loehnig) to sing the few lines of the asylum keeper with a warm, promising bass.

In "The Rake's Progress," the opera ain't over 'til the bearded lady sings. That's Baba the Turk, the needy, demanding, facially hairy circus star Tom marries just to thumb his nose at the world.

Margaret Gawrysiak brings a plummy mezzo and abundant comic exuberance to the role, and also taps into character's warmer side in the last act.

The orchestra does polished, vibrant work, conducted by Dean Williamson, who keeps the rhythms crisp, the pacing taut, but with plenty of room for sensitive phrasing in the lyrical episodes. Jeremy Frank handles the harpsichord solos with flair.

Stage director Tara Faircloth sets up the opera as a flashback from the asylum where Tom will end up. A few things seem forced (some business involving a poster of Baba the Turk goes on a little too long, for example), but there are imaginative and absorbing touches throughout.

Erhard Rom's stylish set design, with its architectural and playing card motifs, is complemented by Rooth Varland's vivid, era-jumping and occasionally gender-crossing costumes (the riot of turquoise in the auction scene is delicious) and Robert H. Grimes' expert lighting.

The production effectively brings out the human qualities beneath the satire, the poignant strands woven into the brittle edge of the opera. The masterpiece status of "The Rake's Progress" couldn't be clearer here. The caliber of Wolf Trap Opera shines through just as brightly.

The final performance is Saturday at the Barns at Wolf Trap.

PHOTOS BY CAROL PRATT

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Opera
        

August 6, 2012

Maryland Public Television offers Opera Week featuring Met performances

As everyone knows around here, Maryland Public Television (MPT) can be a little, well, exasperating.

Many's the week when it's hard to find any programming, given all the fundraising. And many's the PBS show that MPT ignores or delays, while stations all over the place are making them available to viewers.

But, hey, no station is perfect.

OK, so the shilling gets tiresome. But no one does the pleading for dollars better than MPT's ever-charming Rhea Feikin.

There's also something to be said (by us irredeemable Anglophiles, at least) for a station that has a weekday lineup called "Afternoon Tea" with golden-oldie Britcoms.

And the station does come through from time to time with some very enticing lineups, like "Opera Week," which starts Monday.

For five nights in a row, MPT is offering encore broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera's popular HD simulcasts, all with starry casts. Of course, a lot of you will have seen these performances on the big screen at your favorite cineplex, but they should still register nicely on a TV set.

There will be three ...

great works from the standard repertoire; one of Verdi's powerful, less frequently encountered early pieces; and a novelty from last season.

Each of the operas will be shown at 8 p.m., with a repeat at 12 a.m., so that gives you, or your DVR, two good chances at it.

First up is Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier," the sad-comic tale of young and not-so-young love, propelled by some of the most exquisite music ever penned. (I think the trio in the last act is way beyond divine.) The Met production, conducted by James Levine, features Renee Fleming (who will the guest artist at the Baltimore Symphony's gala concert next month) and Susan Graham.

Tuesday's opera is "Ernani." It's very much worth hearing, even if the tragic plot has some implausibilities to rival those of "Trovatore." The cast includes Angela Meade, the much touted soprano who has the makings of a major artist. She is joined in this staging by the extraordinary baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

The Wednesday slot is reserved for "Don Giovanni," starring Mariusz Kwiecien, who has made the title role a highly admired calling card. The production also features Barbara Frittoli and Ramon Vargas. Fabio Luisi, the Met's principal conductor, will be on the podium.

You can set sail for "The Enchanted Isle" on Thursday. This is the pastiche created for the Met out of music by the likes of Vivaldi, Handel and Rameau, with a story that combines bits of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Tempest." The big cast has room for David Daniels, Joyce DiDonato and Danielle de Niese, among others, not to mention a cameo by the indefatigable Placido Domingo.

Opera Week wraps up on Friday with "Faust" in an updated staging directed by Des ("Jersey Boys") McAnuff and showcasing the vocal artistry of two of the hottest singers in the business today -- Jonas Kaufmann and Rene Pape. The Philadelphia Orchestra's dynamic new music director, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, conducts.

Note that the complete "Ring" Cycle form the Met is scheduled for an MPT airing the week of Sept. 10. So for opera fans, the station really does have a lot of TV worth watching in the days ahead.

To get you in the mood for MPT's Opera Week, here's that Trio from "Rosenkavalier" -- a concert version from several years back with Fleming, Frederica von Stade and Kathleen Battle, conducted by Claudio Abbado. The sound quality is icky, but, Lawdy, what a magical performance.

PHOTO: KEN HOWARD/METROPOLITAN OPERA

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

August 3, 2012

Barry Manilow donates new Yamaha piano to Baltimore City Public Schools

In advance of his concert next month at 1st Mariner Arena, Barry Manilow has donated a new Yamaha piano to the Baltimore City Public Schools to kick off a local instrument drive here.

Anyone who follows the Manilow's lead by donating a new or "gently used" instrument will receive ...

two tickets to the concert. (Those tickets are "valid for pre-selected seat locations," according to a press release issued Friday).

Sonja Brookins Santelises, chief academic officer of Baltimore City Public Schools, said in a statement:

"The arts are an essential part of children’s education ... But too often, tight budgets mean that schools cannot afford to buy new instruments or replace instruments that are worn out from years of use. The instruments donated through the Manilow Music Project will go a long way in bringing a love of music to City Schools’ students.”

The instrument donation initiative is part of the Manilow Music Project, a grass roots organization the singer/songwriter started "in response to the needs of the local public schools and their severely depleted music programs." Manilow has been donating pianos at various stops on his current concert tour.

Instruments can be dropped off at 1st Mariner Arena through September 15th. The drop-off is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Manilow's concert at Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena will be at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15

SUN FILE PHOTO

Posted by Tim Smith at 4:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

Broadway-bound 'Diner' to be retooled, postpones out-of-town tryout

The musical version of Barry Levinson's 1982, Baltimore-set film "Diner" will not have its out-of-town tryout in San Francisco this fall, as previously planned.

Instead, the show, with a book by Levinson and music and lyrics by Sheryl Crow, is undergoing a bit of downsizing in order to open next spring in what is being described as ...

"a more intimate Broadway venue."

"Diner" was originally intended for a large house, but questions arose over the availability of such a venue, given the competition for venues. The producers and artistic team decided instead to refashion the show for "a theater with a capacity no larger than 1,100 seats," according to a press release issued Friday.

The release quotes said producer Scott Zeiger, co-CEO of BASE Entertainment:

“Once you have locked in your physical production out of town, there is no flexibility to subsequently play a smaller venue. With no guarantee of a large musical house in the spring, this was our only fiscally responsible choice. We are also encouraged by recent examples of successful, critically-acclaimed musicals playing theaters with roughly the same capacity that we will play.”

Instead of staging the try-out in San Francisco’s SHN Curran Theatre, where the musical had been booked for a month-long run beginning Oct. 23, those weeks will be devoted to a "fully-staged workshop in New York for the creative team to make necessary artistic revisions."

There is a possibility that the revamped "Diner" will still get a pre-Broadway run in San Francisco in early 2013. The Broadway opening is set for April 10, at a theater to be announced "very shortly.” 

"I love that we are envisioning DINER for a more intimate theatre ... where the audience can experience the show viscerally," the musical's director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall said.

PHOTO OF BARRY LEVINSON BY BALTIMORE SUN STAFF 

Posted by Tim Smith at 3:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers holds contest for $5,000 bow

Here's a nice little news item, a cool blend of philanthropy, marketing and social media. It's a welcome example of how those in the supposedly elitist, isolated classical music world can reach out and keep up with the times.

It's a deal for aspiring violinists out there -- violinists of any age. With a little uploading and, of course, talent, you could become the proud owner of a carbon fiber violin bow, retail value around $5,000.

The excellent violinist Anne Akiko Meyers is giving away the bow via a contest being held through ...

her Facebook page. Entrants can upload a video of themselves performing (two minutes or less in duration). Meyers will select the winner, based on who she feels is "the best fit for this bow."

The prize is an Arcus Cadenza Gold bow. On her blog, Meyers describes it quite ecstatically:

"I have owned many different violin bows throughout my life, and now play using Tourte and Gold Arcus carbon fiber bows. It is extremely light and spiccato can come out super-clean at [lightning] speed. I used to think that using a heavy stick produced a bigger sound but now I believe it really is quite the opposite. Physically it takes a different skill to handle well but proper technique helps avoid chronic overuse and tendon ... You don’t have to worry about breaking the Arcus either -- I think they say the bow is pretty indestructible!"

Entrants have until Sept. 1 to upload a video. The winner will be announced Sept. 15.

Below is a clip of Meyers playing a sweet version of the Charlie Chaplin classic "Smile," followed by one of the entries submitted so far in her violin bow contest:

 

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

August 1, 2012

Remembering British actor Geoffrey Hughes of 'Keeping Up Appearances' fame

In any number of states in this country, wherever a Brit or Anglophile infiltrates the local PBS station, you can count on endless reruns of certain BBC TV comedies.

That PBS-BBC tie-in enabled me to learn the Monty Python oeuvre at a pretty early age, followed over the years by the incomparable "Fawlty Towers" and assorted gems that proved hard to resists -- "To the Manor Born," "Are You Being Served?," "'Allo, 'Allo," and other endearing Britcoms.

Then there's "Keeping Up Appearances," which introduced me to the divine Patricia Routledge as the preposterously pretentious Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced "bouquet") and a superb cast that included Geoffrey Hughes as Hyacinth's determinedly uncouth brother-in-law Onslow.

Mr. Hughes' died last Friday at the age of 68 from prostate cancer. "He was a most lovable man," Ms. Routledge told the British press, "just delightful and great fun to work with."

What a fabulous pair of adversaries Hyacinth and Onslow made -- the snob and the slob. Onslow was a guy you would ...

definitely like to have a beer with -- he never could get enough of the stuff (or a "bacon butty," for that matter). And the reason he's such a likable character is because Mr. Hughes gave Onslow an inner life, not just the rough surface.

On these shores, we see only a small portion of Mr. Hughes' work. In the UK, he became something of a legend on the soap opera "Coronation Street," which has never made it across the Pond. After "Keeping Up Appearances," he enjoyed long runs on comedies that got little or no exposure here. His career also included such interesting gigs as providing the voice of Paul McCartney in the animated film "Yellow Submarine."

But I don't think Mr. Hughes would mind if we recall him most often and most fondly for his role on "Keeping Up Appearances," that signature phrase ("Oh, nice!"), that distinctive fashion sense, that way of smacking the TV set on, and, above all, Onslow's total comfort in his own skin.

It's impossible to imagine anyone else but Geoffrey Hughes making such an indelible impression with that assignment. I imagine that's what his colleagues and fans would say about everything he did.

Posted by Tim Smith at 4:09 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Drama Queens
        

Midweek Madness: A lesser known Olympic event

Despite a trillion dollars in round-the-clock TV coverage by 750,000 journalists (and at least three times that many Twitterers), there's one event at the Olympics that you probably missed.

Thanks to SCTV, and to provide an appropriate amount of Midweek Madness, here is an eggs-traordinary match-up of competitors from the US and the UK in a fiercely challenging race:

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Midweek Madness
        
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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 baltimoresun.com/artsmash. 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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