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January 30, 2013

Baltimore Symphony musicians chime in with new Ravens song

At the rate they're going, the Baltimore Symphony may change this week's program to Hindemith's Concert Music for Ravens, Brass and Strings"; Mozart's Concerto No. 27 for Ravens and Orchestra; and Mussorgsky's "Ravens at an Exhibition."

Meanwhile, BSO bassist Jonathan Jensen has written a new ditty, "Hail to the Ravens," set to a vaguely familiar tune. The opening lines:

Ravens fans all over Baltimore,

Have just a single goal:

To win the Superbowl.

We'll watch them proudly,

We'll cheer them loudly,

And our loyal orchestra will cheer loudest of all!

The song has now been immortalized via YouTube, filmed by BSO contrabassoonist David Coombs. (Can the San Francisco Symphony's response be far behind?)

Get your rah-rahs out and chime in with Jensen and his buddies from the orchestra (Madeline Adkins, Ellen Pendleton Troyer, Ken Goldstein, Angela Lee, Peter Minkler, Kristin Ostling, Owen Cummings, Michael Lisicky); vocal soloist Mark McGrath and backup singers Wendy Baird, Dyana Neal and Jim Knost.


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January 25, 2013

'Hairspray' holds up well in concert version from Baltimore Symphony

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has developed a knack for effective theatrical presentations. A riveting semi-staging of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” a few seasons ago is a case in point. An exuberant concert version of the hit musical “Hairspray” this weekend is another.

Never mind that a good deal of dialogue from the Broadway musical, based on the 1988 John Waters movie, is gone. Or that just a few props pop up — happily, one of them is a mechanical rat to dart across the stage during the opening “Good Morning, Baltimore” number.

Propelled by clever imitations of ’60s rock and soul by Marc Shaiman (he and Scott Witman wrote the spot-on lyrics), the “Hairspray” score is not an ideal candidate for symphonic orchestration. The BSO’s strings barely register in many of the numbers, given all the competition from winds and percussion.

But it’s cool to hear the music fleshed out and played so dynamically by the orchestra, led with his usual flair and precision by principal pops conductor Jack Everly.

Whatever material has been abridged or squeezed to create the concert version, plenty remains to evoke the spice of the original 2002 show, thanks to ...

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January 18, 2013

Baltimore Symphony's Rachmaninoff program features brilliant pianist Garrick Ohlsson

Longtime Garrick Ohlsson fans knew that the physically and artistically towering pianist would deliver memorable music-making with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra this week. But what Ohlsson achieved in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Thursday night at Meyerhoff Hall still surprised — and thrilled.

Long before the hit 1996 movie “Shine” got a wider audience interested in it, this concerto was firmly established in the repertoire as one of last and greatest outpourings of Romanticism, not to mention one heck of a test for even the cockiest pianist’s technical prowess.

The ultimate challenge here is to unleash the often bittersweet lyricism of the score in such a convincing and involving way that listeners find themselves swept away, no matter how many times they’ve heard the piece — or how resistant they may normally be to heart-on-sleeve emotions in music.

Consider me freshly swept. What Ohlsson did ...

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January 12, 2013

BSO presents 'Alexander Nevsky' with live soundtrack

Nothing like slaughter, slander and noxious nationalism to get the music season back into gear after the holidays.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which has a cinematic theme woven through its programming this season, is offering a potent multimedia presentation of the 1938 Sergei Eisenstein masterwork “Alexander Nevsky” this weekend. A Charlie Chaplin movie and the 1950s musical “West Side Story” are due later on, in each case with the orchestra providing a live soundtrack as the film is shown on a large screen hanging above the stage.

“Nevsky” makes a particularly strong candidate for this sort of approach, given that it boasts a stirring, brilliantly atmospheric score by Sergei Prokofiev. The composer’s concert suite from that score is frequently encountered; hearing the original version in context is a terrific experience.

The BSO offered a memorable “Nevsky” in this format a decade ago with then-music director Yuri Temirkanov on the podium. His successor, Marin Alsop, is on the podium this time. She ...

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December 14, 2012

BSO unveils wholesome Holiday Pops Celebration

Holiday programming can be box office gold for performing arts organizations, as any number of annual "Nutcracker" productions attest. 

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra hoped to mine the seasonal market profitably for years and years with its Holiday Spectacular, a handsomely staged and costumed show that was introduced in 2005 and memorably featured a chorus line of tap-dancing Santas.

That expensive venture, essentially a transplant of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's long-running, hugely successful Yuletide Celebration, started strong, but attendance gradually diminished (maybe Hoosiers have a bigger appetite for this sort of thing than Baltimoreans).

After 2010, the Spectacular was put on what the BSO officially termed a hiatus.

To take its place last year, the orchestra tried out a cirque program that often looked cheesy, thanks to some awful video projections, but delivered the expected oohs and aahs.

This year, the symphony decided on a more straightforward product called Holiday Pops Celebration, with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and baritone Daniel Narducci (pictured below in red) joining the BSO. The wholesome result was unveiled Wednesday night at the Music Center at Strathmore before moving to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall for several performances through the weekend.

For the most part, the program ....

 

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December 3, 2012

Weekend in review, including Baltimore Symphony, Piotr Anderszewski

The weekend's musical activity included another impressive performance by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led by the always welcome guest conductor Mario Venzago, and featuring an exceptional cellist, Sol Gabetta, in her BSO debut.

The orchestra invariably plays well for Venzago, and it did so again throughout Saturday night's concert at Meyerhoff Hall.

The musicians looked like they were more closely grouped together onstage. Maybe that was just my imagination, but the sound sure seemed tighter and, despite the fact that the ensemble remains below ideal personnel size, richer.

There was a beautifully detailed, superbly articulated, very eventful account of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz to start things off, and an engrossing, downright electric performance of Franck's D minor Symphony to close. The latter piece gets maligned by some -- too overwrought for their ears, I guess -- but ...

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November 29, 2012

Mellon Foundation gives Baltimore Symphony $950,000 for BSO Academy

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's outreach project for amateur musicians, the BSO Academy, launched with $900,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to underwrite the first three years, will be funded for three more by another $900,000 from the foundation.

The bulk of the funding will go to enhancing activities at the BSO Academy, a week-long venture held each June after the end of the BSO's regular season, and adding educational activities at other times of the year.

"The Academy has proven to be very successful," said BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham. "There are plans to expand it to two weeks eventually. We view [the BSO Academy project] as part of our core mission. It started from asking ourselves how we can use the orchestra in different ways, other than just doing more concerts."

The Mellon Foundation has added an extra $50,000 this time, earmarked for scholarships aimed at "making the program more inclusive of individuals from all backgrounds," according to a statement released by the BSO Thursday.

The Academy, which was launched in 2010 with 47 amateur musicians and grew to 104 last June, offers extensive opportunities for participants to freshen their skills in private lessons, master classes, rehearsals and a public concert performed side-by-side with BSO players and conducted by BSO music director Marin Alsop.

Basic tuition is $1,850 for the orchestral portion of the program. Participants can add chamber music sessions with BSO players for another $500. New for the fourth annual Academy, which will be held June 15 to 22, is ...

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November 16, 2012

BSO offers dynamic program of Dvorak and Brahms

There are three great reasons to hear the remaining performances of this week's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program -- Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall or Saturday night at Strathmore.

First, you will hear a vibrant account of Dvorak's Symphony No.8. Second, you will hear an extremely impressive delivery of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2.

Lastly, you will not have to sit anywhere near the rude, crude senior citizens who filled Row Y (orchestra left) behind me Thursday night at the Meyerhoff.

If there is any justice in the world, they will be confined henceforth to a maximum security twilight home, where they can only annoy each other. I've seen six-year-olds behave better at concerts than this lot, who chatted, argued, rustled, and hacked their way blithely through the evening (I wonder if the severely guttural gentleman in this mini-mob of mature miscreants finally found a spittoon).

OK, I feel better now. I just had to get that off my chest. Now, I can talk about the music.

A Brahms-Dvorak pairing works well on many levels, starting with the fact that ...

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November 15, 2012

Guest blogger/trumpeter reports on BSO's Rusty Musicians event

My thanks to Bruce Burgess for providing this colorful report from Tuesday's Rusty Musicians event, the Baltimore Symphony's popular outreach program where amateur players get to rub music stands with BSO pros in sessions conducted by Marin Alsop. -- TIM

The Best Seat in the House

By Bruce Burgess

The downbeat came swiftly. Marin's baton cut through the air instantly slicing my confidence into tiny pieces. The second movement of Tchaikovsky's Sixth is in 5/4, but I didn't see five beats being counted, just indistinct but vibrant musical expression emanating from the podium.

I had many measures of rest ahead, but what was the count? Panic set in. I leaned toward my "pro" for reassurance. Before he could respond, BSO music director Marin Alsop mercifully lowered her baton for a restart as she offered guidance to the string section.

This is Rusty Musicians, an outreach program of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conceived by Marin Alsop in 2010 as a way "to attract new audiences through participatory opportunities for engagement as well as to enhance the BSO's position as an educational and social community resource."

The "rusties," as successful applicants call themselves, are non-professional adult instrumentalists and vocalists whose career paths ...

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November 9, 2012

BSO gives East Coast premiere of sensational symphony by Christopher Rouse

Baltimore-born Christopher Rouse writes some of the most consistently provocative and rewarding music of our time. A sensational case in point is his Symphony No. 3.

The piece is the product of a global commission from the Saint Louis Symphony, which gave the first performance in 2011; the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which is delivering the East Coast premiere in its latest program; and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and Singapore Symphony.

Rouse’s Third makes a substantial addition to the orchestral repertoire. It leaves you almost reeling — in a good way — from an assault on the senses.

The composer has always been capable of summoning massive orchestral firepower, and he does so here in fiercely aggressive fashion. But he ...

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October 27, 2012

Cornelius Meister leads Baltimore Symphony in program of Mozart, Brahms, Strauss

The Baltimore Symphony is on a roll.

Week after week, October has found the orchestra, led by an inspiring lineup of guest conductors, performing with an extra burst of expressive wattage and technical polish.

The latest case came Friday night, when the podium was turned over to Cornelius Meister, who made quite a splash with his BSO debut in 2011.

The German conductor was just as impressive this time around in a program of standards by Mozart, Brahms and Strauss. There was nothing standard about the performances at Meyerhoff Hall.

Just as the handling of a simple roast chicken can tell you a lot about a restaurant's quality, the delivery of a Mozart symphony can tell you a lot about a conductor's and an orchestra's.

Because Mozart's music is ...

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October 25, 2012

BSO News: Orchestra fellowship program; Alsop on CNN with Amanpour

The Baltimore Symphony has launched an Orchestra Fellows Program in collaboration with Sphinx, the extraordinarily productive, Detroit-based non-profit organization devoted to increasing diversity in the arts. A primary focus of Sphinx is to provide opportunities for Black and Latino musicians.

The first recipient of the BSO's fellowship, a one-year mentoring program, is violinist Tami Lee Hughes, who began her tenure performing in the orchestra earlier this month.

In addition to participating in concerts and working with OrchKids and the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestra, Hughes will be mentored by music director Marin Alsop and BSO players.

Associate principal second violinist Ivan Stefanovic and violinist Gregory Kuperstein will help prepare Hughes for auditions with other orchestras.

The Baton Rouge-born Hughes, who will maintain a blog during her BSO fellowship, earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota, a master's and doctorate from the University of Michigan.

She has a wide range of orchestra, chamber music and solo experience, and has been featured on several recordings, including "Legacy: Violin Music of African-American Composers" (Albany Records).

In other BSO news, 

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October 20, 2012

Classy music-making from Juanjo Mena, Benedetto Lupo, Baltimore Symphony

When you hear the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra play with the kind of fire it demonstrated Friday night, there's no debating that the musicians deserve the salary increases that have eluded them over the past decade because of assorted financial setbacks in the organization.

This week's news of a deficit from last season that could exceed $750,000 must have the players suspecting that raises will once again be hard to come by when another contract is negotiated next year.

With luck and fresh energy, things may well look rosier by then, but right now, the cloud over Meyerhoff Hall has to affect morale onstage. Not that it could be detected Friday.

The orchestra, led by one its favorite guest conductors, Juanjo Mena, gave a roof-rattling account of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 that ranks among the most visceral experiences I can recall in that place in some time.

The strings summoned a deep, rich tone for each lyrical theme, and proved fearless and crisp in the opening whirlwind of the finale, which Mena took at a wonderfully maniacal clip. Note too the sensitivity to dynamics from these players in the pizzicato third movement.

Lots of expressive molding came from the woodwinds, and waves of power from the brass (a few raw notes proved less problematic in such an intense performance).

Mena's role in all of this excitement was considerable. The Spanish conductor managed ...

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October 19, 2012

Baltimore Symphony faces deficit of $750,000 or more

After four years of balanced budgets, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is anticipating a deficit of between $750,000 and $800,000 from the last fiscal year.

The final figure will not be known until the official audit is completed later this fall.

“Obviously, we are not happy about this,” said Paul Meecham, the BSO’s president and CEO.

“Even with increased ticket revenue and cost-cutting last season, that was not enough to make up for softness in fundraising. And we are seeing more of these challenges as we move forward this season.”

The budget last year was $25.5 million; the current budget is about $26.5 million.

In an effort to avoid another deficit this season, trims to expenses will be made. Administrative staff will take a one-week furlough at the end of the calendar year.

One program has been changed; in March, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 will be substituted for ....

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October 7, 2012

Like the Nats and Orioles, the NSO and BSO score home runs

The Nats and the Orioles aren't the only ones who have been doing impressive work lately.

Washington's orchestral team, the National Symphony, hit a couple right out of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall Friday night. On Saturday, the Baltimore Symphony did the same at Meyerhoff Hall. In both cases, the coach had a lot to do with the results.

The combination of keen intellect and emotional warmth that Christoph Eschenbach brings to the NSO podium as music director could be felt at every turn in a program built around a theme of intense love.

The tragic passions at the heart of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" and two Tchaikovsky tone poems, "Romeo and Juliet" and "Francesca da Rimini," were balanced by the haunting beauty of the late Peter Lieberson's "Neruda Songs."

The latter carries its own tragic layer. The composer set five of Pablo Neruda "One Hundred Love Sonnets" to music expressly for his wife, revered mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. She died from breast cancer in 2006, a year after performing the premiere; Lieberson died from lymphoma in 2011.

It is impossible ...

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October 5, 2012

BSO, Concert Artists offer 'passports' to younger demographic

A demographic highly coveted by most performing arts organizations — ages 21 to 40 — is getting fresh offers this season from the Baltimore Symphony and Concert Artists of Baltimore.

Priced at $75, the “BSO Passport” will provide unlimited admission to 90 percent of the orchestra’s concerts for the remainder of the 2012-13 season at both Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore and the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.

Passport holders will be given the best available seats the day of the performance.

“We recognized that, like many orchestras around the country, we were not adequately serving the young professional age-demographic,” said Eileen Andrews, the BSO’s vice president of marketing and communications.

“The BSO Passport seeks to bridge that gap and cater to the busy professional’s lifestyle needs.”

The passport will be on sale from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15 for those 40 or younger. Sales of passports and tickets will be handled only online, but tickets must be picked up in person with the passport and valid ID at the box office. Passport holders may purchase guest tickets for $25.

To mark its 26th season, Concert Artists of Baltimore recently introduced ...

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

Baltimore Symphony's first Mahler CD a sturdy contender

Gustav Mahler’s symphonies never lack for attention on disc, even in what is supposed to be the twilight of the classical recording industry.

This crowded field just got a little bigger with the release of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s first commercial Mahler album, aptly devoted to the Symphony No. 1, conducted by music director Marin Alsop.

This Naxos CD, recorded live during concerts at Meyerhoff Hall in 2008, has some hefty competition among recorded Firsts.

Although it will not knock out such defending champions as the New York Philharmonic versions from 1950s with Bruno Walter or a decade later with Leonard Bernstein, the BSO’s entry is a serious contender.

I do wish, though, that the recording had been made more recently. Today’s BSO is playing at an impressive step above four years ago, with a richer tone, especially in the string department, and even tighter articulation.

That said, the warmly recorded release certainly captures a major American orchestra operating on all cylinders, digging vibrantly into the score as Alsop leads a solid, communicative interpretation.

She passes what, for me, is a key test in Mahler’s First — ...

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September 29, 2012

Marin Alsop, BSO peform Bernstein's 'Kaddish' featuring Claire Bloom

As a conductor, Leonard Bernstein seemed to be ever sure of himself, certain that his tempos and phrasing would uncover the very soul of a score. No wonder he made believers out of so many listeners.

But when Bernstein composed his own music, he frequently revealed that, in his own heart, he wasn't so confident.

Some of his most interesting and adventurous works are permeated with his doubts about faith in God and humanity, questions about why and how we become who we are.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is devoting this weekend to Bernstein's Symphony No. 3, "Kaddish," which finds the composer at his most confessional.

The symphony is propelled by a lengthy text the composer wrote in the form of a one-sided, equal-footing conversation with God. Bernstein essentially goes through a crisis of faith and expects that the Almighty is doing exactly the same.

Most of us would probably hold this sort of thing in, or only discuss it in private. Bernstein couldn't resist letting it all hang out.

Since the premiere of the "Kaddish" in 1963, the piece has earned its share of complaints about the indulgent text, as well as the music, which mixes agitated atonality, soaring lyricism and jazzy riffs in a way that only Bernstein could.

But, over the decades, the symphony has ...

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September 24, 2012

More from Claire Bloom on career highs, new film, and 'Downton Abbey'

This week, the Baltimore Symphony welcomes one of Britain's finest actresses, Claire Bloom, who will perform the speaking role in Bernstein's "Kaddish." You can read about her views on the symphony and the preparation for it in my Sunday story.

I thought you might enjoy some more from my phone interview with Ms Bloom, who was speaking by phone from her London home.

I asked her about her extraordinary career and her future projects. And I also happened to mention, quite innocently, the hit British show "Downton Abbey," thinking that she might like to join forces with that stellar cast -- oops.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

FAVORITE ACCOMPLISHMENTS

I think I’m most proud of the ...

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September 22, 2012

Baltimore Symphony celebrates American music in season-opener

Who needs the three B's when we've got two B's and a C?

Not that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra intended some grand, huzzah-huzzah patriotic statement or anything, but wasn't it nice to hear the season open without a single piece by a dead white European?

(OK, so the program features works by dead white Americans, but, still.)

Music director Marin Alsop chose three of the finest examples of 20th-century, tonally-grounded American classics -- Copland's Symphony No. 3 (I think of it as our Brahms' First), Barber's Violin Concerto (I think of it as our Bruch's G minor), and Bernstein's Symphony Suite from "On the Warterfront" (I think of it as our Bernstein's Symphony Suite from "On the Waterfornt").

And wait -- there was a living American composer on the bill, too, after all. That would be ...

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September 19, 2012

Obituary of longtime Baltimore Symphony timpanist Dennis Kain

My colleague, Fred Rasmussen, has written the obituary for Dennis Kain, the much-loved timpanist who was a member of the Baltimore Symphony for 46 years. Colleagues in the orchestra, and on the podium, speak eloquently of Mr. Kain's contributions.

The BSO will hold a memorial service at 2 p.m. Thursday at Meyerhoff Hall.

On Wednesday, the BSO issued a statement mourning the loss of Mr. Kain and providing these comments from BSO members:

David Coombs, Contrabassoon:

Dennis was one of the nicest guys that you can imagine. He was the best timpanist I ever heard in my life. He lived for music. He would go home and listen to music all night, except when he was going to baseball games. He was into minor league baseball games. He always had a smile on his face.

Laura Sokoloff, Piccolo:


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September 16, 2012

Renee Fleming lights up Baltimore Symphony gala; nearly $900,000 raised

Never underestimate the power of a diva -- the genuine artistic article, not the posturing kind.

The uncommonly gifted and gracious soprano Renee Fleming proved to be quite a magnet Saturday night for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's season-opening gala.

Meyerhoff Hall was well-packed with the well-heeled, as well as just plain folks; the concert, conducted by music director Marin Alsop and also featuring an appearance by a contingent from the BSO's education project OrchKids, raised nearly $900,000 for the orchestra.

The turnout was rich in state and local officials, including members of Congress; Baltimore's mayor (looking downright fabulous, by the way); and a certain country executive who chatted repeatedly with his constantly fidgeting companion through the first part of the program, then ducked out early after attending to his cell phone while Fleming gave a vivid account of "Vissi d'arte."

The soprano, radiating glamor in gowns by Douglas Hannant, offered several other familiar arias, along with Rodgers and Hammerstein favorites and an exquisite surprise -- ...

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Dennis Kain, longtime principal timpanist in the Baltimore Symphony, has died

Dennis Kain, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's longtime principal timpanist, died Saturday after a bout with cancer. He was 73. UPDATE: A service for Mr. Kain will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

The news of Mr. Kain's death arrived  shortly after the BSO finished its successful gala concert with soprano Renee Fleming before a packed house at the Meyerhoff.

Mr. Kain's illness kept him from performing in the ensemble for the past few seasons, and his absence, musically and personally, was keenly felt. He joined the orchestra in September 1966.

In the years that I got to hear him play, Mr. Kain invariably impressed with his sure technique and ability to coax myriad dynamic nuances from the timpani -- not to mention his quiet charm and twinkling smile.

Covering the BSO's 2001 European visit with then-music director Yuri Temirkanov, I wrote that Mr. Kain was "a rock of Gibraltar on this tour" -- his steadiness and musicality came through in concert after concert.

I also recall the timpanist's stirring contributions to performances of Brahms' Symphony No. 1 with Temirkanov in 2004; Bruckner's Third with Mario Venzago conducting in 2009;  Nielsen's Fourth with Juanjo Mena in 2010; and many more.

I will pass along more information on arrangements as it becomes available.

PHOTO BY CHRISTIAN COLBERG

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September 13, 2012

Jackie Evancho to perform in concert with Baltimore Symphony May 18

Jackie Evancho, the vocal prodigy who created a sensation singing "O mio babbino caro" at the age of 10 on "America’s Got Talent" two years ago, will make her Baltimore Symphony Orchestra debut May 18 at Meyerhoff Hall.

Tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m.

The concert is part of national tour Evancho is making this season to promote her soon-to-be-released album, "Songs from the Silver Screen."

The recording, duet out Oct. 2, features selections from "Titanic," "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "South Pacific," "Summer of '42," and other films.

GETTY PHOTO

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Marin Alsop, BSO launch pilot program with Parsons School to design new concert attire

Could the end of white tie and tails be in sight for orchestra musicians? Will a hip new form of concert attire spread through the classical music world? Stay tuned.

The Baltimore Symphony announced Thursday that music director Marin Alsop has funded a "pilot partnership" with the New York-based Parsons The New School for Design to devise an updated wardrobe for orchestral players in the 21st-century.

The project will involve 16 Parsons students from an interdisciplinary class this semester. They will travel to Baltimore to ...

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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 ...

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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: ...

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

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, ...

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June 19, 2012

Baltimore Symphony names Fei Xie principal bassonist

Fei Xie, who joined the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in January 2008 as second bassoonist, has been named principal, effective at the start of the 2012-2013 season.

The appointment follows what is described as "an extensive search" by music director Marin Alsop and an audition committee to find a successor to Phil Kolker, who retired in 2010.

Xie becomes "the first Chinese bassoonist to hold the principal position in a major American symphony," according to a BSO statement released Tuesday.

He began his studies in China, where his parents are musicians in the Peking Opera.

He earned degrees from Oberlin College and Rice University. In addition to his orchestral work, he is a frequent chamber music player and is a founding member of an ensemble called the Black Sheep Bassoon Quartet.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BSO

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June 8, 2012

BSO showcases Kevin Puts, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and itself

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is wrapping up its 2011-12 season in extraordinary fashion with a program rich in musical substance -- and some good old-fashioned, over-the-top entertainment value.

The big news is the local premiere of Symphony No. 4 by Kevin Puts, the Peabody Conservatory faculty member who won this year's Pulitzer Prize for music. The BSO has featured his work a few times before, but shorter pieces. It was rewarding to get a substantive dose this time.

The Fourth Symphony, from 2007, has an intriguing origin.

Subtitled "From Mission San Juan," it was commissioned by the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in California, headed by BSO music director Marin Alsop, and intended to honor a patron's ailing wife. Written expressly for performance in the San Juan Bautista Mission, the music is loosely based on songs of the Mutsun people who were there before the Spanish came.

It is easy to savor this lushly lyrical work without knowing any of that background, for Puts writes in such a clear-cut, instantly engaging manner, and organizes his thoughts into such sturdy structures.

The symphony offers quite an atmospheric experience. It is perhaps too cliched to talk about a journey, but that's what the work suggests, a sometimes bittersweet journey at that, but one where darkness is satisfyingly swept aside by a palpable radiance in the end.

The composer's mastery of orchestration is revealed at every step of the way, especially his ability to produce glittering effects.

The Prelude opens in mist, with ...

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Teaser review: Baltimore Symphony season finale

I am under the gun, dear readers, with other tasks, but I wanted to sneak in this quick word of advice about the Baltimore Symphony's season finale: Don't miss it. If the remaining performances get any hotter than last night's, fire marshals may have to be summoned.

OK, so maybe I'm being a wee bit theatrical ("Never miss an opportunity to theatricalize," as they say in "Master Class"). But, seriously folks, take this concert -- please.

For one thing, you'll get to hear a richly atmospheric, deeply lyrical symphony by Kevin Puts, this year's Pulitzer-winner for music.

There's also an interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg that you'll have to hear to believe (I heard it, and I still don't believe it). 

And, as if that's not enough for one program, there's an account of Stravinksy's "Rite of Spring" that sets a new benchmark for Marin Alsop's tenure with the BSO.

I'll have more to say about all of this -- I know these few paltry lines won't satisfy you -- as soon as I can.

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

June 2, 2012

Conductor Gunther Herbig leads Baltimore Symphony with Old World charm

Given the rude, crude, perfunctory way of the world these days, the time may well come when no one remembers or appreciates Old World charm -- in any form.

Musically, Old World charm involves elegance and genuineness of expression, a refined sense of proportion, and a certain something hard to define -- the aural equivalent of a twinkle in the eye.

At 80, veteran conductor Gunther Herbig provides a great example of all those traits.

A frequent Baltimore Symphony podium guest, Herbig is back for what, on paper, looks like an awfully ordinary program -- Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert -- but there was nothing routine Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall. Old World magic filled the air from the get-go.

At the start of Mozart's Symphony No. 40, just the way Herbig had the violins articulating the opening theme spoke volumes about style, with beautifully modulated gradations of dynamics giving the familiar music renewed eloquence.

The tempo in that movement was spacious (by today's rhythmic standards for Mozart), but ...

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May 25, 2012

Peter Oundjian leads Baltimore Symphony, Choral Arts in Beethoven, Bruckner

Beethoven's Ninth, never too far from earshot in Baltimore, is back this week, but with a most welcome companion piece -- Bruckner's "Te Deum."

And the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has a most welcome companion to conduct this pairing -- Peter Oundjian, who made a memorable appearance with the ensemble in 2009 and is generating telling results again.

Last night's concert at the Meyerhoff produced the most consistently satisfying account of the Ninth I've heard the BSO give. If the Bruckner performance wasn't as solid, it stirred nonetheless.

Oundjian, music director of the excellent Toronto Symphony Orchestra, managed to breathe a great deal of fresh life into the venerable Beethoven work. He did so not by applying any wildly unconventional touches (I wouldn't have minded those a bit, of course), but simply by ...

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May 13, 2012

BSO to launch training ensembles, taking over from Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestras

After 35 years, the Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestras, an educational enterprise involving multiple ensembles, will officially dissolve on Aug. 31, to reemerge on Sept. 1 as the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestras.

Former GBYO employees, including artistic director Kenneth Lam, will become employees of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which has not previously had an orchestral training program.

“The idea of having a youth orchestra had not been on our radar until folks from the GBYO approached us in January,” said BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham. “But having worked at the San Francisco Symphony, which has a youth orchestra, I always had in the back of my mind that a youth orchestra would be a natural thing for the BSO to do.”

The GBYO, founded in 1977 by BSO clarinetist Chris Wolfe, has about ...

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May 12, 2012

Baltimore Symphony performs romantic gems by Rachmaninoff, Elgar

May is turning out to be a great month for the Baltimore Symphony.

A week after a potent combination of a Ravel concerto and a Shostakovich symphony, the orchestra has put a Rachmaninoff concerto and an Elgar symphony together to form another satisfying and well-delivered program.

Of course, you have to be in the mood for sweeping lyricism and grand statements. This lineup is not for the cold of heart.

On Thursday night at Meyerhoff Hall, before tackling Rachmaninoff's much-loved Concerto No. 2, Andre Watts came onstage to receive the National Medal of Arts.

The pianist had been unable to attend the White House ceremony in February due to a concert engagement (among those receiving this year's medals were Al Pacino and Mel Tillis). So Wayne Brown, director of music and opera for the NEA, took this opportunity to make the official presentation.

BSO music director Marin Alsop read the certificate, signed by President Obama, that praised Watts for his ...

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May 4, 2012

Magnetic performances from Marin Alsop, Leon Fleisher, Baltimore Symphony

Meyerhoff Hall was the place to be Thursday night.

In a Baltimore Symphony program of Ravel and Shostakovich conducted by Marin Alsop, the intensity started early and never really let up.

The result was music-making that rivaled the hottest nights of the orchestra's years with former music director Yuri Temirkanov.

Local favorite -- heck, local hero -- Leon Fleisher helped light the fuse at the top of the program as soloist in Ravel's Concerto for Left Hand.

The pianist was greeted with ...

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April 27, 2012

BSO welcomes Jun Markl, Arabella Steinbacher for all-German program

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is concentrating this week on meat-and-potatoes German fare from the the first half of the 19th century.

That might have led to a ho-hum meal, but two German guest artists for the program have ensured plenty of interest.

Make that two multicultural German guest artists.

Conductor Jun Markl, a BSO podium favorite, and violinist Arabella Steinbacher, making her debut with the orchestra, have an interesting heritage in common -- each was born in Munich (a few decades apart) to a German father and a Japanese mother.

Markl's talents have been well-documented here. He has an easy rapport with the BSO, and it showed again Thursday night at Strathmore (the concert is repeated Friday and Saturday at the Meyerhoff).

With a flair for rhythmic spark and lyrical warmth, the conductor set ...

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April 15, 2012

Baltimore Symphony offers Russian program with French flavor

OK, I admit it upfront. I'm going to reach for a silly stereotype and generalization in discussing Lionel Bringuier's podium debut with leading the Baltimore Symphony this weekend in an all-Russian program.

I know this is as unfair as accusing a Russian conductor of making Brahms sound Russian, but this young Frenchman put a spin on the music that seemed very French.

I hasten to add I loved the combination of finesse, transparency, sensuality and delicacy that Binguier applied Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall.

Other listeners might not have found the results sufficiently Russian, with enough of dark drama and hefty sonic impact in such pieces as Mussorgsky's "A Night on Bald Mountain" or Tchaikovsky;'s "Romeo and Juliet."

I found no lack of temperament or surging power here. It's just that Bringuier paid great attention to subtle things in those scores, sought to make sure that a pianissimo -- and few conductors have gotten such genuine piannissimi out of the BSO as he did Friday -- registered with as much color and meaning as an all-out blast of orchestral force.

The Mussorgsky war horse emerged with ...

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April 5, 2012

Out West with the BSO: Marin Alsop provides end-of-tour blog post

The final guest post from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's West Coast tour comes right form the top -- music director Marin Alsop:

With the tour barely over (I'm writing this as we wend our way homeward), I'm still on a high from our thrilling final concert last night! (And feeling a bit exhausted from no sleep and too many hours in the plane, too!)

Ending our first tour together in Eugene, Oregon—where I served as Music Director from 1989-1996—was a real treat for me. Eugene is an ...

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April 4, 2012

BSO to give co-premiere of 'Overture for 2012' by Philip Glass

The bicentennial of the War of 1812 will be commemorated musically with a new work by Baltimore-born Philip Glass, the celebrated minimalist composer.

His "Overture for 2012" will receive a simultaneous world premiere in June by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

The Glass work promises to provide an appropriately American alternative to Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," which has become a favorite in this country during Fourth of July celebrations, despite the fact that its depiction of a Russian defeat of Napoleon's forces.

The Baltimore bow for "Overture for 2012" will take place on ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:24 AM | | Comments (1)
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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 ...

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April 2, 2012

Out West with the BSO: The critical view from the Bay Area

Here's a sample of the critical reaction to the BSO's weekend concerts presented by Cal Performances at the University of California, Berkeley:

 

Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle: [The] weekend's most sustained achievement came during Friday's robust and pointed rendition of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony. This was also, not coincidentally, the best opportunity to assess the current state of this orchestra, which has not performed live in the Bay Area in at least a quarter of a century.

To judge from the Prokofiev, at least, things are ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:27 AM | | Comments (0)
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Out West with the BSO: Guest blog post from violinist Greg Mulligan

The Baltimore Symphony spent the weekend in a fabled counterculture center (lots of regular culture there, too, of course). Here's a report from violinist Greg Mulligan on Saturday's multimedia performance fusing a 1928 silent film about Joan of Arc with a contemporary score by Richard Einhorn, part of the BSO's mini-residency at the University of California, Berkeley.

Tonight's concert in Zellerbach Hall on the campus of UC Berkeley was mesmerizing, as it was in Baltimore a few weeks ago.

Richard Einhorn's score beautifully magnifies the intense emotion contained in the silent film from 1928, "The Passion of Joan of Arc." The audience watched and listened silently, befitting the quiet intensity of much of the film, and gave all the performers a nice ovation.

This time the BSO performed with the women and men of the UC Choral Ensembles. I enjoyed their beautiful singing, especially the many sections reminiscent of very early vocal music, with one voice's melody chanting over a static pedal in another voice.

Kudos to Marin and to our staff for making all the arrangements with the local singers, and for creating and leading a cohesive ensemble for the audience's (and our) pleasure.

As a side note, ...

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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 ...

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BSO's summer season includes music of Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, video games

The Baltimore Symphony's 2012 summer season will have a mostly pop music flavor and take place mostly in the open (or semi-open) air.

The only concert in Meyerhoff Hall will be "A Night in Fantasia" on July 28, devoted to music from video games and anime. The program, tied to the Otakon Convention in Baltimore, will be conducted by Philip Chu and feature Jillian Aversa, the voice of Soulcaliber V, God of War, et al.

At the Pier Six Pavilion in the Inner Harbor, the BSO will offer a tribute to Michael Jackson on July 26 with conductor Brent Havens and vocalist James Delisco.

On July 27 at the Pavilion, the orchestra shifts gears into the music of ...

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March 29, 2012

Out West With the BSO: Guest blog post from percussionist Colin Currie

I would love to be out on the West Coast with the Baltimore Symphony, reporting from the front lines of the orchestra's first tour with music director Marin Alsop, but I am delighted that some of the participants have volunteered to file occasional guest blog posts. The first comes from Colin Currie, the brilliant percussionist who brought down the house last week performing Jennifer Higdon's concerto. He is being featured in that work at some of the stops on the tour, which opened last night in Costa Mesa, California:

Greetings from Orange County, where the beautiful Chesapeake cherry blossom of last week 

is swapped for the palm trees of California, and furthermore, a feathered friend at our hotel in Costa Mesa!

I enjoy travelling to the West Coast as one can look forward to what is, in effect, a fairly indulgent lie-in (courtesy of the time change), rising lazily at around 7am local time to a full morning of activities!

I locate a conference room for myself and my darabuka (a kind of hand-drum) to work on next month's premiere of Kalevi Aho's Percussion Concerto with the London Philharmonic (would love to bring this work to the BSO!) then dutifully adjourn to the treadmill for a time.

Mr Mallard has shuffled round to poolside at the deep end, slumbering in the sunshine, his beady eye opening only momentarily to impart mock disdain at my diving skills.

The afternoon is relatively easy-going (a nap!) until 4pm when I get to the hall to fine-tune my equipment and do Higdon warm-up.

Pre-concert warm-up is always the same for me, a good couple of hours playing most of the piece under-speed, with occasional phrases at full speed, repeated many times to make sure they are functioning at full throttle.

I like the hall and it reminds me of the Symphony Hall in Birmingham, UK, although discrepancies between the surrounds environments and climate are noted.

I have a very brief but efficient sound-check with the orchestra at 7pm and time for ...

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March 23, 2012

At the BSO: Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto is a smash

Just a hunch on my part, but I think that West Coast audiences are going to enjoy the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s visit that starts next week.

A sample of what’s in store for folks in California and Oregon is contained on the program the BSO performs this weekend at Meyerhoff Hall. One item, in particular, is bound to go over well out there, just as it did Thursday night at the Strathmore Center -- Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto.

Higdon, one of the contemporary composers regularly championed by BSO music director Marin Alsop, writes in a style that is easily accessible to those whose ears are happily stuck in the 19th-century.

But Higdon is also solidly, naturally connected to the sound-world of pop/rock music, so listeners from that side of the aisle can feel thoroughly comfortable with her work.

In this concerto from 2005, Higdon unleashes a kinetic storm of urban beats, balanced by ...

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March 19, 2012

Satisfying sonic Sunday: BSO with Belohlavek, Richard Goode at Shriver Hall

On Sunday afternoon, I took in a couple of highly satisfying performances.

First up was the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which welcomed back distinguished Czech conductor Jiri Belohlavek after an absence of 26 years. I hope his next visit won't take that long.

The program, not surprisingly, focused mostly on Eastern-European repertoire. The exception was Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 -- I couldn't help but think that Dvorak's Piano Concerto would have been even more fun here, in company with that composer's "Carnival," Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta" and Janacek's "Taras Bulba."

The newsiest item was the brilliant Janacek score, which, remarkably, the BSO had never before played. Even if you didn't know\ the extremely vivid story of the 17th century Cossack warrior that inspired the piece -- lots of torture, killing and that sort of thing -- the music's strikingly dramatic character would speak loudly.

Belohlavek brought out its passion and sweep with an authoritative touch, and the BSO ...

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March 7, 2012

Marin Alsop opens Sao Paolo Symphony season with live webcast

Marin Alsop opens her inaugural season as principal conductor of the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra at 2:30 p.m. EST Saturday with a program that will be broadcast live over the Internet.

The program includes Clarice Assad's "Terra Brasilis," Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 (with David Fray as soloist), and the Symphony No. 5 by Shostakovich.

Last February, Alsop signed a five-year contract with the Brazilian ensemble, which has a season that runs from March through December. She remains music director of the Baltimore Symphony; her current contract with that orchestra extends to August 2015.

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March 3, 2012

BSO presents memorable combo: 'Passion of Joan of Arc,' 'Voices of Light'

There are so many amazing elements in "The Passion of Joan of Arc," the 1928 silent film the Baltimore Symphony is presenting this weekend with an affecting musical score, Richard Einhorn's "Voices of Light."

The unblinking closeups used by director Carl Theodor Dreyer in the movie are justly famous -- the looming faces of the judges; the dazed Joan, tilting her head upward, looking in vain for genuine sympathy; the eager jailers and torturers.

Occasional overhead shots are likewise startling; you can feel the ground shifting as the forces against Joan unite in their unshakable need for her confession or her death.

What I think is most astonishing of all about the film is how it still speaks to us, even in our digital movie age. The black and white is as searing as any 3-D, high-gloss color extravaganza today. More significant still is how the issues depicted in Dreyer's film (he used the trial transcripts as the basis for the project) have an uncanny way of feeling very contemporary, sometimes disturbingly so.

In 2004, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" was offered in tandem with Einhorn's 1994 score by the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, I was struck by how it conjured all-too-fresh realities from our world at the time -- "when," as I wrote, "we are steeped in images of tortured prisoners and executed innocents, and when we are even hearing talk of communion being withheld from politicians who stray from church teaching."

In 2012, not much seems to have changed, as I was reminded Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall, when ...

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February 28, 2012

Renee Fleming, John Waters, Claire Bloom, and Wagner spice BSO's 2012-13 season

From Renee Fleming to Claire Bloom and John Waters, from Wagner's "Ring" to a new symphony by Christopher Rouse and a lot of classic film scores, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 2012-2013 season promises a notably diverse and interesting diet.

For her sixth season as BSO music director, Marin Alsop will zero in on several themes. Movie music is one, which explains why the season announcement was made Tuesday at the Charles Theater.

Alsop will conduct the orchestra in live soundtracks to three acclaimed films: Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" (post-"The Artist," this presentation of a silent movie may be a bigger event than expected); Sergei Eisenstein's "Alexander Nevsky," with its gripping score by Prokofiev; and "West Side Story," the brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical. Bernstein's contribution to the movies will also be acknowledged with his Symphonic Suite from "On the Waterfront."

In another nod to cinema, the 25th anniversary of the kinetic Waters hit, "Hairspray," will be celebrated with a concert version of the musical it inspired. This event, part of the BSO SuperPops series and led by principal pops conductor Jack Everly, will feature Waters as narrator.

American music has been a priority of Alsop's from the start, and next season will contain a fair share. The conductor will give particular attention to ...

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February 24, 2012

Alsop leads BSO in high-voltage works by Prokofiev, MacMillan

Music from the 20th century gets the lion's share of attention on the latest BSO program -- the operative word is lion.

Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony and James MacMillan's "The Confession of Isobel Gowdie" are meaty, sometimes fierce works that provide everyone -- conductor Marin Alsop, the orchestra and listeners -- with quite a workout.

A curiously small audience turned out for the encounter Thursday night at the Meyerhoff.  Perhaps more people will show up for Sunday's repeat. (The "Off the Cuff" concerts tonight at Strathmore and Saturday at Meyerhoff will focus solely on the Prokofiev symphony.)

MacMillan, a Scottish composer who brings a set of strong religious beliefs (Catholic) and a social conscience to his music, was seized by the pitiful story of Isobel Gowdie.

She was one of the many women in Scotland who faced the hideous fate of being accused of witchcraft. Her astonishing confession in 1662 has been widely studied and discussed from many angles.

For MacMillan, this is a case of intolerance and misogyny -- Alsop told the audience that that the composer was speaking out against "persecuting people because they're different" -- and requires some act of atonement. His arresting score attempts to provide it. 

"The Confession of Isobel Gowdie" achieves ...

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February 6, 2012

Nicholas McGegan returns to BSO podium for spirited workout

The Baltimore Symphony welcomed Nicholas McGegan back to the podium last week.

His expertise in historically informed performances to music from the baroque and classical eras makes him a valued guest conductor with modern instrument orchestras. They can always use a little jolt from the authenticity crowd.

With McGegan, you also get an abundance of personality, which makes his appearances doubly welcome. On Saturday night at the Meyerhoff, he danced his way through an attractive assortment of familiar scores by Bach, Haydn and Mozart, and something new to the BSO's repertoire -- a suite from Rameau's opera "Nais."

(As a concert-goer remarked on Saturday, McGegan seemed to be at least a third of the way toward ...

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

January 29, 2012

BSO takes nature walk with Beethoven, Frans Lanting, Philip Glass

Music can tell stories as riveting as the best literary texts, can paint images as vivid as the finest works on canvas. That message is reinforced on the first half of the latest Baltimore Symphony program, and then, to an extent, reversed on the second.

The sonic-only pictorial lesson comes from Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, the composer’s extraordinary evocation of a visit to the countryside, complete with babbling brook, tipsy farmers and a cool thunderstorm.

This classic is matched with a multimedia production, “LIFE: A Journey Through Time,” with an evolutionary tour of nature through the work of National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting, matched to music by Philip Glass.

Here, the sounds serve as complement or counterpoint to the imagery. The accompaniment was not created with the visual in mind, but matched to it subsequently. The pictures clearly could stand on their own without a note, but the match-up provides an extra kick. 

Marin Alsop, who was instrumental in generating the Lanting/Glass epic, introduced it to the BSO in 2007. Given all the other music available by Glass, one of Baltimore’s most famous sons, and given that his 75th birthday will be observed on Tuesday, it’s disappointing that we didn’t get something new to the BSO repertoire. “LIFE” is a compilation of previously existing pieces (arranged for orchestra by Michael Riesman). A symphony by Glass would have been very welcome.

Leaving that aside, it was impossible not to be impressed by ...

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

January 23, 2012

Baltimore, National symphonies to play Carnegie Hall's 2013 Spring for Music

Carnegie Hall seems more than ever to be the epicenter of classical music life in this country, what with the Achievement Program already launched and the National Youth Orchestra of the United States being created there in 2013.

Another of the many initiatives that keep Carnegie Hall so interesting is a festival called "Spring for Music," which bowed last year.

This annual event in May focuses on "the quality and creativity of North American orchestras." With tickets popularly priced at $25 and repertoire that emphasizes the off-beat, the festival has obvious appeal.

The two major orchestras in our area will be showcased during the 2013 Spring for Music.

Marin Alsop will lead the Baltimore Symphony May 6, 2013, in a program that includes ...

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January 21, 2012

Alsop leads BSO in blockbusters; Olga Kern featured in Tcahikovsky concerto

It is possible to quibble with the idea of cramming three blockbuster works into a single program, but the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra carries it off.

Ravel’s “Bolero,” that brilliant study in rhythmic and melodic reiteration, not to mention crescendo, is more likely to serve as a concert finale than a curtain-raiser, leading into Tchaikovsky’s barnstorming Piano Concerto No. 1. But here they are, back to back.

And after two of classical music’s Greatest Hits, why not one more? Well, at least one of classical music’s Greatest Minutes — the introductory passage of Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” forever identified as the theme from the sci-fi classic “2001.” The rest of Strauss’ ambitious reflections on the writings of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche may not be quite as popular, but the whole thing is a marvelous showpiece.

What makes these three war horses well worth trotting out together is the terrific music-making they inspire. On Thursday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the connection between music director Marin Alsop and the BSO sounded like it had reached a tighter, more spirited level. This was especially evident in “Also Sprach Zarathustra.”

Of course, there was an instant let-down at the very start. The indelible opening, with its gradual sunburst of C major, should rattle your chair, tingle your spine. It has a lot better chance to do that when ...

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

January 13, 2012

Perlman pays return visit to Baltimore Symphony as violinist and conductor

The classical music world, ever on the hunt for bright young stars with box office snap, still has some reliably surefire veterans. One of them is Itzhak Perlman, the most popular, widely recognized violinist since Heifetz.

Tickets for Perlman’s guest stint as soloist and conductor with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra have been scare for some time, even though, as was the case at his 2010 guest stint with the ensemble, Perlman is doing minimal fiddling.

People still want to experience his musicianship, still want to let him know how much he means to them. The waves of affection in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Thursday night were frequent and hearty. It is will surely be the same Saturday night at Strathmore and Sunday afternoon back at Meyerhoff.

The program provides a neat little music history lesson, progressing by means of well-worn pieces from Baroque to Classical to Romantic — Perlman does not typically stray far from those three genres.

I’m not sure that half of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” is the most imaginative choice for the Baroque portion, but ...

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January 6, 2012

Baltimore Symphony offers invigorating salute to the Gershwin Brothers

It’s not easy inserting an element of surprise into an all-Gershwin program, but the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra succeeds handsomely with this weekend's SuperPops venture.

Conductor Jack Everly has found some cool, off-the-beaten-track items that make the familiar ones seem just a little fresher, and his assured, sensitive guidance from the podium generates a consistently classy level of music-making.

A couple of dynamic guest artists also contribute to what becomes quite an uplifting experience.

Attention is paid not just to the genius of George Gershwin, but the considerable talent of his brother Ira, a first-rate lyricist. Broadway veteran Judy McLane is on hand to sing some of the indelible songs the brothers produced, along with a representative sampling of songs Ira wrote with other composers after George’s death.

But the orchestra gets to play the lion’s share of Gershwin tunes on its own, and that’s where the main surprise comes in — a rare performance of the long-lost Overture to “Rhapsody in Blue,” the so-so 1945 bio pic about the composer.

In a practice that seems terribly quaint today, movies often came with orchestral overtures, just like operas and musicals. The curtain-raiser for “Rhapsody in Blue” was dropped when the film went into wide release and went unheard for more then 50 years, when it surfaced on a recording.

The original score by Warner Brothers music director Ray Heindorf was given by Ira Gershwin to pianist/singer Michael Feinstein, who gave it to Everly. The overture vibrates with the whole glorious aura of vintage Hollywood, when top-drawer studio orchestras were the norm.

It’s jam-packed with wonderful songs and, of course, a nod to the famous work for piano and orchestra that gives the movie its title. Heindorf captures the ...

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December 11, 2011

Send in the Cirque: The Baltimore Symphony tries out new holiday show

Having watched box office numbers decline after several years of its Holiday Spectacular (a product that originated at the Indianapolis Symphony), the BSO tried out Cirque de la Symphony this season. I caught up with it over the weekend.

There's obviously great box office appeal to the cirque idiom; turnout was strong, crowd reaction vociferously enthusiastic.

The folks of Cirque de la Symphonie clearly know how to make it all work in a concert hall setting. It's a smooth operation all around.

The ensemble has some to-notch talent, especially the hand-balancing masters Jarek and Darek. They stole the show with some amazing, strikingly choreographed feats during one of the coolest musical items on the program -- a fusion of "Little Drummer Boy" on top of Ravel's "Bolero," reconfigured into 4/4 time (this was the only time I didn't gag instantly at the sound of "Little Drummer Boy").

Alexander Streltsov and Christine Van Loo did some terrific aerial work to the familiar "Waltz of the Flowers" from "Nutcracker." Acts with hoola hoops, cubes and other props held rewards.

And juggler/mime Vladimir Tsarkov succeeded in providing some charming comic relief, as well as neat tricks.

That said, this holiday version could have used a few tweaks. Several times, I found myself thinking: If that's the kind of show they wanted, they sure got a good one.

First off, it was terrible idea to pair ...

 

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November 22, 2011

Verdict is in on Baltimore Symphony's 'Jeanne d'Arc' at Carnegie Hall

Marin Alsop may not single-handedly reverse the fate of Arthur Honegger's neglected oratorio "Jeanne d'Arc au bucher," but the conductor is certainly giving it a valiant try.

Alsop championed it over the summer at the Oregon Bach Festival, then in London, Baltimore and New York this month.

It is easy to understand Alsop's interest in the score, which combines a whole mess of styles and hefty ideas.

It's also easy to understand why some folks resist the score, precisely because it combines a whole mess of styles and hefty ideas.

Although I am not convinced by all of the music or the text, I think there's some great stuff in there. This is not just an oratorio, but an experience. I found that experience absorbing and, ultimately, rewarding last week when Alsop led the Baltimore Symphony, soloists and choristers in "Jeanne d'Arc au bucher" at Meyerhoff Hall.

It was fun getting to hear in person a piece I only knew from recordings and music history books, and to hear it performed with such commitment and quality.

But you don't need to read more of my opinions. You want to know what the Big City critics thought after the BSO's presentation Saturday night at Carnegie Hall (I did not get to make the trip). So here's their verdict:

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November 18, 2011

Latest NEA grants include Center Stage, BSO, Baltimore Choral Arts

A fresh round of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts includes music and theater organizations in the Baltimore area. Given periodic political threats to the NEA, threats that tend to get louder with each election cycle, any grant must seem doubly valuable these days.

Center Stage received $55,000 "to support the production of 'Gleam,' an adaptation by Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel 'Their Eyes Were Watching God' ... considered one of the jewels of the Harlem Renaissance."

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was awarded ...

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Categories: BSO, Center Stage, Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

BSO makes case for Honegger's quirky oratorio 'Joan of Arc at the Stake'

Joan of Arc did not get a fair trial. But she did received a pretty decent form of posthumous vindication -- sainthood.

Arthur Honegger's 1938 oratorio about the hypocrisy and cruelty surrounding the 15th-century French heroine's fate initially enjoyed a brilliant success for several years. But "Jeanne' d'Arc au bucher" gradually faded into rarity status, if not downright obscurity.

Now comes Marin Alsop, bounding onto the scene, not with a sword, but a white baton, to give Honegger's ambitious work a fresh hearing.

The oratorio is the conductor's calling card du jour -- she has performed it in Oregon and England recently -- and her commitment could be felt every minute Thursday night at the Meyerhoff, where Alsop presided over a large assemblage.

Joining the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra were the Morgan State University Choir, Peabody-Hopkins Chorus, Concert Artists of Baltimore, and Peabody Children's Chorus; two actors; several solo singers; and an ondes martenot player (this early electronic instrument plays a valuable role in the prismatic score).

Alsop is ...

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November 14, 2011

An encore from baritone William Sharp

The last Baltimore Symphony program showcased American music, including Aaron Copland's nostalgic "Old American Songs" with soloist William Sharp. I heard (and read) grumblings after the performance I attended about difficulty hearing the baritone in Meyerhoff Hall.

I heard grumblings after Renee Fleming sang there, too, one more reason why I chalk it up to the acoustics, not the vocalists. I don't think Meyerhoff is so great for solo violin, either, by the way. That said, I had no trouble getting the impact of Sharp's performance, even if a few words were swallowed up by the accompanying orchestral fabric.

I have always been impressed with his interpretive vibrancy, his ability to connect deeply with both words and music. I'd say his students at Peabody are damn lucky.

I thought a little encore from the baritone would be in order, especially for the benefit of anyone who didn't hear the BSO program -- or didn't hear him well enough at one of the performances. Here's a song by ...

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November 11, 2011

Baltimore Symphony program showcases American music, familiar and rare

Marin Alsop's dedication to American music is well known and justly admired. Her interest in Edward Collins' contributions to American music is, I suspect, much less familiar -- just like Edward Collins himself.

Alsop, who has recorded many works by Collins, chose one of them to balance the standard fare by George Gershwin and Aaron Copland in the latest Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program. It's a particularly timely choice, too, given Veterans Day.

The "Tragic Overture," dating form the early 1920s, sums up Collins' response to his experiences fighting in World War I -- he first titled the piece "1914." The score has a dramatic punch, alleviated occasionally with sweeter material, but references to "Taps" near the end leave no doubt as to the underlying message of the music.

The Illinois-born Collins, who died in 1951, enjoyed modest success during his lifetime and may enjoy a degree of renewed interest at some point.

Alsop certainly gave every indication of commitment to the man and his neo-romantic, expertly crafted music Thursday evening at Meyerhoff Hall. She drew from the BSO a dynamic performance of the "Tragic Overture" that needed only ...

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November 7, 2011

Weekend review: Pro Musicia Rara, conductor Lee Mills, composer Jake Runestad

My Sunday afternoon musical outings included a delectable Pro Musica Rara program and a Peabody concert that showcased some very promising talent.

Pro Musica Rara, an organization that deserves much more support, put together a colorful selection of vocal and instrumental items from the personal collection of Jane Austen, supplemented by some items she and her set may well have encountered.

There's a lot to be said for a concert that puts aside weighty matters in favor of good old-fashioned entertainment, especially when the musicians are as engaging as they were on this occasion at Towson University's Fine Arts Center.

Pro Musica was fortunate to have guest artist Julianne Baird (pictured) back for this event; the soprano is a major artist who knows not just how to delivered historically informed performances of early music, but how to eliminate even the slightest trace of the academic while doing so.

Accompanied by Pro Musica's Eva Mengelkoch on the fortepiano, Baird started things in silvery-toned fashion with ...

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October 30, 2011

Petrenko makes energetic return to Baltimore Symphony podium

Vasily Petrenko's guest-conducting debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in early 2009 made a very strong impression. You just knew he would be invited back.

Something about the young Russian's totally in-charge demeanor and personality-filled music-making provided good reason to believe that he was more than the latest bright new thing in classical music. (He's principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.)

Petrenko's looks do give him an immediate marketing advantage, but it's hard to hold onto a podium for very long with photogenic attributes alone. He's the real deal where it counts. His technique is sure, his instincts sound.

If there was a bit of a let-down about Petrenko's return to Baltimore this weekend, the program was perhaps the main drawback. Shostakovich's stunning Symphony No. 8 gave the conductor opportunities for showing off his skills two years ago in a way that the rather diffuse Symphony No. 3 by Rachmaninoff could not this time around.

On Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall, Petrenko ...

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October 25, 2011

Weekend review lineup 3: Chamber Music by Candlelight

My musical weekend wrapped up Sunday night at Second Presbyterian, where members of the BSO and friends offered another program in the series called Chamber Music by Candlelight.

Being free, this presentation of Community Concerts at Second is one of the best bargains in the area. Co-directed by violinist Ivan Stefanovic and clarinetist Edward Palanker, it's also is one of the most colorful. Like the perennially popular chamber music programs at the Spoleto Festival, the Candlelight series mixes together all sorts of instrumental combinations, genres and time periods.

Sunday's lineup was typically wide-ranging and absorbing. The evening started with ...

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October 24, 2011

Baltimore Symphony's OrchKids program expands to third school

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's nationally recognized educational outreach project, OrchKids, is expanding to a third location, Mary Winterling Elementary School.

The pre-K through 5th-grade public school is in the Lexington neighborhood, close to the largest OrchKids operation at Lockerman Bundy Elementary School.

"We're trying to create a linked neighborhood and create an OrchKids campus in West Baltimore," said Dan Trahey, OrchKids director of artistic program development.

"Mary Winterling and Lockerman Bundy are very near to each other. There are some things that Mary Winterling has that are going to be great for the program, like a 500-seat theater and a place where it would be easier to hold outdoor concerts.

"My dream is ...

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

October 22, 2011

Louis Langree leads Baltimore Symphony in vivid night of Mozart, Debussy

Sometimes, the programs that look on paper rather routine turn out to be unusually rewarding. I'd put the latest Baltimore Symphony offering -- standard fare by Mozart and Debussy -- in that category.

Louis Langree, the second French guest conductor to appear with the orchestra this month, drew a combination of elegance, finesse and drama from the musicians Friday night at the Meyerhoff.

The elegance and finesse I was expecting; the drama, not so much. But there it was, right at the opening of Mozart's Symphony No. 31, delivered with true gusto and not a little grit.

All the lyrical charm of the piece emerged, too, but I admired the way Langree had the players really digging into the notes, not just skating across them.

Mozart's supremely refined Violin Concerto No. 3 also received a fine account. Langree's model attentiveness ensured a warm framework for the soloist, James Ehnes.

His sweetness of tone and warmth of phrasing paid especially memorable dividends in the slow movement -- each time the violinist sculpted the arc of the recurring motive, the effect proved ever more poetic.

Two of Debussy's hit-parade contributions concluded the evening -- "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" and "La Mer." Each seemed ...

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October 2, 2011

Baltimore Symphony shines in program with Tortelier, Gutierrez

This weekend's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program has a lot going for it -- spirited conductor, inspired soloist, a vibrant mix of repertoire.

I caught Saturday night's performance at the Meyerhoff (it repeats there on Sunday afternoon). Just about everything seemed to be clicking from the start.

The orchestra clearly likes working with Yan Pascal Tortelier, who guest-conducts here frequently -- his most recent BSO appearance was just last March.

He is no shrinking violet on the podium (at intermission I overheard some students laughing about his "jumping jacks"), but there is an obvious communicative power behind his animated style.

Tortelier gets these players to dig into music with a palpable freshness and enthusiasm, and he did so on this occasion to memorable effect with a well-organized program.

Following a practice that used to be common a century or more ago, the heaviest stuff came first -- in this case, Sibelius' Fifth. Then, after intermission, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 19 and Elgar's "In the South." (Mahler, for one, thought that such an arc was better for audiences, who are at their most alert and attentive at the start of a concert.)

The Sibelius symphony is  ...

 

 

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September 24, 2011

BSO premieres work by James Lee III about Harriet Tubman

In addition to such things as new recording contracts and a nationally recognized education program, Marin Alsop’s influence as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra can be seen in the programming each season.

She typically weaves connective threads through concert repertoire. For 2011-12, that thread involves commemorating extraordinary women, including Joan of Arc in Novembver.

This weekend, Harriet Tubman is the focus, via the premiuere of a work by James Lee III, a Morgan State University professor whose finely crafted music has been gaining increased exposure nationally.

The 12-minute “Chuphshah! Harriet’s Drive to Canaan” was greeted warmly by the audience Friday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, where the program will be repeated Sunday afternoon.

“Chuphshah” (Hebrew for “freedom”) provides a whirlwind portrait of Tubman’s life and struggles, with quotations from vintage tunes that provide guideposts for listeners. Those quotations can’t help but bring to mind Charles Ives, this country’s first great composer; Ives packed his music with melodic reminiscences of Americana.

Lee references spirituals and, to conjure images of the Civil War, snippets of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie.” If the device tends to make the music sound like a soundtrack in search of a documentary, the piece nonetheless succeeds on it own. The orchestration is consistently vivid; harmonies are often richly layered; spicy dissonances here and there deliver a bracing kick.

On Friday, Alsop led the BSO in ... 

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September 20, 2011

'Million Dollar Concert': MacArthur Fellows Marin Alsop, Alisa Weilerstein with BSO

This weekend, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra unexpectedly will have two recipients of MacArthur Fellowship Grants onstage -- cellist Alisa Weilerstein, who is among the 2011 winners; and conductor Marin Alsop, who earned her distinction in 2005.

As you will recall, this award -- commonly called the "genius grant" -- recognizes "originality, creativity, self-direction, and capacity to contribute importantly to society through your work" and comes with $500,000 for the recipient.

That gives the BSO engagement, when Weilsertsin will perform the Dvorak Cello Concerto, an extra cache. "The million dollar concert, right?" the cellist said with a laugh from New York a few hours before the 2011 MacArthur Fellows were announced.

Weilerstein, 29, has been guarding the news of her good fortune since being informed on Sept. 7. She was in Jerusalem at the time.

"It was completely out of the blue," she said. "I was completely floored. I swore loudly on the street when they called me," she added with a laugh. "I figured ...

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September 19, 2011

Monday Musings: The perennial problem of thoughtless audiences

Not to belabor a point, but last Thursday's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert at the Meyerhoff turned out to be such an ordeal that I just have to vent a bit more.

When people tell me that they have stopped going to performances because of audience distractions, I always try to argue that the value of live music-making is still so high that it's worth putting up with the occasional burst of boorish behavior. I am beginning to doubt myself.

The nonsense I witnessed turned this concert into something, well, disconcerting. Time and again, my ears were forced to choose between the profundity of Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony and ...

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September 16, 2011

Marin Alsop, BSO open season with Mahler's epic 'Resurrection' Symphony

The most devout agnostic might easily be shaken to the core by the emotional force of Gustav Mahler's epic Symphony No. 2, nicknamed "Resurrection," the sole piece on the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's first subscription program of the season.

In the space of roughly 80 minutes, the music takes the willing listener from dark places, where suffering and death hover, into sunlit vistas, only to plunge again into even more grave-like depths.

Finally, after cataclysmic outbursts, tortured reflections and almost palpable pain, Mahler offers a mesmerizing, humbling glimpse of "a light that no eye has yet fathomed." In a magical effect, that light is gently spread by a chorus entering pianissimo to sing about how, after a short rest, we shall all rise again.

Whether one embraces that message or not, it is impossible to miss the monumental nature of this work from 1894, which reflects in every possible way the composer's belief that a symphony should encompass a whole world. And in a good performance, it is impossible not to be absorbed in -- and difficult not to be moved by -- the musical drama.

The BSO has done well by the "Resurrection" Symphony over the past decade or so. Former BSO music director Yuri Temirkanov opened (in 2000) and closed (in 2006) his tenure with the piece. His successor, Marin Alsop, who has conducted several Mahler symphonies since taking the helm in 2007, is offering her first local performance of the Second in this week's concerts.

On Thursday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, she led ...

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September 11, 2011

Baltimore Symphony kicks off season with eclectic gala concert

The annual Baltimore Symphony Orchestra gala gives each new season a jolt of cash and energy.

Saturday's event at the Meyerhoff raised $750,000, which has a nice ring to it ($1 million would sound even nicer, but we're still struck in a recession, after all). It also provided a good deal of musical refreshment.

This wasn't the most cohesive of programs, but the eclectic mix chosen by music director Marin Alsop held its rewards.

There was one big classical work, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, featuring Baltimore's favorite daughter, Hilary Hahn, as soloist. And there was a significant premiere, David T. Little's arresting salute to Baltimore, "Charm."

These items were book-ended by fanfares from Aaron Copland (his saluting the "common man") and Joan Tower (hers saluting the "uncommon woman") at the start, and, of all things, a gospel version of the "Hallelujah" Chorus from Handel's "Messiah" at the close.

There was room, too, for ...

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September 10, 2011

Baltimore Symphony's assistant concertmaster gets top post in Hong Kong Philharmonic

Igor Yuzefovich, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's assistant concertmaster since 2005, has been named concertmaster of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

He starts in January, but is scheduled to perform as guest concertmaster in Hong Kong on several occasions before then. He is also expected to play for some BSO programs during the fall.

The Moscow-born Yuzefovich has a long connection to Baltimore. He did a good deal of his musical training at the Peabody Institute, where, in the Preparatory Division, his teachers included the late,  much-missed BSO violinist Leri Slutsky.

Yuzefovich continued into the Conservatory, earning a B.A. and graduate performance diploma.

The violinist frequently worked as a sub or extra player in the BSO prior to being appointed assistant concertmaster by music director Yuri Temirkanov. Yuzefovich has been ...

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August 25, 2011

Live stream of concert with Marin Alsop conducting Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra

Marin Alsop, recently named principal conductor of Brazil's Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, will lead that ensemble's first live-via-Internet concert this weekend.

The performance, from the Sala Sao Paulo, will feature Erich Wolfgang Korngold's lush Violin Concerto, with Renaud Capucon as soloist, and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5.

The live stream is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. EST. (Fans of Alsop in Baltimore, where she is music director of the BSO, may have their hands full with a certain hurricane that day.)

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August 22, 2011

Remembering Darthea Redding Kerr, who worked for Baltimore and National symphony orchestras

Darthea Redding Kerr, who died last week from cancer at the age of 61, was a valued member of the administrative staffs of our region's two major orchestras. Her obituary ran in Monday's Sun.

She served for several years as assistant personnel manager at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (her surname was Olander then).

She went on to serve as executive assistant to the National Symphony Orchestra's music director Leonard Slatkin (she left that post when he took the helm of the Detroit Symphony a few years ago).

Dottie, as she was widely known, was prized in both organizations for her warmth and dedication, and her death has no doubt affected many people.

From an outsider's perspective, I can attest to Dottie's charm. I especially enjoyed seeing her whenever I stopped by the NSO to do an interview with her boss. On one occasion, she took me aside and said something that gave me a particular lift (no, I can't tell divulge it). I'll always enjoy that memory.

 

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, NSO
        

August 1, 2011

Monday Musings: Another summer without substantive music in Baltimore

It's once again that time of year when I whine about the lack of significant, substantive music in Baltimore during the long summer months.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra just folded up its tent until September, having offered what seemed to me to be a particularly uninspiring assortment of off-season fare.

There were the usual appeal-to-the-masses things, such as Saturday's finale of video game music. The penultimate program Friday night at the Meyerhoff was devoted to Gershwin -- yes, another Gershwin program.

(For the record, the BSO played well for conductor/clarinetist Carl Topilow, who revealed a smooth, natural approach to the music. I particularly enjoyed Terrence Wilson's spontaneity and panache in "Rhapsody in Blue." And Kishna Davis, who was in a contagiously exuberant mood, offered some very vibrant singing, especially in "Somebody Loves Me" and "My Man's Gone Now.")

There was a Beatles night along the way this summer and a few other things I can't recall now. I never was terribly interested in the the lineup the BSO put together this year.

Of course, the orchestra's summer season is not about pleasing me (although, come to think of it, that seems like quite a reasonable goal). I understand the need to sell tickets and I understand that experience has led the BSO to conclude that the Baltimore public wants only light, bright fare when the temperature starts to climb.

What I don't understand is ... 

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July 26, 2011

Dariusz Skoraczewski appointed principal cellist of Baltimore Symphony

Dariusz Skoraczewski, whose lush tone, expressive style and solid technique have earned him admiration in a career that encompasses solo, chamber and orchestral music-making, has been named principal cellist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

During the past season, he played several BSO concerts in the principal chair, as did a few other finalists for the post.

Skoraczewski has been assistant principal with the BSO since 2001, a year after he joined the ensemble. His appointment to the top post was made by music director Marin Alsop and an audition committee.

The Warsaw-born cellist completed his studies at the Peabody Conservatory. In addition to his BSO work over the past decade, he has been a member of the excellent Monument Piano Trio, formerly artists-in-residence at the retail/concert venue An Die Musik.

Last year, Skoraczewski’s solo recording, "Cello Populus," on the Analog Arts label showcased his impressive command of challenging works by the likes of ...

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July 21, 2011

Baltimore Symphony's 'Rusty Musicians' outreach coming back to Meyerhoff Hall

Time to get those instruments out of attics and basements and start tuning up for the second annual "Rusty Musicians" night with the Baltimore Symphony at Meyerhoff Hall.

Amateur players age 25 or older who can read music and play any standard orchestra instrument are welcome -- after going through the official application process, of course.

They will join BSO members and music director Marin Alsop in a rehearsal and performance of Tchaikovsky’s "Romeo and Juliet" and a couple of numbers from Bizet’s "Carmen" Suite No. 2.

The event will be held on ...

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June 22, 2011

Adaptistration releases 2011 reports on pay for music directors, orchestra executives

Given all the discussion in this country about executive salaries and bonuses in the corporate world, it's a particularly good time to look at the situation in the symphony orchestra portion of the nonprofit sector.

Thanks to Drew McManus' invaulable orchestral watchdog site Adaptistration, which keeps tabs on such things so efficiently that some of us get too lazy to do the digging ourselves, you can see what the financial picture looks like here in Baltimore and across the country.

People on the podium are still doing quite well, regardless of the recession, according to ... 

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Lee Mills receives BSO-Peabody Conducting Fellowship

Montana-born, 24-year-old Lee Mills, will be the third recipient of the BSO-Peabody Conducting Fellowship, starting in September.

The fellowship, a unique project founded in 2007 by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Peabody Institute, provides a full tuition scholarship to Peabody and mentoring from BSO music director Marin Alsop.

Mills, who just received a graduate performance diploma from Peabody, will earn an artist diploma after the one-year fellowship.

The young conductor has done fine work in the area in collaboration with various Peabody ensembles, including Peabody Opera Theatre. He also managed to assemble the necessary forces on campus to conduct Beethoven's Ninth and other big works last season, no small feat. 

Mill will make his public BSO conducting debut during ...

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June 21, 2011

Good news for Delaware Symphony Orchestra and departing exec Lucinda Williams

Longtime followers of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will fondly recall Lucinda Williams, who did a great job as vice president for artistic and education. She was among the departures during (I'd call them casualties of) the disastrous period when James Glicker was CEO.

Williams went on to become the executive director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, which seems to have been doing fine work. The ensemble, led by David Amado, made a recording with the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet that was nominated last year for a Latin Grammy.

While things were progressing musically, life was taking some unfortunate turns for Williams, who was badly injured in ...

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June 10, 2011

Verdi's 'Requiem' brings Baltimore Symphony season to a memorable close

OK, so a requiem isn't the most obvious way to end a season. Something of a downer, all that singing in Latin about judgment day and eternal rest.

But when you're talking Verdi's "Requiem," you're talking one of the mightiest of masterworks, a fusion of solemnity and all-out operatic drama.

The alternately roaring and whispering score, Verdi's response to the death of his great hero, Italian poet Alessandro Manzoni, hasn't lost a bit of its awesomeness since the premiere of 1874.

That point is being reinforced this week at the Baltimore Symphony's closing concerts of the 2011-12 season. The roughly 80-minute "Requiem" is the sole item on the program.

Verdi was not a religious man in any conventional sense. He may not have believed in a word of the ancient Mass for the Dead. But he turned those words into a music drama so vivid in its pictorial representation, so deep-felt in its examination of what it means to face death, that it could send a shiver through even the most intrepid atheist.   

Thursday night's performance at Meyerhoff Hall started off ...

 

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

Calling local Gleeks: BSO to hold competition for a cappella ensembles

If, like those so-uncool-they're-cool kids on "Glee," you just can't help breaking into nicely harmonized song, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra wants to give you a chance to perform at Meyheroff Symphony.

So, OK, the winner of the BSO's "Orchapella" competition (yeah, go ahead and groan) only gets to do warm-up for the big attraction on July 7, Rockapella. But, hey, it's a foot in the door.

Here's the deal:

If you're a local a cappella ensemble -- defined as 2 to 10 members; all ages -- just ...

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June 3, 2011

Baltimore Symphony delivers colorful program of Golijov, Britten, Brahms

The penultimate program of the Baltimore Symphony's season balances feel-good orchestral pieces by Osvaldo Golijov and Benjamin Britten against a piano concerto by Johannes Brahms packed with darkly emotional drama.

It makes for an engrossing combination.

The orchestra-only portion includes the local premiere of "Sidereus" by Golijov, the Argentine composer with Russian Jewish roots and a knack for writing music of uncommonly broad appeal.

The BSO was among nearly three dozen orchestras involved in commissioning the work, first performed in Memphis last fall (given the score's brevity, it presumably didn't strain the budgets of any of those ensembles).

The forbidding title comes from Galileo's "Sidereus Nuncius" of 1610, a treatise on the astronomer's telescopic observations of our moon and the moons of Jupiter. You might expect such source material to ...

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June 2, 2011

Baltimore Symphony board to be chaired by BGE president/CEO DeFontes

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's board of directors has elected a new chairman: Kenneth W. DeFontes, Jr., president and CEO of Baltimore Gas and Electric Company and a senior vice president with Constellation Energy.

DeFontes, a BSO board member since 2005, will succeed Michael G. Bronfein for a two-year term effective Sept. 21.

In a statement released Thursday DeFontes said he was "honored and privileged to lead one of the nation's most admired orchestras, particularly now as we look forward to the BSO's centennial celebration in 2016."

Bronfein, chairman and CEO of Remedi SeniorCare, has been a major force in the orchestra. He and BSO president/CEO Paul Meecham helped to ...

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June 1, 2011

Mobtown Modern, Baltimore Symphony celebrate music of Osvaldo Golijov

Osvaldo Golijov is one of several compelling contemporary composers who do not get nearly enough attention in Baltimore, so this week's little Golijov confluence involving Mobtown Modern and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is all the more noteworthy.

Mobtown starts it off at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Windup Space with a performance of "Ayre," the Argentine composer's song cycle reflecting on the 15th-century mingling in Spain of three cultures: Jewish, Christian, Arab.

As Golijov has written, "With a little bend, a melody goes from ...

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

May 28, 2011

Baltimore Symphony gives dynamic concert with Carlos Kalmar, Karen Gomyo

Now that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra no longer automatically offers multiple performances of every program -- a matter of scheduling, cost-consciousness, marketing, etc. -- you could easily miss something very cool.

A case in point: Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall was the only chance in Baltimore to catch an unusual combination of repertoire and exceptional music-making. (The program does have one more outing, Saturday at the BSO’s second home in Bethesda.)

Back on the podium was one of the BSO’s most frequent guest conductors, Carlos Kalmar, who has been doing great work with the Oregon Symphony for the past eight years (he led the ensemble in a highly-praised Carnegie Hall debut earlier this month).

He enjoys an obvious chemistry with the Baltimore players, and that was evident at the start Friday in a lovingly shaped account of the second movement from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3.

Typically, a portion of a Mahler symphony is not heard out of context; the public expects to hear Mahler complete these days. But Benjamin Britten, having developed a taste for the composer’s work at a time and place -- the UK, 1930s -- when Mahler got little respect or attention, decided to arrange a movement from the Third Symphony for reduced orchestra. Britten hoped this would help more people experience Mahler.

This particular movement -- Britten used Mahler’s original title for it, “What the Wild Flowers Tell Me” -- offers an endearing episode of gentle, even folksy lyricism, qualities that Kalmar’s rhythmic elasticity enhanced. The BSO didn’t look or sound all that reduced, but played with admirable transparency. The woodwinds articulated with particular warmth and charm.

If the Mahler item suggests something akin to a pretty postcard view of nature, the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius gives you ...

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May 18, 2011

BSO receives $100,000 grant from NEA to support next season's tours

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in support of two domestic tours next season. Although the BSO has received NEA grants in the past, the only other one this large came in 1999.

The money will help fund the orchestra’s visits to New York’s Carnegie Hall in November, and to the West Coast in March and April, the BSO’s first visit to that region of the country since 1988 and the first with music director Marin Alsop.

“The NEA grant will also assist the efforts of the BSO to bring our programming and the innovation that characterizes Marin Alsop’s vision for the orchestra to a wider audience on both the East and West coasts,” said BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham.

The tours will feature works related to ...

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May 14, 2011

Impassioned evening with Schumann, Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony

Robert Schumann could have been the perfect poster child for musical romanticism.

He was intensely passionate about everything; capable of composing exceedingly beautiful and turbulent music; and prone to severe mood swings. That he also ended up certifiably insane seals the deal.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is peering into Schumann’s troubled mind with two programs — one all-music, the other a music-and-talk presentation complete with guest psychiatrist. The first was performed Thursday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and will be repeated Sunday afternoon; the second will be given there Saturday night.

Even without any detailed discussion on Thursday, conductor Marin Alsop’s few words to the audience at the start of the concert neatly set the stage for considering Schumann in light of his mental illness. As she pointed out, knowing the composer’s fate — he died at the age of 46 in an asylum — makes it difficult to hear his music without sensing his bipolar personality.

It was quite fun on Thursday to wallow in Schumann’s anxieties, staring with the “Manfred” Overture, a piece inspired by the guilt-ridden hero — and celebrated romantic symbol — of Byron’s epic poem. This is wonderfully tense, unsettled music, and Alsop had the orchestra digging into that character effectively.

Schumann dubbed his Symphony No. 1 “Spring.” On the surface, it is all about the happy little buds and bees of May. But the slow introduction to the first movement suggests a bigger, deeper view of nature and its power, the sort of view that Gustav Mahler would explore decades later in his profound symphonies.

Speaking of Mahler, ...

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

May 10, 2011

To announce or not to announce an indisposition before a performance

Over the weekend, the Baltimore Symphony orchestra performed Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde," one of the most profound works in the repertoire. It depends as much on the two vocal soloists as on the orchestra and conductor to make its full musical and emotional impact.

I had high hopes for the tenor, Simon O'Neill, considering his strong track record in hefty operatic roles, including Wagnerian, and impressive places where he has sung them, including Bayreuth. On Friday night, he didn't sound so good.

I remember thinking that he must have been indisposed, especially when he reached the final high A and, unless my ears deceived me, took it an octave lower.

However, no announcement was made concerning his health, so I chalked it up to just another tenor strained by Mahler's cruel demands (I've heard my share). But then I learned something very interesting from a treasured reader of this blog (y'all are treasured, of course, in this era of obsessive page-view-click-counters).

The comment-poster attended that same performance and stayed for the post-concert chat with BSO music director Marin Alsop. He says Alsop disclosed that O'Neill ...

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May 8, 2011

Baltimore Symphony continues Mahler-centric season with 'Das Lied'

For Gustav Mahler, even before he learned of his own life-threatening heart condition when he was in his 40s, death was always a lurking presence. Funeral marches haunt his earliest symphonies.

But the composer saw in the earth's continual renewal a way of confronting mortality. For Mahler, there was something in the distance, in the deepest blue of the sky, that suggested a destination point -- and another beginning.

In "Das Lied von der Erde," a collection of ancient Chinese poems about the transitory nature of life, Mahler opened up a window into his deepest thinking. Along with Mahler’s profoundly moving Symphony No. 9, the cycle of six songs that makes up “Das Lied” serves as a kind of self-eulogy for the composer. If this were the only work we had by this extraordinary man, it would be enough to earn him a place among the greatest of creative artists.

During his lifetime, only a fraction of the music world acknowledged him as a major composer. It was his conducting talent that earned him international fame, not his epic symphonies. Today, Mahler, who famously said “my time will come,” is as much a standard part of the orchestral repertoire as Beethoven, Brahms or Tchaikovsky.

Mahler’s legacy has been receiving extra attention during the 2010-11 season, which coincides with the anniversaries of his birth in Bohemia 150 years ago, and of his death 100 years ago in Vienna -- on May 18, 1911.

For its part, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has made a Mahler a major theme of its programming. The latest example, which has one more presentation Sunday afternoon, strikes both biographical and elegiac themes.

The major item is the hour-plus “Das Lied von der Erde." BSO music director Marin Alsop has paired it with what, at first glance, may seem an unlikely companion for the concert’s first half ....

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May 6, 2011

Baltimore Symphony disputes info in much-linked Web story about struggling orchestras

A story making its way through cyberspace this week (it started at 247wallst.com and was quickly picked up by other sitesd) offers a snapshot of the "most cash-strapped classical music organizations."

But the writer, Jonathan Berr, used outdated and misleading information, at least when it came to including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on that list.  

In case you've come across that article (I rather hate to fuel the buzz, but I guess I should provide a link to it), there are a few details you may want to consider.

The BSO is shown with a deficit of $5.3 million. But, as BSO president/CEO Paul Meecham points out, "that's two-year-old information. We balanced the budget for 2009-2010 and we are on track to balance the budget for '10-'11. We have no accumulated debt. It's unfortunate that the article was written by a journalist who did not make an effort to check the information. A quick call from the writer would have clarified things, but he didn't do that. It's very frustrating."

(Berr could also have checked out my January blog post on the BSO's financial status -- doesn't everybody hang on my every word?)

The story claimed the the BSO "is faced with ...

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April 29, 2011

German conductor Cornelius Meister makes impressive Baltimore Symphony debut

Wow. That sure was fun.

Thursday night's Baltimore Symphony concert at Meyerhoff Hall introduced the audience to Cornelius Mesiter, a barely-into-his-30s conductor from Germany. I hope he comes back soon.

I must confess that a tinge of skepticism came over me when I first saw the lithe, boyishly handsome Meister practically jog onto the stage, a big smile on his face. Oh no, thought I. Way too eager. But one measure into Smetana's Overture to "The Bartered Bride," such silly doubts vanished. It was clear this guy is for real.

Meister, whose various posts include chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony, drew an exceptionally polished and expressive response from the BSO.

It was cool to hear the strings flying through the fugal passages of the overture with such flair, to hear the woodwinds producing so much color and charm. There was a spark, I'm telling you, an honest-to-goodness spark. And it never dimmed.

At the end of the evening came a radiant account of  ...

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April 1, 2011

Baltimore Symphony celebrates 'inner child' with OrchKids, Corigliano, Prokofiev

Everybody knows that classical music needs to attract the interest of the next generation, but that's a lot easier said than done.

Thanks in large measure to the startling success of the initiative known as El sistema in Venezuela, which has raised armies of youth orchestras and groomed the likes of superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel, there is a model for organizations in this country to emulate as they seek to reach the very young.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has been out front in this effort with OrchKids, the nationally recognized after-school program that now has more than 250 elementary school students in West Baltimore learning to play instruments.

It's impossible to know how many will go on to master those instruments, or even to appreciate symphony orchestras, when they get older. But OrchKids has such noble goals that you can't help but root for the enterprise and every single one of the young people participating in it.

There was a chance to do actual rooting on Thursday night at Meyerhoff Hall, where dozens of OrchKids members took the stage with the BSO to kick off a program that was all about celebrating youth and, as conductor Marin Alsop put it, "the inner child in all of us." The program will be repeated there Sunday afternoon, when I hope the turnout will be a lot bigger than it was for the first performance.

On Thursday, Alsop, whose own seed money helped get OrchKids off the ground a few years ago, led the eager performers in the premiere of ...

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March 26, 2011

Your last-minute weekend musical suggestions

Having been out of town for several days, I quickly fell far, far behind when I got back to work on Friday. Among the many tasks left undone was a list of suggestions for your weekend listening pleasure.

However, this means that I can actually recommend one of the items from first-hand experience -- the Baltimore Symphony's program, which I heard Friday night at the Meyerhoff. There's a repeat at 8 on Saturday night at Strathmore, so, if you feel you can beat the onslaught of snow (oh, please, they've GOT to be kidding about that), the drive will be worth it.

For one thing, you'll get to hear a wonderfully refined, yet still passionate, account of the Grieg Piano Concerto from soloist Orion Weiss. There's something quite distinctively poetic in his tone and his phrasing; the evergreen music seemed to reveal lots of fresh growth as he played. The pianist enjoyed smooth rapport with conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, who drew warm, dynamic playing from the BSO. Cello, flute and horn solos purred beautifully.

The program also offered terrifically animated, nuanced performances of two prismatic masterpieces: Ravel's "Valses nobles et sentimentales" and Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra. The orchestra really does sound great these days. That sound would benefit from more strings (the BSO remains under ideal personnel size for budget reasons), but there's still an admirable richness, clarity, polish and, above all, expressive weight from these musicians on a regular basis.

If you're staying in Baltimore Saturday night, the Peabody Institute looks like the place to be at 8 p.m. There, Edward Polochick will lead his Concert Artists of Baltimore in a Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, a work likely to bring out the best of this engaging conductor's gifts. The concert also includes the "Emperor" Concerto, with soloist Clinton Adams, so this means one big Beethoven blast.

Sunday's many options include two choral events in Baltimore churches that should be well worth checking out -- or Czeching out, in one case. At 4 p.m.,  Christ Lutheran Church in the Inner Harbor will be the site of a world premiere presented by  ...

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March 20, 2011

Baltimore Symphony welcomes conductor Mario Venzago, violinist Baiba Skride

Mario VenzagoWhen I got here nearly 11 years ago, one of the greatest musical rewards was experiencing the partnership of Yuri Temirkanov and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

One of the next greatest was hearing the BSO with a then-frequent podium guest, Mario Venzago, who had quite a magical way with him -- musically and personally.

Venzago was back over the weekend and, judging by Saturday night's performance at the Meyerhoff, he hasn't lost his knack with these players.

In Schubert's Symphony No. 5, the conductor coaxed a sound that truly danced, sang, sighed, floated -- just as he has done on previous occasions with works by Mozart (Schubert's Fifth could almost have been Mozart's Forty-Second).

How does Venzago do that? He gets a refinement of tone and dynamics from the BSO that no one else in my time here has quite matched. It really is a beautiful thing to hear. The poetic charms and lyrical warmth of the Schubert symphony emerged most tellingly under his fluent guidance.

For Beethoven's Fifth, Venzago had the strings going easy on the vibrato, an effective touch. He wasn't just after sonic nuance, though, but went for the score's famous drama in compelling fashion, too. The performance proved fresh and stirring.

In between came one of the glories of 20th century music ...

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March 6, 2011

Weekend whirlwind, round 1: Baltimore Symphony's Russian richness

It has been a whirlwind weekend of concerts so far for me. I'll post reports as quickly as I can, despite being ever so annoyingly  under the weather -- imagine someone of my stature catching something as dead common as a common cold. Here's the first round:

Folks who, somehow, didn't get their fill of Russian music during Yuri Temirkanov's years with the Baltimore Symphony can't go hungry these days. Turns out that Marin Alsop has quite a pronounced interest in that repertoire, too.

The latest example is her program this weekend, which offers two Prokofiev symphonies, No. 1 and No. 6, along with Rachmaninoff's golden Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. It's a rich, rewarding combination. (If you haven't heard it, there's another performance Sunday afternoon at Meyerhoff Hall.)

As I've noted before, the BSO sounds really fine these days. Alsop's emphasis on technical discipline has resulted in an ensemble that, time after time, sounds admirably cohesive and alert.

There's a lot to be said for polish and discipline, and those qualities shone brightly Friday night in the performance of Prokofiev's first symphony, the one called "Classical." The playing, especially by the violins, was wonderfully lithe; the whole orchestra exuded color as Alsop focused on the abundant character of the symphony, its whimsy, its buoyancy and, at least to my ears, what seems like a tinge of nostalgia.

Symphony No. 6 is from a whole different world of emotion. Because it has a finale containing a good deal of melodic drive, the score is sometimes considered ...

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March 1, 2011

Baltimore Symphony to showcase 'revolutionary women' during 2011-12 season

"Revolutionary women," including Joan of Arc and Harriet Tubman, will be showcased during the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 2011-2012 season, which also packs in music by some relatively revolutionary men, too.

BSO music director Marin Alsop, something of a revolutionary herself in a profession still dominated by males, will lead the orchestra in performances of Arthur Honegger’s rarely encountered 1935 oratorio “Jeanne d’Arc au Boucher” (“Joan of Arc at the Stake”) in November.

“The impetus for this is that 2012 is thought to be the 600th anniversary of the birth of Joan of Arc,” Alsop said. “She fascinates me in a number of ways. It seemed to be the perfect time to program the Honegger work, which is such a cool piece.”

The oratorio, which will involve the Morgan State University Choir, Peabody-Hopkins Chorus and Peabody Children’s Chorus, will also be presented at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Later in the season, the French visionary will again receive attention in a program that combines a showing of Carl Dreyer’s highly valued 1928 silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” with the performance of a contemporary score by Richard Einhorn, “Voices of Light.”

That program will be featured on the BSO’s visit to Oregon and California in March 2012, the orchestra’s first domestic tour since 2000. The trip will include a three-day residency at the University of California, Berkeley.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to promote the terrific orchestra we have,” Alsop said, “and to be ambassadors of our region to another part of the U.S.”

With Joan of Arc as a centerpiece for the season, “I then tried to build my programs from there, focusing not just on women’s issues, but issues of oppression and justice,” Alsop said, “and focusing on women in roles as creators or soloists.”

The struggles and aspirations of Harriet Tubman inspired “Chuphshah! Harriet's Drive to Canaan,” an orchestral work by Baltimore-based composer James Lee III that will receive its world premiere in September.

Next season will also see the BSO’s first performance of a 1990 work by Scottish composer James MacMillan, “The Confession of Isobel Gowdie,” which refers to a 17th-century Scottish woman who admitted to being a witch and was apparently burned at the stake (something of a subtext for the season).

Music composed by women is on the lineup, including Jennifer Higdon's 2010 Grammy Award-winning Percussion Concerto and a piece that could serve as the season’s motto: Joan Tower's “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman.”

Alsop will tackle several hefty works from the standard repertoire, including

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

February 25, 2011

Baltimore Symphony presents lively concert version of 'The Magic Flute'

There is some risk involved when orchestras present opera in a concert format. They've got to keep the operatically inclined portion of the audience from feeling short-changed by the lack of scenery and costumes, but they also have to keep the operatically-averse portion of the same audience from feeling threatened or bored.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra strikes a pretty neat balance with its semi-staged version of Mozart's "The Magic Flute," which has generated strong interest at the box office. (Final performances are Saturday and Sunday.)

It helps, of course, that this is a very popular opera by a very popular composer. By the same token, such familiar fare still needs some freshness, even when performed concert-style. There's a good deal of flair in the BSO's version, which features engaging, vocally reliable singers, a few props and atmospheric lighting.

This is no stand-and-sing affair, but includes lots of effective stage business (bits involving rope are particularly amusing), directed by Michael Ehrman, a veteran of many a staged opera production.

A key asset in this venture is

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Opera
        

February 21, 2011

The virtue of musical comfort food, tastefully served up by Baltimore Symphony

Last weekend's Baltimore Symphony program was the sort some folks might dismiss as too populist, not really worth the attention of sophisticated classical music lovers. If you run into anyone of that ilk, feel free to give 'em a slap for me.

I thought it was terrific to get such a greatest hit as Rossini's "William Tell" Overture served as an appetizer for still more musical comfort food -- Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2. This kind of program is good for the soul every now and then.

"William Tell" is a splendid overture from any angle, and would still be a classic if it's final section had never ended up being borrowed to give "The Lone Ranger" a theme song.

I was thinking Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall that the music's long-ago radio/TV association probably doesn't even register with most of today's text-me generation. So, before too long, orchestras will be able to program the overture without the slightest worry that titters and chit-chat might break out during a performance when the famous trumpet fanfare erupts.

In the age-diverse crowd sitting around me on Friday, I noticed only a few older concertgoers nudge each other and break into smiles. The high school/college guys showed no change of posture or expression. But I digress.

Rossini poured some wonderful stuff into this score, and guest conductor

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

February 14, 2011

Marin Alsop named principal conductor of Sao Paulo orchestra, will remain with BSO

Marin Alsop, who is used to holding down more than one job at a time, has been named principal conductor of the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in Brazil.

Her five-year contract starts with the 2012-13 season and calls for 10 weeks of conducting each season.

Alsop, who succeeds Yan Pascal Tortelier in the Sao Paulo post, plans to remain as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which she joined in 2007.

She is slated to remain in the BSO post until 2015 and has been spending 14-16 weeks with the BSO per season. (During her first few years here, she was concurrently principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in England.)

In a press conference in Sao Paulo on Saturday (photo above), Alsop said her goal is

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

February 13, 2011

A few more words about the Baltimore Symphony's Rachmaninoff/Bruckner program

If you're reading this before 3 p.m. Sunday and you haven't caught the Baltimore Symphony's latest program, go for it. (The final performance will be at that hour at the Meyerhoff.) For one thing, who knows when we'll get more Bruckner around here?

The opportunity to hear a finely considered, powerfully delivered account of that composer's Sixth Symphony conducted by Juanjo Mena is reason enough to consider this a major winter gift from the BSO. Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, which rounds out the bill, isn't nearly so uncommon, but it receives a worthy outing from soloist Yuja Wang.

Or at least that was how it all sounded Friday night at the Meyerhoff. I must say I wasn't expecting such a big crowd there -- not after intermission, at any rate, when the Bruckner was slated. Maybe audiences aren't as afraid of his music as some programmers seem to think. The symphony was heard, for the most part, with

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January 27, 2011

A little more news leaks out about Baltimore Symphony's 2011-12 season

Earlier this month, Carnegie Hall's 2011-12 season release provided some enticing info about the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's season, too. Now comes news from California, where the Philharmonic Society of Orange County's '11-'12 announcement reveals a little more about the BSO's plans, also enticing.

It has been no secret that the orchestra will do its first beyond-New York tour with music director Marin Alsop next season -- not Europe or Asia, but the West Coast of the U.S., which isn't too shabby.

Now we know that the repertoire will include

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

January 21, 2011

Baltimore Symphony focuses on Russian repertoire with Marin Alsop, Kirill Gerstein

In the years since Yuri Temirkanov stepped down as music director of the Baltimore Symphony, the orchestra has dipped sparingly into the Russian repertoire he favored and achieved so many memorable performances with during his tenure.

kirill gersteinHis successor, Marin Alsop, understandably thought it a good idea to re-balance the programs. This season, though, she clearly threw the gate wide open again, and the likes of Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff came bounding back into the picture in a big way.

The latest program, which repeats in full on Sunday, finds Alsop addressing one of Temirkanov's specialties, the gripping Symphony No. 5 by Shostakovich. Two Rachmaninoff items fill out the concert.

The Shostakovich work will also be the focus of Alsop's "Off the Cuff" presentation Friday at Strathmore and Saturday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall -- a discussion of the symphony's turbulent history will be followed by a complete performance of the score at these concerts.

On Thursday night at Meyerhoff, the BSO did not always sound totally settled into the groove. There was occasional roughness of articulation and loss of tone quality, both within sections of the ensemble and from several solo players. Still, there was enough expressive fuel to generate an absorbing experience.

The opening Rachmaninoff half of the evening got off to a

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January 19, 2011

Rebounding from deficit year, Baltimore Symphony announces balanced 2009-2010 budget

After posting a $5.6 million deficit for the 2008-2009 season, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced Wednesday that a balanced budget was achieved for the 2009-2010 season. That fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31, 2010, yielded an operating surplus of $4,116. This is the third balanced budget in the past four years.

"We're moving in a cautiously forward direction," said BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham. "It feels very different from last year."

Although there were sufficient cash reserves to cover the '08-'09 deficit, the challenges of balancing the '09-'10 budget during the lingering recession proved considerable. Cost-reduction measures were taken across the board.

The budget was reduced to

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Marin Alsop, Baltimore Symphony returning to Carnegie Hall for Honegger work

Carnegie Hall announces its season before the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra does, which means I can now report a little something about the 2011-12 lineup:

In November, Marin Alsop and the BSO will perform Arthur Honegger's extraordinary oratorio from the 1930s, "Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher" ("Joan of Arc at the Stake").

This enticing news is contained in the Carnegie season announcement, released Wednesday. Local fans of the orchestra will, I assume, hear the oratorio a few days before the New York date. The BSO's most recent Carnegie appearances were last November, when Alsop led the orchestra in two well-received concerts. 

It's obvious that a few details about the 2011 program have yet to be settled at the BSO, since the Carnegie calendar listing looks like this:

BALTIMORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage

Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 8:00 p.m.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Marin Alsop, Music Director and Conductor

Tenor to be announced

Tenor to be announced

Bass to be announced

Soprano to be announced

Alto to be announced

Chorus to be announced

Children's chorus to be announced

Additional artists to be announced

Stay tuned for the filling in of the blanks when the BSO reveals its full 2011-12 lineup in the weeks ahead.

UPDATE: I have since learned that Alsop will first conduct "Jeanne d'Arc" in July at the Oregon Bach Festival in a semi-staged version directed by James Robinson, artistic director of Opera Theatre of Sant Louis. That version will be re-created in Baltimore and NY. Among the soloists slated for the  Oregon presentation is soprano Tamara Wilson, who has done notable work for Washington National Opera. 

AP PHOTO OF A PORTRAIT OF JOAN OF ARC

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

January 15, 2011

Baltimore Symphony explores the inner child and outer space in fun program

When people in the classical music industry say -- and they do -- that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra does cool stuff, the sort invariably tagged outside-the-box, they're talking about programs like the one this weekend.

Music director Marin Alsop put together a mix of repertoire inspired by thoughts of outer space, a mix that could have turned into something just a little, well, spacey. But it all held together Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall and seemed to connect strongly with the sizable audience. (There are repeats Saturday night at Strathmore, Sunday afternoon at Meyerhoff.)

On paper, it looked like the sort of thing saved for outdoor summer concerts -- the Suite from "Star Wars" by John Williams; a multi-media work based on a children's book, "Icarus at the Edge of Time" by popular science guy Brian Greene, with a score by Philip Glass and a high-tech film by the British team of Al and Al; and, as a curtain-raiser, a recent work by British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage that conjures up imagery of a menacing asteroid.

But this is a regular subscription program, and Alsop treats it as seriously as an evening of Brahms. As for "Star Wars," the conductor takes

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

January 14, 2011

Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh: Another (musical) side to the rivalry

Sorry, but I’m having a little trouble getting all anti-Pittsburgh this week, even if the rest of Baltimore has turned into a nest of evil-wishers. I can’t help it. I kind of like Pittsburgh. It’s got such a cool location on the rivers, such interesting neighborhoods, such friendly people. Just because they have a football team that isn’t worthy to stand in the same arena as the noble Ravens, there’s no reason to hate all Pittsburghians (Pittsburgh-ites? Pitts-ters?).

But with this football rivalry thing in high gear, I figured it was a good time to see how the two cities’ major classical music teams stack up against each other.

I think it would be neat if the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra could have a real battle of the bands at halftime during Saturday’s big game. That way we’d really find out who can kick Beethoven down the field with the biggest fortissimo. Meanwhile, let’s see how some of the stats measure up.

The BSO and PSO both have music directors with two-syllable first names beginning with ‘Ma-’ – Manfred Honeck in Pittsburgh, Marin Alsop in Baltimore. Spooky. They are both good talkers about music, and they both can generate exciting concerts, but the edge clearly goes to Alsop because – well, ‘A’ comes before ‘H.’ And, besides, at 56, she’s four years older than Manfred, and everyone knows conductors get more distinguished and eminent as they age, so we’re talking a 4-point advantage: Baltimore.

Let’s look at some finances. The PSO has a budget of about

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Categories: BSO, Classical, Clef Notes
        

January 10, 2011

It's an unofficial Philip Glass week in Baltimore, thanks to BSO, Mobtown Modern

Nothing like a little synergy.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has one of its cool programs of the season on the schedule for the weekend at Meyerhoff and Strathmore, featuring the multi-media work "Icarus at the Edge of Time," based on the popular children's book by science-demystifier Brian Greene.

Glass composed the score for the 2010 piece, which has a narrative devised by Greene and celebrated playwright David Henry Hwang and a film created by the imaginative British team known as Al and Al. Marin Alsop conducts. NPR's Scott Simon will narrate.

You can read more about "Icarus" elsewhere on the Sun's Web site.

To help you get in the mood for that program, Mobtown Modern will offer some cool Glass, too, Wednesday night at the Windup Space. The program is devoted to a complete performance of

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December 8, 2010

For the classical music lover on your holiday gift list, Part I

If you've got a classical music lover on your gift list this year, I've got some suggestions that might earn you an appreciative response. I'll be posting them over the next few days.

To start, how about something nice and local? There's a just-released recording by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marin Alsop.

This one completes a Dvorak series for the Naxos label with a very appealing performance of the composer's Symphony No. 6.

Right from the start, it's a winner, as Alsop and the ensemble pull you gently, but firmly, into one of Dvorak's sunniest worlds.

This work doesn't get nearly the attention of the 7th, 8th and 9th symphonies, but it should. (Those pieces are on the BSO's first two Dvorak CDs.) The Sixth offers a feast of ingratiating melody and prismatic orchestration, qualities that Alsop brings out effectively.

Hallmarks of the music director's BSO tenure --

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Categories: BSO, Classical, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

December 6, 2010

Now is the time for all Marin Alsop fans to smack down the competition

Hey, I know it may sound silly to those of you past the age of 16, but another "Celebrity Smackdown" has begun here at the august Sun. And, just like last year, Marin Alsop, the kinetic and innovative music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, is in the running, so attention must be paid.

As a bona fide celebrity here, Alsop doesn't get any say in this, of course. Our cyber planners choose Maryland celebs to throw into the fray, randomly select the pairings to kick off the contest, and then gleefully wait to see who's still standing when the dust settles.

(If you were to argue that this whole thing means absolutely nothing, I wouldn't mount much of a rebuttal, but it sure got a lot of people fired up and mouse-clicking away last year. I imagine it will do the same again.)

You may recall that Alsop came in second last year, which was pretty cool, considering all the sports and TV personalities the conductor was up against as the contest advanced. This year, the first round pits Alsop against  

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

November 26, 2010

Marin Alsop among volunteers serving meals to homeless on Thanksgiving

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director Marin Alsop joined students, faculty, staff and friends of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the 21st annual "Project Feast" on Thanksgiving Day.

The event, held at Booker T. Washington Middle School, provided dinner for homeless and disadvantaged persons in West Baltimore. Clothing and non-perishable food items were also given out during the day. Free eye and blood pressure tests were offered as well. 

Alsop was joined by

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

November 19, 2010

BSO cellist denied entry to UK to perform free concert with chamber group

While we're all busy obsessing over aggressive pat downs (a.k.a. gropings) at American airports, consider another kind of hassle experienced by Kristin Ostling, a cellist with the Baltimore Symphony.

Ostling is on leave from the BSO this season and, among other pursuits away from her pals at Meyerhoff Hall, expected to play a free gig at the University of Leeds in England with the Carpe Diem Quartet. But last weekend, she didn't make it past UK Border Agency officials at Heathrow.

The Guardian's Tom Service reports that Ostling

was questioned for eight hours by officials at Terminal 3 ... refused entry to the country, forced to sign written statements, and sent back on a plane to Chicago. The reason? Her performance at the University of Leeds ... for which she was receiving no fee, and no expenses, either, was deemed to be 'work', and she was therefore not allowed in on her visa. The extraordinary thing is that

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November 16, 2010

Baltimore Symphony to offer second BSO Academy in June; free registration before Dec. 15

The first week-long BSO Academy -- the Baltimore Symphony's outreach to amateur musicians -- was a big hit with participants last June. Registration is now open for the second Academy, which will run June 12-18, 2011.

The schedule includes master classes, individual lessons and sectional and full orchestral rehearsals, culminating in a public concert at Meyerhoff Hall by Academy members and BSO musicians, conducted by Marin Alsop.

That concert will offer a hefty program: Bernstein’s "Candide" Overture; pieces by Rimsky-Korsakov, Ravel and Hindemith; and nothing less than

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A look at other reviews of Baltimore Symphony's Carnegie Hall visit

For any orchestra, a New York visit is a chance to shine (or, of course, bomb) in front of a different audience and different critics, as well as assorted industry bigwigs.

Not every ensemble gets more than one shot at this in a given season. It says something about the Baltimore Symphony's stature that it played two Carnegie Hall gigs over the weekend, offering more or less standard fare Saturday night, then a gospel version of Handel's "Messiah" Sunday afternoon.

The New York Times weighed in favorably on both. Allan Kozinn, covering Saturday's performance, said "The orchestra sounds terrific these days." In Barber's Second Essay for Orchestra, "the woodwinds played with uncommon richness and character, and the string sound was gracefully shaped." Kozinn described listeners "wrapped in the sheer beauty of the sound" during the BSO's account of Beethoven's "Eroica" in Mahler's arrangement ("a fascinating alternative view").

There were high marks, too, for Simon Trpceski's "galvanizing account" of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3. As for Alsop, Kozinn found that

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Baltimore Symphony heats up Carnegie Hall with gospel version of 'Messiah'

Computer woes kept me from filing a report on the Baltimore Symphony's second concert in New York over the weekend, but I'm finally back in business (my review of the first concert ran earlier). So here's the story on Sunday's event: 

Baltimore audiences were introduced to the gospel-ized version of Handel's "Messiah" -- "Too Hot to Handel" -- a few seasons ago. The kinetic work, a brainchild of BSO music director Marin Alsop given life by arrangers Bob Christianson and Gary Anderson in 1992, received its Carnegie Hall debut Sunday afternoon. It may be a little early to hear any version of "Messiah," a work that will be omnipresent closer to the holidays, but this take on the venerable oratorio is awfully hard to resist. If you don't find yourself getting at least a little buzzed by the beat, there's probably no hope for your musical soul.

Alsop has an extraordinary flair for genre-crossing; she's totally at ease in jazz, rock, gospel, you name it. That ability ensured a persuasive performance on Sunday. Even the weaker portions of the score, when some stylistic devices get repetitive or seem a little forced, gained strength under Alsop's astute guidance.

The BSO had a tremendous advantage in putting the piece across -- more than

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November 5, 2010

Baltimore Symphony performs music by Beethoven (sort of) and both Mahlers

Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony tended to some unfinished business Thursday night -- the never-completed Tenth Symphonies by Beethoven and Mahler.

For good measure, there was also some new business, in the form of rarely heard songs by Mahler's wife and, just as rare, a Beethoven overture touched up by Mahler.

It added up to one of the BSO's most interesting programs of the season, yet it was performed only once at Meyerhoff Hall. Odd. All that effort for so little return. (Music by both Mahlers will turn up in this weekend's Off the Cuff program that includes a reenactment of Mahler's therapy session with Freud.)

Although I loved the novelty of Thursday's concert, I kept thinking of a more rewarding lineup. Instead of just the first movement of Mahler's Tenth, the movement he essentially finished, I wish we could have heard a version of the whole symphony as completed by Deryck Cooke (or one of the other musicologists who have taken the challenge), based on Mahler's substantial sketches.

Having a full Mahler Tenth as the main item on the bill would still have allowed room for Barry Cooper's conjectural attempt at fashioning the first movement of what might have been Beethoven's Tenth. Or, better yet, the companion piece could have been Luciano Berio's "Rendering," a fascinating work from 1989 that takes as its starting point sketches Schubert left behind for a Tenth Symphony. Ah, well, maybe next time.

Alsop got things started Thursday with

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In today's Sun: Reviewing high 'Hair' in DC, previewing BSO's Mahler/Freud program

For the benefit of my cherished readers who seek wisdom and solace only on this humble blog, I thought I should mention that you can find elsewhere in the Sun a couple of items that may be of interest.

The Baltimore Symphony's intriguing reenactment of Mahler's session in 1910 with a budding shrink named Sigmund Freud promises a lively look into the lives and minds of some very cool figures. I've got a preview in today's paper.

And, for something completely different, I've also got a review of "Hair," the iconic '60s musical that has the Kennedy Center Opera House jumping.

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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

November 2, 2010

Indisposition season strikes early, affecting soloist for Baltimore Symphony program

Usually, illness-caused cancellations don't start hitting orchestras and opera companies until the winter, when flu bugs seem to target singers, instrumental soloists and conductors with particular vengeance. But the indisposition season has begun to affect our part of the world already.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced Tuesday that mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke has had to cancel her scheduled appearance with the ensemble and music director Marin Alsop on Thursday, when she was to have performed rarely encountered songs by Alma Mahler, wife of Gustav.

(Gustav famously made Alma give up composing when they married, but relented after a session with Sigmund Freud -- a topic that will be explored in greater detail over the weekend in a BSO program called "Analyze This").

Stepping in on short notice for Thursday's concert is

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October 23, 2010

Mikhail Simonyan, Gilbert Varga make impressive debuts with Baltimore Symphony

The guest artist roster for the Baltimore Symphony's 2010-11 season isn't exactly overloaded with celebrity names, so Midori's scheduled appearance this week stood out on the schedule.

But the celebrated violinist made a late-in-the-game cancelation, leaving the orchestra to scramble for someone to take her place in the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1. What a cool replacement he turned out to be.

Mikhail Simonyan, Russian-born and New York-based, is the real deal, a young fiddler with remarkable technical aplomb and interpretive eloquence.

His memorable BSO debut coincides with that of Hungarian conductor Gilbert Varga, who's the real deal, too. There's one more performance of the all-Russian program Saturday night at the Meyerhoff; I'd say it's worth changing plans for.

The Shostakovich concerto is, like so much of the composer's output, very personal, almost uncomfortably so. You can sense the darkness and dread of the Stalin era hanging over the score; you can feel also the struggle of an artist intent on following his own path toward the light.

On Friday night, Simonyan

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October 20, 2010

Midori cancels Baltimore Symphony engagement due to back injury

This week's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert was to have included one of the starriest names on its lineup of 2010-11 guest artists -- Midori, the brilliant violinist who captured the attention of the music world before she reached her teens.

She was scheduled to perform the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich in the program led by guest conductor Gilbert Varga.

In a statement released Wednesday, Midori said: "I’m so disappointed to miss the opportunity to play with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Varga. I have strained my back and have been strongly advised against physical exertion at this time. I greatly appreciate the graciousness and understanding of the BSO, and look forward to re-scheduling our collaboration at the earliest opportunity."

Filling in for the Shostakovich concerto will be Mikhail Simonyan, a 25-year-old Russian-Armenian violinist. The rest of the Russian program is also unchanged: Glinka's "Ruslan and Ludmilla" Overture and Stravinsky's "Petrouchka." 

PHOTO (by Lisa Marie Mazzucco) COURTESY OF BSO

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October 17, 2010

Teenage conductor Ilyich Rivas makes impressive subscription concert debut with BSO

No one knows what the future of classical music holds. There may well be fewer orchestras, fewer everything. Smaller audiences, too, of course. But there will be no lack of talent. Conservatories remain full and will be sending out into the world a remarkable diversity of gifted folks for a long time to come. One of them is Ilyich Rivas, the 17-year-old conductor from Venezuela who made his professional U.S. debut with the Atlanta Symphony in 2009 and is now in his second year with the Baltimore Symphony, as recipient of the BSO-Peabody Conducting Fellowship.

Rivas just made his BSO subscription concert debut with a big program that yielded considerable rewards. On Thursday night at Meyerhoff Hall, Rivas demonstrated, first of all, abundant self-confidence, an essential requirement. He offered every indication that he is to the podium born. More importantly, he didn’t just give efficient downbeats and cues; he made music.

The program was a clever riff on the whole youth thing – Brahms’ salute to college campus life, “Academic Festival Overture”; one of Beethoven’s early masterworks, Piano Concerto No. 2 (actually his first, but published late); the “Blumine” movement that was originally part of Mahler’s First Symphony; and the Symphony No. 1 penned by Shostakovich at the age of 18.

I was most impressed with how

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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.
View the Artsmash blog
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