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February 25, 2013

Clef Notes and Drama Queens is morphing into new blog

Hey, devoted (or annoyed) readers of my Clef Notes and Drama Queens blog: You will now find me on the newly created Artsmash blog, which gives me a chance to pontificate on even more subjects. 

 

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

February 20, 2013

Midweek Madness feels the pain of cold-sufferers

Having succumbed at long last to a winter cold, I felt I would dedicate this Midweek Madness installment to my fellow sufferers. I suggest we all sing through our pain, with the help of Betty Boop and that profound ditty "I Got a Cold in My Nose." (Her performance makes me want to dig out "Funny Lady" again to hear Streisand's fun version.)

Grab a Kleenex and chime in:


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:14 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Midweek Madness
        

February 18, 2013

Mezzo Magdalena Kozena, pianist Yefim Bronfman give recital at Shriver Hall

Vocal recitals are rare enough in Baltimore that even a program of familiar lieder would qualify as a novelty. A program of way-off-the-beaten-path songs? That's beyond cool.

Magdalena Kozena, the high-profile, Czech mezzo-soprano, and her equally high-profile accompanist, the Russian-born, Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman, chose a fascinating sample of repertoire for their recital Sunday night presented by the Shriver Hall Concert Series.

Four of the five composers on the bill came from the mainstream, but the works selected for this occasion did not.

In Mussorgsky's song cycle "The Nursery," which evokes the alternately animated, awed and mischievous mindset of a child, Kozena offered an abundance of colorful vocal touches -- even a nose-thumbing gesture for good measure. Bronfman articulated the subtly brilliant keyboard part with terrific flair.

The exquisite, often wry sound world of Ravel's "Histoires Naturelles" likewise found both artists doing finely communicative work, especially in the lovely languor of "Le Martin-pecheur."

Kozena's dark, evenly produced tone found another great outlet in the six songs of romance and nature from Rachmaninoff's Op. 38.

Bronfman likewise summoned expressive power every step of the way, digging into the richly woven accompaniment. Like Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff frequently ended art songs with elongated codas for the piano, and these passages took on extra value in Bronfman's hands.

Bartok's earthy "Village Scenes," with their deliciously spiky rhythms, inspired another burst of vivid music-making.

All of this would have been enough to make the recital distinctive, but there as more -- the local premiere of "Three Melodies on a Poem of Ezra Pound" by French composer Mac-Andre Dalbavie, a work co-commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts, Carnegie Hall and Shriver Hall Concert Series.

The text, "The Unmoving Cloud" from Pound's "Cathay," has inspired a transparent, finely detailed setting from Dalbavie.

The vocal lines, sensual and elegant, convey the imagery of rain, loneliness, the comforts of nature and wine.

There are hazy hints of Debussy and Ravel along the way; even, in Melodie II, a touch of Rachmaninoff in the piano's dark harmonies. A keyboard motive that descends in the first song and ascends in the last provides a telling thread.

Kozena sang the music sensitively and articulated the English works more clearly than many a singer whose first language actually is English.

There was an affecting encore -- Schumann's "Wehmut" from "Liederkreis," which includes the line, "I can sometimes sing as if I were happy. But, in secret, tears well up ... no one feels the pains, the deep sorrow in the song."

Kozena produced her tenderest vocal shading of the evening here, reaching the lied's poignant heart, while Bronfman matched her nuance for nuance.

PHOTO OF MAGDALENA KOZENA BY MATTHIAS BOTHOR/DG

PHOTO OF YEFIM BRONFMAN BY DARIO ACOSTA

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

February 16, 2013

Opera Philadelphia offers East Coast premiere of Kevin Puts' 'Silent Night'

The last pope to take the name Benedict, before the one who made history this month announcing plans to retire, assumed his duties a few weeks after the outbreak of World War I.

As Christmas 1914 approached, Benedict XV, who described the war as “the suicide of Europe,” pleaded for a Christmas truce. The military leaders refused, but somehow, at several points along the trenches, a surreal cease-fire broke out anyway.

That short, peaceful spell inspired the 2005 film “Joyeux Noel,” which focused on the experiences of some Scottish, French and German troops on a battlefield in Belgium. That film, in turn, inspired “Silent Night,” an opera by Kevin Puts, the Peabody Institute faculty member who received the Pulitzer Prize in music last year for this extraordinary work.

Opera Philadelphia is presenting the East Coast premiere of “Silent Night” at the Academy of Music in an impressive co-production with Minnesota Opera, which commissioned and unveiled the piece in November 2011. (The final performance is Sunday.)

Music history is not ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

The Baltimore Symphony delivers vivid Wagner program

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra chose some of Richard Wagner’s most radiant and involving music for a program this weekend to mark the composer’s bicentennial year. The results were pretty radiant, too, Friday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, and will likely be even more so in the repeat performances, as things settle in more firmly.

As a person, Wagner was deplorable — vain, arrogant, manipulative, viciously and relentlessly anti-Semitic. As an artist, he reached the highest peaks. His importance to the evolution of Western music cannot be overstated; the fusion of intellectual brilliance and emotional power that propels his works cannot be overvalued.

The best way to appreciate this achievement is in an opera house enjoying a full staging of a Wagner music drama, but that opportunity is not going to arise in Baltimore any time soon. The BSO is offering the next best thing — a complete act from “Die Walkure” in concert form, with three excellent singers.

As a warm-up, there are samplings from “Tristan und Isolde” and “Die Meistersinger.” And warm was the word on Friday.

Conductor Marin Alsop emphasized the grandeur and humanity of the “Meistersinger” Prelude in equal measure. There was propulsion, but not haste, in her approach, and that helped the ingenious counterpoint in the score to shine through. The ensemble sounded sure and robust.

The BSO’s previous performances of the Prelude and “Liebestod” from “Tristan” over the past decade have been orchestra-only. This time, there was a soprano in the house to do the honors in the “Liebestod” — the opera’s soul-stirring conclusion, when Isolde, having lost her beloved Tristan, essentially dies of love.

As in previous performances of the Prelude I’ve heard her conduct, Alsop ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 4:52 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

February 13, 2013

Midweek Madness just can't get 'Downton Abbey' out of the mind

With the season finale of "Downton Abbey" approaching on Sunday, I couldn't resist devoting one more Midweek Madness entry to the show -- the perfect addition to your paper doll collection:

 


 

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:27 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

Fine concerts from Music in the Great Hall, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra

It was all happening Sunday afternoon on Dulaney Valley Road.

I started at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, where the Music in the Great Hall series presented the Trio Cloisonne -- flutist Marcia Kamper, violist Karin Brown, harpist Sarah Fuller -- in a colorful program.

Debussy is generally credited with generating interest in this combination of instruments; his Sonata was featured on the second half of the concert, by which point I had moved down the road to another performance.

What I did get to hear was quite rewarding, especially Toru Takemitsu's "And Then I Knew 'Twas Wind." The title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem ("Like Rain it sounded till it curved/ And then I knew 'twas wind ..."); the music comes from a magical place where French and Japanese harmonic idioms seem to converge.

The players, all affiliated with the Baltimore Symphony, articulated the atmospheric score with ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 7:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

February 8, 2013

BSO joined by conductor Hannu Lintu, pianist Stephen Hough in rich program

Hannu Lintu’s debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra almost three years ago caused a sensation. The Finnish conductor ignited the ensemble in a way that few podium guests had, and the results were exhilarating.

On that occasion, Lintu led the ensemble in the most famous piece of classical music from his homeland, Sibelius’ “Finlandia.” For his return this week, the conductor is offering the second most famous — Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2.

From the first measures of that symphony Thursday night at the Music Center at Strathmore, Lintu signaled that his would be a brisk and bracing account.

Some conductors, at least non-Finn ones, take heaps of time to let this earth-colored, yearning-filled music sink in (think Leonard Bernstein). They may be off-base, but they can't help but conjure up dark forests and, of course, the forbidding peaks of mighty fiords.

Lintu let the sun seep continually into the score. There was a fresh breeze, too, behind his scherzo-like tempo for the first movement, not to mention his whirlwind pace for the actual scherzo later on.

The conductor hardly stinted on the symphony’s intense drama, though. The unsettled and unsettling second movement, for example, emerged with particularly effective tension.

Lintu kept the finale moving along. He still gave the grand, anthem-like theme its expressive due, even if, like Veda in “Mildred Pierce,” the conductor seemed to be saying, “But let’s not get sticky over it.”

Throughout the symphony, he called for telling nuances from the musicians, especially ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 12:37 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

February 7, 2013

Belated report on Pro Musica Rara's SuperBach Sunday

Pro Musica Rara had a great quarter-Bach for its concert on Super Bowl Sunday -- Johann Sebastian.

The early music/period instrument group has an annual tradition of presenting a wintry program scheduled around or, as it turned out this time, exactly on the day of the biggest football game of the year.

Billed as SuperBach Sunday, the concert typically has a unifying theme. This one, which drew a good-sized audience to Towson University's Center for the Arts, found a particularly interesting hook.

It centered on the court of Frederick the Great and featured one of Bach's monumental exercises in contrapuntal ingenuity, "The Musical Offering," based on a slithery theme supposedly devised by the king himself.

Hard to believe that the revered monarch who could come up with such a harmonically challenging melodic line was the same guy who wrote the mundane march played on the first half of Sunday's concert. I guess even supreme rulers have their off days.

Still, it was fun hearing that ditty and the more substantive and elegant Flute Sonata No. 9, not to mention the fine Flute Quartet No. 1 by Quantz, one of Frederick's favored composers.

The Quantz work, in particular, inspired ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

February 6, 2013

Baltimore Symphony launches Music Box Series for the very young

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which has a long track record of educational outreach, is adding a new demographic to its list with the launch of the Music Box Series, designed for the six-month to three-year-old set.

BSO vice president of education Carol Bogash calls the project "the final piece in the BSO’s educational framework" and cites a McMaster University study indicating that "early musical training benefits children even before they can walk or talk."

The Music Box Series will feature actress, dancer, storyteller and Baltimore School for the Arts instructor Maria Broom (pictured) as host of the 30-minute programs, which will be held Saturday mornings in the lobby of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

The concerts are designed to promote "musical, motor and language development through bouncing, clapping, listening, singing and other hands-on activities," according to the BSO's press release. There will be pre-concert activities as well.

The lineup:

-- "Birdie Melodies" April 13 (Mozart, Beethoven; emphasis on flute, violin, viola and cello)

-- "Great Big Animals" May 4 (Handel, Brahms, brass quintet)

-- "Life in the Water" (Schubert's "Trout" Quintet, et al.)

For ticket info, call 410-783-8000 or check out the BSO's Web site.

PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIABROOM.COM

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

Midweek Madness peers into 'Uptown Downstairs Abbey'

OK, I admit it. While the rest of the civilized world was glued to the Super Bowl, the TV in our house was emanating the glow of period drama -- the irresistible "Downton Abbey" on PBS. (I still think the Most Valuable Player Sunday night was Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper who managed to tackle sexism, anti-Catholicism and smug-ism all in one fabulous game.)

For the benefit of those who have not yet caught onto the Downton phenomenon -- and even more for the benefit of those who have -- Midweek Madness offers this unique introduction/recap/documentary:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

February 5, 2013

Wolf Trap Opera to offer 'Traviata,' 'Falstaff, 'Viaggio a Reims'

If it weren't for Wolf Trap Opera, summers around her would get awfully dull for some of us.

The company, which features young, up-and-coming artists in productions that typically generate musical and theatrical sparks, will concentrate on Italian repertoire for its 2013 season.

This being the Verdi bicentennial year, two of that composer's masterpieces will be featured:

-- "La Traviata," in a presentation with video-projected scenic design July 19 at the Filene Center; the National Symphony Orchestra will participate in this event, conducted by Grant Gershon;

-- "Falstaff," conducted by Dean Williamson and directed by Tomer Zvulun, presented in the Barns at Wolf Trap August 9, 11, 14 and 17.

Rossini's "Il Viaggio a Reims," conducted by Gary Thor Wedow and directed by David Gately, will open the season at the Barns June 21, 23 and 29.

Other events include another imaginative program organized and accompanied by pianist Steven Blier, this one called "Wonders To Wander To: Songs and Stories of Faraway Lands," July 6 and 7 at the Barns.

And company director Kim Witman will be at the piano to accompany what is billed as an "Aria Jukebox," with vocal artists singing audience-selected numbers, July 14 at the Barns.

Tickets to the Wolf Trap Opera season go on sale March 16.

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

February 1, 2013

Tortelier fires up Baltimore Symphony in works by Hindemith and Mussorgsky

Every visit by conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier seems to ignite the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Audiences get pretty worked up, too.

Tortelier is back this week with a program that includes Mussorgsky's perennial "Pictures at an Exhibition" and a much rarer sampling of the Hindemith work list, the bracing Concert Music for Brass and Strings.

In between, some comforting Mozart -- Piano Concerto No. 27, featuring another welcome returning guest artist, Orion Weiss.

I had the most fun Thursday night at Meyerhoff Hall during the Hindemith at the top of the concert. For one thing, this fascinating composer does not get much attention these days. For another, this particular score has ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 3:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

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.


Posted by Tim Smith at 3:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

Midweek Madness has no choice but to join the Ravens madness

Sorry, Midweek Madness fans, if you thought you could escape the all-Ravens-all-the-time atmosphere these days by clicking your way here.

How could I possibly ignore this fever (try as I might)? Not with reminders like this one, put together by Douglas Buchanan, a bass in the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and choirmaster of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

He managed to combine Ravens mania with Anglican choral traditions to produce what has to be the most offbeat entry yet in the ever-rising clamor of local pride. So here, recorded in lovely Old St. Paul's, is Buchanan's "Ravenlican Chant," a devout work in three sections: Preambule, Rules of Overtime and Ravens' Fight Song.

If this doesn't clinch the Super Bowl, I don't know what will:


Posted by Tim Smith at 8:21 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

January 29, 2013

Annapolis Symphony responds to San Francisco Symphony's Ravens taunt

And you thought classical musicians were so sensitive, tolerant and mild-mannered. Not when it comes to the Super Bowl, apparently. Orchestras are being swept up in a frenzy of fan fever.

The San Francisco Symphony was just asking for trouble when it posted a photo on its Facebook page of percussionist Trey Wyatt percussionist about to inflict major damage on a defenseless Raven symbol with some mighty big cymbals.

 

So the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra responded quickly with ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

Kennedy Center expansion project for education gets $50 million lead gift

It's not quite the gigantic, $650 million project envisioned a decade ago by Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser, but the $100 million southward expansion announced Tuesday marks a major step for the institution.

With a lead gift of $50 million from the center's chairman, Baltimore-born David M. Rubenstein, the building venture, being designed by Steven Holl Architects, will see pavilions for classrooms, multipurpose facilities and rehearsal spaces rise on the property just south of the Kennedy Center, toward the Roosevelt Bridge. It's the biggest expansion since the center opened in 1971.

In a nice retro touch, the project will include ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:39 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

January 28, 2013

Marin Alsop jumps into Super Bowl spirit with Ravens game plan

You didn't think anyone could resist Ravens fever did you?

Here's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director Marin Alsop with her gutsy suggestion for a winning Super Bowl play (BSO PHOTO). Looks like a surprise pass to the double basses will do the trick:

 

 

Posted by Tim Smith at 3:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin gives compelling recital at Shriver Hall

From the very first chord, there was no doubt that Marc-Andre Hamelin's recital Sunday evening for the Shriver Hall Concert Series was going to be compelling.

That chord, which launched a transcription by Tivadar Szanto of Bach's G minor Fantasia and Fugue for organ, was articulated not just with terrific force, but a delectable richness of tone as well.

Hamelin, justly famed for his technical prowess, seemed to be saying: Who needs a pipe organ to make this music shake the place?

He offered myriad dynamics; he articulated the trickiest of passages without the slightest trace of effort; he delivered expressive impact with every phrase.

You could same the same for the rest of the program, which celebrated the full range of the piano (made you feel a little sorry for those pianists who have gravely decided to focus squarely on the sacred Mozart-Beethoven-Schubert canon).

Hamelin's evident delight in every one of the 88 keys could not have been more obvious than in ... 

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:23 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 4:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

January 24, 2013

Oestreich stepping down as New York Times classical music editor

Big news in the classical music field -- James R. Oestreich is stepping down as New York Times classical music editor at the end of the month. He is taking a buyout from the paper of record, which he has served for 24 years. He still plans to contribute to the paper after his departure.

For quite a few of us in the ever-threatened business, Jim has been a great influence and inspiration. Count me among his ardent admirers.

I am biased, of course, especially since ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 12:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Classical, Clef Notes
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 12:57 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

January 16, 2013

A bit of stirring, if inarticulate, Beethoven for your Midweek Madness treat

The European Union has been in the news lately, especially with regard to the UK's continued participation, so I thought I would use this Midweek Madness installment to remind everyone of the joy of brotherhood.

The Union happens to have an anthem that derives from the much-loved finale to Beethoven's noble, stirring Ninth Symphony, with its message of, well, the joy of brotherhood.

How better, then, to underline the advantage of the UK remaining in the harmonious association of nations than a performance of that anthem by the eminent British baritone "Robert Bennington," even if he has a wee bit of trouble with the words:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:56 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

January 15, 2013

Multimedia weekend includes Concert Artists/James Westwater collaboration

Big screens in concert halls were all the rage over the weekend.

While the Baltimore Symphony was offering its audiences a multimedia experience with the 1938 Eisenstein/Prokofiev classic "Alexander Nevsky," Concert Artists of Baltimore incorporated contemporary "photochoreography" into a program of lush 20th century music.

For the opening and closing works of the Concert Artists event Saturday night at the Gordon Center, the orchestra was flanked by a stage-length, three-panel panoramic screen where expertly composed photographs by James Westwater, a pioneer in bringing orchestral and photographic products together, were projected in tight sync with the music-making.

Barber's famous "Adagio for Strings" was matched with ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:06 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 2:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

January 9, 2013

For Midweek Madness, a refresher on how not to conduct an interview

Failures to communicate are everywhere. You've no doubt heard radio or TV interviews, for example, where the interviewer seems to be preoccupied with preparing the next question, or following a script, that he/she doesn't actually hear the interviewee's answer to the one just asked.

As a public service, I devote this Midweek Madness installment to ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:07 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

January 7, 2013

Premiere of 'Diner,' the musical, delayed again

The musical version of Barry Levinson's "Diner," the much-admired 1982 movie about longtime buddies in Baltimore, is going to take longer to reach Broadway. The previously scheduled April 10 opening has been postponed until the fall, the New York Times reports.

Seems that "Diner," a collaboration between Levinson and Sheryl Crow, who has written the songs for the show, needs more time to be developed and, especially, to raise money for its $9.5 million budget.

The musical percolated in workshop form in New York last fall, a process adversely affected by ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

January 4, 2013

On the Record: Beethoven revitalized by ORR/John Eliot Gardiner

In the grand scheme of themes, we have more than enough recordings of Beethoven symphonies. But there always seems to be room for one more.

I would gladly clear a spot on an overstuffed CD shelf for a version of Beethoven's Fifth and Seventh symphonies recently released on the Soli Deo Gloria label, recorded live at Carnegie Hall by New York's classical station radio WQXR.

This disc captures the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique and its conductor, John Eliot Gardiner, at a white-hot peak of expressive fervor. You can get freshly excited about these war horses all over again.

Gardiner and the ORR, a splendid ensemble of period instruments, recorded the nine symphonies nearly 20 years ago. This return to the Fifth and Seventh finds the musicians digging even more forcefully and incisively into the scores.

Detail after detail emerges with new clarity and purpose, from the most vehement fortissimos to the gentlest inner phrase.

Those of us who tightly clutch our Furtwangler and Bernstein recordings of Beethoven sometimes find the more literal approach of the authenticists and the leaner sound of period instrument orchestras wanting. But Gardiner has always been ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 8:25 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, On the Record
        

January 2, 2013

As 'Downton Abbey' returns, a refresher on British social/gender etiquette

With "Downton Abbey" about to start Season 3 on these shores this weekend, taking us once more into the rarefied world of British society and grand meals around elegantly appointed tables, your ever-thoughtful Midweek Madness featurette would like to offer this quick refresher on the rules of social etiquette, especially those pertaining to the gentler sex.

As you know, the women in "Downton Abbey" sometimes forget their place, which can have devastating consequences for them. Seeing this on the telly might inspire women on this side of The Pond to pursue a similar, dangerous course.

The instructional video you are about to see reminds us all of the proper ways of society, so that we may be fully prepared if we ever get a coveted dinner invitation from true British gentry:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:30 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

January 1, 2013

A spiritual to mark the 150th anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation

On New Year's Day, 150 years ago, American history was forever changed when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

As we all know too well, that document alone did not free any slaves, but it was a crucial step that made clear the ultimate goal of the Civil War.

If you have seen Steven Spielberg's riveting film "Lincoln," you've probably been freshly consumed, as I have, by thoughts about this chapter of our country's past.

I know it sounds superficial, but the experience of the movie has made me feel the weight of today's anniversary more, has brought into sharper focus the significance and boldness of the Emancipation Proclamation -- and the subsequent effort to build on that step by fighting to pass the 13th Amendment, which "Lincoln" depicts so vividly.

To take note of this New Year's milestone in history, the deep, soul-stirring voice of Marian Anderson seems appropriate, even essential. Here is her recording of the spiritual "My Lord, What a Morning":

Continue reading "A spiritual to mark the 150th anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation" »

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Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

December 31, 2012

For New Year's Eve, a musical toast to brotherhood and sisterhood

I can get pretty sentimental on the last day of the year, and I thought some of you might be the same. So here's a little sentiment for New Year's Eve, courtesy of Johann Strauss' "Die Fledermaus."

There is a wonderful moment in Act 2 when all of the mirth and slapstick of the operetta gives way to something gentle and, I think, quite genuine.

This number, "Brüderlein und Schwesterlein," sends a message that boils down to: Let's all promise to get along tomorrow after having so much fun tonight -- a message perfect for a New Year's Eve toast. This scene inspired Strauss to exceptional melodic heights -- the ultimate peak in his greatest work for the stage.

I've posted two versions here, because you (OK, I) can never get enough of this gorgeous music. I also thought that ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 7:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

December 28, 2012

Some music to help prepare for falling off the fiscal cliff

As a public service -- because that's the sort of caring, sharing person I am -- I thought I would offer some appropriate music to help you brace yourself for the plunge off the "fiscal cliff."

(If such a horrid fate is magically avoided at the last minute, this is still worth a listen.)

Here is the finale of Alfredo Catalani's "La Wally," an under-appreciated opera from 1892 that just happens to end with an avalanche (don't ask) that sweeps the tenor off an Alpine peak to his death, which upsets the soprano no end, so she, naturally, leaps after him. Perfect fiscal cliff-plunging music, if you ask me.

Sorry there's no visual to go with this clip, but the sound effects are good enough to let you know exactly when the fatal denouement arrives for the opera's hapless couple. Feel free to imagine certain politicians joining them:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:18 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

December 26, 2012

Midweek Madness keeps that special holiday feeling flowing

For your Midweek Madness drollery, I have -- yes -- once again gone to the SCTV well, this time to pull up a holiday-theme gem. You may thank me later.

Here's the attempted filming of promo for a 'Liberace' Christmas Special with a very temperamental 'Orson Welles' as guest star:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:29 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

December 24, 2012

Barbra Streisand and the ultimate 'Silent Night'

Being a veteran Streisand fanatic, I cannot think of a better way to send Christmas greetings to my blog readers than with her incomparable version of "Silent Night" from the 1960s.

I think this performance beautifully underlines the universality of music and the eternal, if ever elusive, hope for peace on earth:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 7:02 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

Washington National Opera delivers family-friendly 'Hansel and Gretel'

For most people, the attractions of Christmas do not include the possibility of children roasting over an open fire. But that has not kept Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel" from becoming a favorite opera at Christmastide.

Based on a vivid tale by the Brothers Grimm and first performed Dec. 23, 1893, Humperdinck's most famous opera does, of course, feature lots of talk and images of sweets, notably gingerbread.

So it's easy to make a seasonal tie-in, which is what Washington National Opera did over the weekend with a revival of its 2007 family-friendly production.

This abridged version of "Hansel and Gretel" drew lots of attentive and, as far as I could tell, well-entertained kids -- and adults -- to the Saturday matinee at the Kennedy Center's cozy Terrace Theater.

This sort of production, which keeps an eye on budget as well as the clock, invariably involves ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 3:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

December 20, 2012

Cool Yule song from Brian Sacawa of Mobtown Modern, US Army Field Band

If you need a moment to chill amid all the holiday pressure, I've got some music to help -- "O Little Town of Bethlehem," in a soft-jazzy arrangement by the top-notch US Army Field Band with Sergeant First Class Brian Sacawa as soprano sax soloist (Kenny G, eat your heart out).

Around Baltimore, Sacawa is better known for his work curating and often performing with Mobtown Modern, an imaginative new music ensemble that has gone on hiatus this season (seeing it bounce back would make a great Christmas gift).

Sacawa's suave playing of this vintage carol should help put some cool in your Yule:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 12:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

December 19, 2012

For Midweek Madness, one more chorus of 'Feliz Navidad,' Bette Davis-style

Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy Christmas song.

Yes, you adorable Midweek Madness fans, I could not resist an encore of "Feliz Navidad," as the Yuletide approaches. And not just any "Feliz Navidad," mind you, but an interpretation to end all interpretations of this endless, annoying song.

This goes especially well with a martini:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 7:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

December 18, 2012

Hippodrome pursuing collaboration with Pennsylvania Ballet

The much-respected Pennsylvania Ballet may travel to Baltimore for a couple weeks every year for a residency at the Hippodrome Theatre. This collaborative project, which could start as early as next season, is being pursued by Hippodrome president Jeff Daniel.

"We should be doing more collaborations," Daniel said. "We should be an arts chamber of commerce for Baltimore. But this is not a done deal. I think I'm ahead of my skis. It is going to take ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 3:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:01 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

December 13, 2012

A Christmas remembrance of elegant soprano Lisa della Casa

The opera world lost another extraordinary artist this week with the death Monday of the radiant, Swiss soprano Lisa della Casa at the age of 93.

She was most celebrated for her superb interpretations of Mozart and Strauss, and if you have never heard her portrayal of the Countess in "The Marriage of Figaro" or the Marschallin in "Der Rosenkavlier," not to mention the title role of "Arabella," you must promise me you will correct that soon. And don't forget her poignant account of Strauss' Four Last Songs -- still in a class by itself.

Lisa dalla Casa sang a lot more in her career, leaving an elegant mark on everything, including the Christmas music she performed on this 1960s TV show (many thanks to "coloraturafan" for uploading it to YouTube).

It's a beautiful example of her disarming artistry, and a fitting way to remember her at this time of year. Even folks usually resistant to Christmas music are likely to find themselves entranced:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

December 12, 2012

Midweek Madness feels the need for a little Christmas now

Yes, I know it's way past midday on Midweek Madness day as I post this. So sue me. I had stuff to do. Big, important stuff. And at least two boxes of bonbons to get through.

To lift your spirits, how about a little Christmas now? Oy, could we all use a little Christmas now.

I probably shouldn't have picked sharing this clip, since it really isn't quite awful enough to be thoroughly laughable -- well, maybe it is, at that -- and because I really do love Lucy (Ricardo more than Ball, if truth be told).

This is the "We Need a Little Christmas" scene from "Mame," the film version of the Jerry Herman musical that was based on the book, play and film "Auntie Mame." Now everyone knows that the "Auntie Mame" film is a masterpiece that cannot be bettered, thanks to the divine Rosalind Russell, but the musical does have its points.

Still, if you're going to do a movie of the musical, shouldn't you at least cast it with a star who can sing? Lucy gives it her all, I suppose. And, every now and then, she does ...

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Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

December 11, 2012

Powerful, inspiring video spotlights Landfill Harmonic in Paraguay

The much-publicized El sistema in Venezuela is not the only admirable attempt to provide a musical outlet for underprivileged young people in Latin America.

This mesmerizing video, which has been making the rounds quickly (thanks to all those who alerted me), provides an introduction to the Landfill Harmonic.

This educational project involves the making of instruments out of recycled material from a landfill in an impoverished area of Paraguay. Pretty stirring stuff (there is information on making donations at the end of the video):

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:03 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

December 10, 2012

Lunar Ensemble performs 'Pierrot Lunaire' and new, related works

The 100th anniversary of Schoenberg's trail-blazing "Pierrot Lunaire" prompted ambitious commemoration by the Lunar Ensemble.

This impressive group, which draws its talent from the current students and alumni of Peabody Conservatory, launched the Pierrot Centenary Project.

In addition to performances of the Schoenberg score, Baltimore-area composers were commissioned to write works drawing on the same collection of "Pierrot Lunaire" poems by Albert Giraud that inspired Schoenberg.

Over the weekend, I caught the first of the Lunar Ensemble's two Centenary Project concerts at Shriver Hall, this one featuring the original Schoenberg and two of the commissioned pieces. It was a rewarding experience.

What amazing music "Pierrot Lunaire" is -- complex, perplexing, invigorating. In this sound world, the strangely vibrant language of Giraud's verses is delivered not in song, but song-like speech ("sprechgesang" or "sprechtstimme"), against a backdrop of intricately, deliciously dissonant instrumental writing.

On Friday night, conductor Gemma New led a ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

December 7, 2012

Good weekend for contemporary music lovers in Balitmore

It's not all "Messiah" and "Nutcracker" around here these days. I spotted a few events featuring contemporary music that will provide considerable contrast to the preponderance of holiday fare.

The Baltimore-based Lunar Ensemble, a group founded in 2010 with strong Peabody Conservatory roots, will present a two-part "Pierrot Centenary Project" this weekend.

One of the biggest anniversaries observed this year was the centennial of Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire," a wild and brilliant work that had its first performance in Berlin on Oct. 16, 1912.

That doesn't mean the world was suddenly filled with commemorative performances of the piece -- today's music lovers aren't necessarily any more open to Schoenberg than his contemporaries were.

"Pierrot Lunaire" is a setting of 21 songs that are ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:50 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

December 6, 2012

The refreshing power of Gustavo Dudamel, Simon Bolivar Symphony

If you ever need your batteries recharged, just get to a performance by the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, led by its kinetic music director Gustavo Dudamel. You'll be hopping for days afterward.

Thanks to the Washington Performing Arts Society, these irrepressible forces have made two appearances in this region since 2009. The second, Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center, proved as memorable as the first.

(Might as well mention, for the thousandth time, that Baltimore has a major void in its classical music life -- the absence of visiting orchestras. We could sure use a version of WPAS here.)

The Bolivar Symphony is the most famous product -- along with Dudamel -- of the much-praised, much-studied El sistema music education program that involves some 400,000 young people in Venezuela, the majority of them impoverished. (The Baltimore Symphony's OrchKids program in inner city schools has been greatly influenced by the principles of El sistema, founded by Jose Antonio Abreu.)

I've occasionally met people who are convinced this massive Venezuelan effort is ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

December 5, 2012

For Midweek Madness, a critical look at a bold new 'women's play'

I thought something theatrical would be nice for Midweek Madness this time, especially since I thought of a clip that involves one of my jobs -- theater critic.

Here is the erudite, superbly named reviewer Bill Needle going after a new "women's play" written by and starring Libby Wolfson, the host of a fabulous SCTV chat show called "You" (which is really about her).

The title of the play is truly inspired, you have to admit: "I'm Taking My Own Head, Screwing It on Right, and No Guy's Gonna Tell Me That It Ain't!" And the production? Clearly, no expense was spared for this wonderful premiere at a classy dinner theater.

In my professional experience, I can honestly say that I have never seen any theatrical experience to equal this one (and don't miss the ad at the end for Libby's next episode of "You"):

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:06 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

'Million Dollar Quartet' rocks and rolls into the Hippodrome

Folks of a certain age — you know, the kind whose only exposure to public television occurs during fundraising programs featuring aging rock-’n’-rollers — are the obvious target audience for “Million Dollar Quartet,” the jukebox musical now at the Hippodrome.

But this high-energy homage to four giants who emerged in the 1950s is eager to grab anyone else along the way.

Even those rare souls who never fell under the spell of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash or Carl Perkins, and who are usually resistant to the three-chord stasis and banal lyrics of so much early rock may find their pulse quickening slightly and their feet inching toward tap mode.

OK, so I’m talking about me, as ’50s-averse as they come. And I can vouch for how this show can win you over, not with anything as fancy as an honest-to-goodness plot or cliche-free dialogue, but simply with ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

November 28, 2012

For Midweek Madness, a swingin' salute to Ethel Ennis on her 80th

One of the finest jazz singers of our time, Baltimore's own Ethel Ennis, celebrates her 80th birthday today, Nov. 28, which just happens to be -- sorry, Ms. Ennis -- Midweek Madness day here on this world-famous, heavily-envied blog.

How could I possibly combine these two events, you ask, with halted breath? Easy, thanks to Scopitone, the curio from the '60s that foreshadowed the music video explosion a few decades later.

So, to celebrate this wonderful milestone for a great artist, and also just to have some fun, here is Ethel Ennis singing fabulously amid some not so fabulous, but hilarious, scenic design and, especially, choreography. I've got a feeling you won't be able to take you eyes off of this:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:06 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Midweek Madness
        

November 26, 2012

For Giving Tuesday, inspirational video from Wuppertaler Kurrende boy's choir

If you haven't heard, a fast-spreading grassroots movement has led to the launching of Giving Tuesday, a welcome followup to Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other buy-buy-buy events. As Auntie Mame might say, the message of this one is give, give, give -- to charities.

Nonprofits in the arts community are understandably getting involved, and I certainly hope you will consider supporting your favorite orchestras, opera companies, theaters and the like. But, since it would be unfair for me to single out any such groups, I thought I would suggest something neutral for Giving Tuesday.

I found this great video of the Wuppertaler Kurrende, a boy's choir in Germany, in a performance last week on Universal Children's Day in support of the International Children's Fund.

This should put you in the mood for giving, no matter which organization you choose to help:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 3:29 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

Annapolis Symphony joins in Cyber Monday fun with ticket deal

Why should retailers have all the fun on Cyber Monday?

I heard earlier from some theater companies offering deals during this giant online frenzy. Now comes word from the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, which is doing the same.

The orchestra's Cyber Monday-only enticement is three concerts for $50, a 60 percent savings.

You can choose from ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:25 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

November 21, 2012

For Midweek Madness, a cup that runneth over, way over

It's Midweek Madness day, as well as the day before Thanksgiving, which has me thinking of all those bountiful feasts soon to be devoured. And that leads me to a song just perfect for the occasion -- "My Cup Runneth Over With Love."

I have found a fabulous interpretation from 1967 that also runneth over with ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:35 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Midweek Madness
        

November 20, 2012

Peabody Opera Theatre shows off promising talent in 'Don Giovanni'

The emergence of Lyric Opera Baltimore last year was probably the biggest news in the city's cultural scene, but the simultaneous development of a collaboration between the Peabody Institute and the Modell/Lyric Performing Arts Center ranked right up there.

The deal meant that, for the first time, Peabody Opera Theatre could present some of its work in a full-sized venue, providing a valuable learning experience for voice students, not to mention the conservatory's orchestra.

The inaugural venture came out of what, for Baltimore, constitutes left field -- Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress."

This year's choice would be considered right down the middle in most places, but Mozart's "Don Giovanni" was last staged at the Lyric in 1999, so it seemed almost novel to see it there over the weekend. (The old Baltimore Opera Company was remarkably Mozart-averse.)

Sunday afternoon's performance was, on balance, a good showing for Peabody, musically and theatrically.

Roger Brunyate, the recently retired, longtime head of the opera program, jumped back into the thick of things to direct, and his professional touch and thoughtfulness could be detected throughout.

His concept notably included a wound for Don Giovanni that, Amfortas-like, never healed. (Brunyate credited a recent Salzburg production with giving him the idea to have the antihero wounded in his opening scene duel with the Commendatore.)

The device intriguingly suggested that Don Giovanni knew his time was running out, long before a certain statue turned up in his doorway.

If a couple of questionable details also popped up in this staging -- Donna Elvira stabbing a portrait of Don Giovanni with giant hairpins was more Carol Burnett than Lorenzo DaPonte, for example, and having her join a nunnery early on seemed a wee bit odd -- Brunyate ensured that the action flowed easily and effectively.

Aiding that flow was ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:54 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera, Peabody Institute
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:46 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:56 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

November 14, 2012

For Midweek Madness, Daltrey, Townshend, The Who, a worthy charity, and Streisand video

Excuse the shameless name-dropping, but I had lunch this week with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend.

OK, a whole bunch of other members of the National Press Club and their guests did, too. But, hey, I was at the head table, so there.

The main reason why the surviving original members of The Who stopped by the club the day before their Washington concert was to discuss a charity they are heavily and admirably involved in -- Teen Cancer America. (You can watch the whole thing, thanks to C-Span.) 

The project is based on a successful program Daltrey and Townshend support in the UK, Teen Cancer Trust, which helps provide dedicated spaces for teen cancer patients in hospitals. This allows teens to be grouped together in their own area, complete with common kitchens.

As Daltrey, sporting a terrific Victorian-influenced outfit, explained at the luncheon, teens "don't want teddy bears, and they don't want to be with adults." Being a teen is difficult enough; being a teen with a major illness adds extra layers of stress.

Daltrey said that a soon-to-be-released study in the UK will report ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

November 12, 2012

For Veteran's Day: John Kander's 'Letter from Sullivan Ballou'

Over the weekend, I heard soprano Angela Meade sing John Kander's affecting setting of the "Letter from Sullivan Ballou," penned in 1861 by a soldier to his wife just before the Battle of Bull Run, where he was killed.

I wanted to share the experience of this remarkable work today, Veteran's Day, a reminder of the sacrifice so many gave made over the years in service to their country. Here is a performance sung by Renne Fleming:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:13 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

Soprano Angela Meade gives impressive recital for Washington National Opera

Like the political world, the operatic one always craves fresh talent and gets pretty excited over any prospect that seems capable of achieving success. One of the names that has most frequently popped up in next-big-star-in-the-making discussions over the past few years is soprano Angela Meade. No wonder.

The singer has the one key element that cannot be faked by any amount of aggressive publicity -- a voice. A real, honest-to-goodness, fully formed vocal instrument that has you sitting up to take notice from the first note.

As Meade demonstrated locally in 2011 in a stellar performances of the Verdi Requiem with the Baltimore Symphony, and reconfirmed Saturday night at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater in an impressive recital for Washington National Opera, that voice is backed by keen musicality.

The soprano put those gifts to good use in the recital, which provided a teaser for her appearance with WNO this spring in her first fully staged production of Bellini's "Norma."

The signature aria from that opera, "Casta Diva," featured in Saturday's program. Meade delivered it with admirable technical poise and poetic intensity. I would have welcomed a few of the pianissimo shadings the singer generously summoned in the rest of her program, but the elegance and eloquence of the interpretation proved quite satisfying.

The "Norma" aria and a sumptuously voiced encore, the beloved diva anthem "Io son l'umile ancella" from Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur," were the only ones that Meade sang without ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 7:43 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 4:19 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

November 7, 2012

Minnesota Opera commisisons 'Manchurian Candidate' from Kevin Puts, Mark Campbell

Composer Kevin Puts, who teaches at the Peabody Conservatory, won a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his first opera, "Silent Night," commissioned by Minnesota Opera.

That company has now commissioned a follow-up, "The Manchurian Candidate," which Puts will collaborate on with his "Silent Night' librettist, Mark Campbell.

The opera, slated for the 2014-2015 season, will be based on the 1959 thriller by Richard Condon that inspired John Frankenheimer's much-admired film in 1962 starring Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury. (Jonathan Demme directed a 2004 remake.)

The plot concerns brainwashed Korean War vets and a communist plot to take over the U.S. government.

Minnesota Opera artistic director Dale Johnson noted that the "the term 'Manchurian candidate' has been bandied about as recently as on the [2012] presidential campaign trail," pointing to "an enduring fascination with conspiracy theories of massive proportions. Strong characters and tantalizing drama make for the best operas, and this story has those in spades."

The commission is the part of Minnesota Opera's New Works Initiative, which has raised nearly $7 million to promote contemporary works. In January, another of the initiative's projects will be premiered by the company: "Doubt," with music by Douglas J. Cuomo and libretto by John Patrick Shanley.

"Silent Night" gets its East Coast premiere in February from the Opera Company of Philadelphia.

PHOTO BY R.R. JONES


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:59 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Peabody Institute
        

Why I'm in love with Barbara Cook

Don't tell my partner, but I'm wildly in love with Barbara Cook.

So much so, in fact, that I felt if it would be wiser to wait a little while before writing about the singer's concert Saturday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. That way I wouldn't just gush all over the place. No such luck. Stand by for gushing.

Miss Cook, who just turned 85, was in marvelous, heartwarming form in this long overdue return to Baltimore. She may not have looked spry as she walked onstage, with the aid of a cane. And she sat for the whole concert, due to back problems.

But that was as far as the age thing went. And, really, the sitting only made the concert seem more intimate, as if we had all been invited to Miss Cook's Upper West Side apartment for a little music.

Of course the soprano's voice has changed over time, but there remains an unwavering gleam in the timbre. And, as I have been reminded each time I have heard her live, the essence beneath that tonal surface is the same, revealing a soul that continues to zero in effortlessly and compellingly on the contour of a melody, the truth of a lyric.

The program -- backed by the suave and subtle combo of Ted Rosenthal (piano), Lawrence Feldman (woodwinds), Baltimore native Jay Leonhart (bass), Warren Odze (percussion) -- was drawn largely from Miss Cook's latest album, "Lover Man."

That release makes a worthy addition to her discography, but ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

Midweek Madness: A derailment at the opera

Last weekend, Lyric Opera Baltimore's season-opener was Puccini's "La Boheme." With that delicious music still in my head, I figured there just might be a way to work it into the next installment of Midweek Madness.

That's just what I have done, thanks to a clip from a night at the Zurich Opera House when an ever so light derailment occurred during the tenor aria "Che gelida manina."

Before I get to that, let me hasten to add that the Baltimore production did not make me think disaster; it was a perfectly respectable venture. There were a few slips at the performance I attended, but nothing close to the one you are about to hear.

Remember that many a tenor tackling "Boheme" asks to transpose the aria down to avoid the high C required, and that means the whole orchestra has to transpose with him. I have a funny feeling somebody forgot during this memorable performance in Zurich. Brace yourself:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

November 6, 2012

Elliott Carter's death at 103 a reminder of brilliant music Baltimore has been missing

If great artists are appreciated more after they're gone, perhaps brilliant composer Elliott Carter will soon get the wider recognition he deserves.

He died Monday in New York at the age of 103, leaving behind one of the most challenging -- and rewarding -- bodies of musical work of the past century.

In his home city, and a few other major arts capitals, Carter has long been honored for his keen intellect and ability to fashion scores of rich structural cohesion and absorbing inner detail. In places like Baltimore, not so much.

Carter's complexities scare too many audiences (and a lot of musicians, I imagine). It's so much easier on everybody -- especially box offices and public relations departments -- if he is kept off of programs.

At Peabody Conservatory, UMBC or a few other adventurous spots around this area, Carter does get occasional attention, I hasten to add. But at, say, the Baltimore Symphony? LOL.

I already got on my high horse about all of this a few years ago, so, instead of repeating myself, here's my 2009 post, complete with video clips, about the music we have been missing here.

DAVID HOLLOWAY/GETTY IMAGES

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:48 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

November 5, 2012

Classical concert round-up: NSO's 'Missa Solemnis,' Poulenc Trio, Europa Galante

The last several days have been something of a blur, running from performance to performance (or portions thereof), leaving me little time to pontificate about them. I will try to make up for some of that now.

Let me concentrate here on the classical concerts I caught during this particular whirlwind, which started with the National Symphony Orchestra's presentation of Beethoven's epic "Missa Solemnis" Thursday night at the Kennedy Center.

This piece tends to divide listeners, even those who consider themselves major Beethoven fans. OK, so it is a bit unwieldy, long-winded and theatrical (Verdi isn't the only one who can be accused of writing an opera in the guise of a liturgical work). But count me among the believers.

I think even skeptical types might have been tempted to convert after experiencing the NSO's account with music director Christoph Eschenbach on the podium, and featuring the superb Choral Arts Society of Washington (Scott Tucker director) and vivid, well-matched soloists.

The soulful power of the "Missa Solemnis" could be felt at every turn, along with ....

 

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:39 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Classical, Clef Notes, NSO, Shriver Hall
        

November 4, 2012

Lyric Opera Baltimore offers comfy 'Boheme' to open second season

Call it retro night at the opera.

A comfy, traditional production of Puccini’s evergreen and irresistible “La Boheme” opened Lyric Opera Baltimore’s second season Friday.

The modest-scale sets would have looked dated in the 1960s, but won applause from the sizable audience at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric.

And the stage direction was so literal and sensible that it seemed almost radical, given the common practice these days of updating, re-examining and re-interpreting well-worn operas.

If there was a museum quality to the visual side of things, the music got a fresh enough spin from the sturdy, spirited cast.

Anna Samuil gave a sympathetic performance as the tender-hearted, consumptive seamstress Mimi, who, like her fellow Parisian bohemians, struggles with issues of love and livelihood.

The soprano’s fast vibrato gave her tone intriguing coloring, and, at her best, her phrasing communicated vividly. There were beautiful touches in her Act 1 aria, but she breezed through its closing, recitative-like lines in a curiously impersonal manner.

Samuil made up for that, though, in Act 3, with gorgeous, long-breathed sculpting of the last lines of “Donde lieta usci.” This was exquisitely poetic singing.

As Mimi’s devoted, if conflicted, lover Rodolfo, tenor Georgy Vasiliev offered a nicely ringing tone. His phrasing tended toward ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 8:18 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera
        

November 1, 2012

Cuba's Schola Cantorum Coralina makes impressive U.S. debut in Annapolis

As advance bands of Hurricane Sandy were just beginning to pelt Annapolis Sunday afternoon, a small, hardy group of music lovers gathered in St. Anne's Church to hear a concert by an exceptional choir, Schola Cantorum Coralina. Maybe next time there will be a full house.

The ensemble, founded in 1993, has traveled to several countries, but one place has been absent until now from its itinerary -- the United States. That's not too surprising, given that Schola Cantorum Coralina makes its home in Cuba.

There's something encouraging about the group's arrival, 50 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Relations between our governments may not have softened all that much over the decades, but we are surely at a better place these days. And a visit from such spirited ambassadors has got to be good for all of us.

This choir's 17-trip is part of the Serenade International Choral Series organized by Classical Movements, a Virginia-based firm best known for handling travel arrangements for orchestras and other ensembles.

Led with infectious enthusiasm by founder Alina Orraca, who often got into the act herself, the 20 singers of Schola Cantorum Coralina demonstrated a ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 2:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

Belated reviews Part 1: Baltimore Classical Guitar Society

Somehow, I have fallen farther behind than usual. I figure the best course now is to blame the Super Storm, since that might buy me some sympathy.

Besides, once that storm did hit, who was going to waste time reading my reviews of some musical events last weekend?

Well, just for the record, I do want to say a few words about two concerts I caught, starting Saturday night at Towson University, where the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet opened the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society's 25th anniversary season.

(I will subsequently report on the U.S. debut of Cuba's Schola Cantorum Coralina in Annapolis.)

After more than three decades, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet remains a formidable ensemble, both in terms of technical bravura and ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

October 31, 2012

Midweek Madness: Something scary in 3-D for Halloween

OK, brace yourself. It's Halloween, and Midweek Madness wants to scare the heck out of you.

How about some scenes from the 3-D classic, "Dr. Tongue's Evil House of Pancakes"? Even the title has me quaking:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

October 30, 2012

Evolution Contemporary Music Series postpones season-opener

The Evolution Contemporary Music Series was to have opened the season Tuesday night with a program devoted to the work of composer Kaija Saairaho at An die Musik.

Due to the the storm, the event has has been postponed until Nov. 28.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:22 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

October 29, 2012

Four great musical storms to accompany Hurricane Sandy

If you're in the thick of the nasty hurricane that has assaulted the East Coast, or sympathize with those of us who are, here's a soundtrack to go with it -- some great musical storms.

I have to start with Beethoven, of course, the gripping storm scene from the Symphony No. 6.

Then two atmospheric storms via Rossini -- I couldn't decide between the one from "The Barber of Seville" and the similarly constructed, if much more exciting, one from the "William Tell" Overture, so I included both.

Lastly, the fierce tempest depicted in one of the Sea Interludes from Britten's "Peter Grimes":

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:51 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

October 26, 2012

On the Record: Elina Duni Quartet, which plays Baltimore Sunday

One of the more intriguing CDs to cross my desk lately is "Matane Malit" ("Beyond the Mountain"), from the Elina Duni Quartet, released on the ECM label.

Duni is an Albanian singer who puts a seductive, jazzy spin on songs from her country, backed by the sophisticated talents of pianist Colin Vallon, bassist Patrice Moret and drummer Norbert Pfammatter.

The distinctive sound of the language has its own musical quality as the warm-voiced Duni burrows into each melody and spins out vibrantly nuanced phrasing.

The quartet visits Baltimore this weekend to give a concert (8 p.m. Sunday) in an ideally intimate space for these performers -- An die Musik. Ought to be a great way to spend the eve of the "Frankenstorm" apparently heading our way.

Here's a brief video about the new CD:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 3:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

With Edgar Allan Poe on my mind, sharing a musical version of 'Annabel Lee'

This week, "The Completely Fictional -- Utterly True -- Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe" opened at Center Stage, offering a hefty reminder of Baltimore's most iconic former resident.

I will have more to say about the play shortly. Meanwhile, I wanted to share a song that started running through my head anew.

It's my favorite musical setting of Poe-etry -- "Annabel Lee," by the English composer Henry Leslie.

I think of it as a perfect example of the Victorian drawing room ballad and an awfully effective treatment of Poe's bittersweet words, with a well-crafted melody that works its way quickly into the ear and the telltale 6/8 meter long associated with the sea. Seems like it should be much better known.

I don't think the song could be more elegantly sung than it is here by the late Robert Tear, accompanied at the piano by Andre Previn:

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:01 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:20 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

October 24, 2012

Midweek Madness: Cheeky Chico

I don't know about you, but I really, really, really need some levity this midweek point. So how about some pianistic diversion from that master of digital insouciance, Chico Marx?

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

October 23, 2012

Classical Revolution to participate in TEDxMidAtlantic conference

A dozen members of the Baltimore chapter of Classical Revolution, which I includedin my Sunday story about the city's expanding alt-classical scene, will take part in the TEDxMidAtlantic 2012 conference in Washington on Saturday.

The players, including several Peabody Conservatory students and alumni, will perform works by Bach and Scott Lee, a composer doing his graduate studies at Peabody. The musicians will be joined by members of the D.C. chapter of Classical Revolution. Rafaela Dreisin, director of the Baltimore chapter, will lead the discussion at the conference, which is presented by TED, a "nonprofit organization devoted to ideas worth spreading."

Other speakers at the 2012 conference include former Secretary of State Colin Powell, astrophysicist Mario Livio, and Carlyle Group co-founder and Kennedy Center chairman David Rubinstein.

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

October 22, 2012

Pro Musica Rara's season-opener features Scottish songs arranged by Beethoven

Pro Musica Rara's 38th season opened Sunday afternoon with a gem of a program and stylish music-making to go with it.

Folk songs from Scotland, arranged by Beethoven, had a prominent spot in the concert. These items provide a fascinating glimpse into a little known side of Beethoven, who arranged a great number of songs from Scotland, Wales and Ireland (on commission) in between penning some of his most famous and important works.

It may be tempting to dismiss these songs as inconsequential, but that would be a mistake. The composer took the job of arranger seriously, honoring the folk melodies fully and fashioning vivid accompaniment for piano, violin and cello.

The quality and character of Beethoven's Scottish Songs emerged engagingly in the Pro Musica performance at Towson University's Center for the Arts.

British-born tenor Rufus Muller brought considerable elegance of phrase to the material, his voice growing warmer and sweeter as the afternoon progressed.

His account of "Sunset" and "Faithfu' Johny" proved especially eloquent, and he also had no trouble uncorking the jaunty spirits of such numbers as "The Shepherd's Song" and "Sally in Our Alley" (which he embellished delectably).

Violinist Cynthia Roberts, cellist Allen Whear and fortepianist Christoph Hammer backed Muller with playing of admirable nuance and color. The distinctive tonal palette of the period instruments added greatly to the experience.

On their own, the three players also did impressed work in ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:44 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

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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Posted by Tim Smith at 8:02 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

October 18, 2012

A memento of Lotte Lenya on eve of Baltimore Lieder Weekend's Weill concert

Thursday happens to be Lotte Lenya's birthday (1898-1981), and that reminds me that the annual Baltimore Lieder Weekend at An die Musik has a cabaret theme this year, starting Friday night with a program featuring works by Kurt Weill -- Lenya's husband.

There will be cabaret songs by Schoenberg, Poulenc, Satie and others over the course of the Lieder Weekend, which features soprano Samantha Malk, baritone Ryan de Ryke and pianist Daniel Schlosberg. Sounds like a great match-up of colorful repertoire and artists.

Back to Lenya. To honor her birthday, and get you in the mood for Friday's Weill night, here's ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

October 16, 2012

Mayor's Cultural Town Meeting to be held Wednesday

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will hold a Cultural Town Meeting, presented in conjunction with the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the American Visionary Art Museum.

The event, open to the public at no charge, will include a keynote address by Randy Cohen, vice president of Research and Policy for Americans for the Arts, discussing the report released in June, Arts & Economic Prosperity IV: The Economic Impact of Nonprofits Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences in the City of Baltimore.

The public is invited to submit questions for the mayor in advance via the Cultural Alliance or Twiiter (#BmoreTownHall).

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

October 15, 2012

Weekend wrap-up: Concert Artists of Baltimore, Brentano String Quartet

In typical form, the Concert Artists of Baltimore opened its 26th season Sunday afternoon with an imaginative (if overlong) program and avid music-making.

Artistic director Edward Polochick focused on two composers, Mendelssohn and Britten, and chose two works by each -- something instrumental that is widely performed, something choral that is not.

The Britten half of the concert opened with ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 2:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

Monday Musings: The value of National Symphony music director Christoph Eschenbach

So many factors go into the choice of an orchestra's music director these days. It often seems that music is actually pretty far down on the list.

I still recall with horror witnessing a League of American Orchestras session in 2004 when a panel of industry folks did a role-playing exercise to see how a fictional orchestra should deal with a fictional conductor.

His transgressions included being Russian-born with a limited command of English, limited interest in fundraising activities, limited knowledge of American repertoire, blah blah.

Oh, yes, he was also a great musician who really inspired the orchestra.

The prevailing attitude during the exercise was how that the guy had to go since, despite the artistic quality, he was obviously not a model modern music director for an American orchestra.

I have never forgotten that awful event -- and the badly disguised reference to then-Baltimore Symphony music director Yuri Temirkanov. But it was instructional about non-artistic agendas in the classical music business, agendas typically driven by the endless need to find money and build up audiences. Many people are willing to put music-making aside if it means an advantage in marketing, development, p.r., etc.

I am still old-school enough to believe that ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:48 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Clef Notes, NSO
        

October 12, 2012

'Wicked' cast members in benefit for Moveable Feast, Broadway Cares

Cast members from the dynamic national touring production of "Wicked" running through Nov. 4 at the Hippodrome will head across town one night next week after a performance to take part in a great cause -- a fundraiser for Baltimore's Moveable Feast and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

The cabaret, "Witches' Night Out," is set for at 11:30 p.m. Thursday at Grand Central in Mount Vernon.

Company members have a long history of lending their support to charitable causes, raising more than $2 million for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and local community AIDS charities during the seven years "Wicked" has been touring.

With "Witches Night Out," the performers have devised a showcase to display their beyond-Oz talents.

Admission to the Grand Central show is $20 ($40 for front row "VIP" seating), available at the door, which open at 11 p.m. Tickets are tax-deductible; all proceeds will benefit the charities.

A live auction will also be part of the event. Goodies being auctioned off include backstage visits to the Hippodrome to see Elphaba get her green coating applied, and a chance to be have your very own green-over from a "Wicked" makeup artist.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:07 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

October 11, 2012

SONAR, Evolution provide contemporary lift to Baltimore's 2012-13 season

Baltimore's new music scene lost a valued player this season with the suspension of Mobtown Modern, but that still leaves some other great activists, including SONAR and the Evolution Contemporary Music Series.

SONAR has somehow slipped under under my radar (rim shot, please) in recent years, but I hasten to give a shout out to the ensemble's 2012-2013 season, which opens Friday with a program that runs the gamut from A to Z -- literally, as Joe Biden would say.

The group, founded in 2007 by violinist Colin Sorgi, focuses on American fare in this concert, including John Adams' "Road Movies," John Cage's "Variations IV," Elliott Carter's "Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux," Aaron Copland's Sextet, Kevin Puts' "Credo," and the premiere of ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:31 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes
        

October 10, 2012

Midweek Madness: Rare bubblegum, funk from Barbra Streisand

This week's tantalizing event for Barbra Streisand fans -- of which there are none more devoted than moi -- is the just-out "Release Me," a collection of decades-old tracks that never saw the light of an album.

I will have much more to say about this fascinating CD later -- OK, I have to say right now that it would be worth having if only for "Willow Weep For Me," "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" and the "Finian's Ranbow"/"Brigadoon" medley.

But, this being Midweek Madness day, and what with Fab Babs firmly on my mind, I could not resist sharing a couple of really off-beat mementos of her musical past.

From her mercifully brief bubblegum period, a single released in 1968: "Our Corner of the Night."

This sounds like something left over from a Petula Clark or Leslie Gore session. Yes, it is kind of awful, but, hey, it's Streisand, so I have a strange affection for it.

Then, how about some get-down-and-get-funky Barbra from the '70s? Lawdy, this excerpt from a recording session leaves me simply speechless.

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Midweek Madness
        

October 9, 2012

Sarah Brightman to perform at Modell/Lyric in February

Sarah Brightman, the popular, silvery voiced soprano and actress, will give a concert Feb. 19 at the Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric.

Brightman, who originated the role of Christine in her then-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera," went on to become an international star of the stage and of recordings (more than 30 million sold).

Tickets to the concert go on sale Monday at 10 a.m. through Ticketmaster.com and by phone (800-745-3000).

Brightman's Baltimore stop is part of a world tour tied to a new album, “Dreamchaser,” scheduled for release in January.

Posted by Tim Smith at 3:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

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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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, NSO
        

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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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

October 3, 2012

Midweek Madness: A pre-'Glee' reminder of how to sing harmony

OK, so I admit I have been catching this season's "Glee," if not exactly gleefully. I mean, enough with Britney already. And all those constantly changing affections.

I still like a lot of the musical performances, though, even if most of the songs end up being it's-all-about-me showpieces for a few chosen characters. "Glee" is only occasionally interested in traditional glee club singing, with tight harmonies and all that. More's the pity.

The other day, thanks to Turner Classic Movies, the only truly reliable and consistently rewarding channel in all of cable-dom, I caught a vintage clip of the Mills Brothers and felt instantly better. Now that's harmony -- and imagination and style and just plain magic. And they never needed more than a guitar for accompaniment. Cool.

For this Midweek Madness installment, here's a little dose of the Mills Brothers, which ought to help the rest of the week go down a whole lot smoother:

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Categories: Clef Notes, Midweek Madness
        

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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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

September 28, 2012

A farewell to the composer of '(Have I Stayed) Too Long at the Fair'

One of the many reasons I became a Barbra Streisand addict at a tender age was her performance of "(Have I Stayed) Too Long at the Fair," a song of remarkable poignancy in music and words alike. The composer, Billy Barnes, died this week in Los Angeles at the age of 85.

Mr. Barnes did a lot of things in his career, including the song "Something Cool," many contributions to "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," and several successful musical revues.

I still think what Mr. Barnes achieved in "Too Long at the Fair" was an extraordinary example of songwriting, a model of its kind. In case you don't know it, or in case you would just like to enjoy it again, I've posted two versions that complement each other nicely:

Streisand's 1963 recording, which becomes a full-fledged opera scene, full of remarkable irony and pathos;

and a performance from the wonderful autumnal years of Rosemary Clooney's career, when she did such subtle, affecting things with limited resources (you get to hear more lyrics in this version).

Enjoy:

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Categories: Clef Notes
        

September 27, 2012

'Don Giovanni' gets stylish revival from Washington National Opera

All things considered, the opening of Washington National Opera's season is quite strong, especially in terms of that elusive, hard to pin down concept known as style.

"Anna Bolena" features a great deal of stylish singing, conducting and orchestra playing. Same for "Don Giovanni."

The Mozart work is presented in a revival of the 2007 John Pascoe production, which looks simultaneously elegant and hip, complemented by imaginative costumes that give off a time-traveling hint of a "Dr. Who" episode.

Some of Pascoe's stage pictures -- a moody church scene, for example -- are as enchanting in their own way as the music (Donald Edmund Thomas' refined lighting is a significant star in this staging).

If the director gets carried away with comic stuff in a spot or two (one of them when Leporello pops up in a priest's outfit, fake nose and glasses during the "La ci darem la mano" duet between Don Giovanni and Zerlina), it's easy enough to go along.

Even things like ...

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Categories: Clef Notes, Opera
        

September 26, 2012

'Anna Bolena' raises its head at Washington National Opera

There’s nothing like those Tudors and their affairs to provide gripping, juicy drama, as the recent Showtime series reconfirmed.

Donizetti found enough fodder in the intrigues of that royal court to fashion a trilogy of vivid operas in the 1830s: “Maria Stuarda” (staged by the late Baltimore Opera Company in 2007), “Roberto Devereux” (this seems to get the least attention these days) and “Anna Bolena.”

The latter, returning to the Washington National Opera repertoire after an absence of 19 years, is quite the gem.

With a fine libretto by Felice Romani, who lightly applied a seasoning of historic and poetic license, the work tells the sad tale of Anne Boelyn, the queen destined for the block after Henry VIII finds her lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour more appealing.

Donizetti’s score intensifies the familiar story through remarkable melodic richness and refined orchestral coloring.

The WNO production, which comes from the Dallas Opera and is directed by Stephen Lawless, starts off on a ...

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Categories: Clef Notes, Opera
        

Midweek Madness: Some Gershwin to enjoy while you're bidin' your time

Since it happens to be George Gershwin's 114th birthday, and since I have been bidin' my time, hopin' for inspiration to feed you pathetic need for another dose of Midweek Madness, I figured, what the hey -- why not Gershwin?

Everything about the number "Bidin' My Time" from the movie version of "Girl Grazy" is perfection -- words, music, Judy Garland's delicious phrasing and facial expressions, her equally engaging cowhand companions, the subtle arrangement, the droll choreography.

Makes me smile every time. I hope it does the same for you:

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Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

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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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

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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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

September 21, 2012

Modell Lyric announces $1 million pledge from Berman Foundation to support opera

Six weeks before the opening of Lyric Opera Baltimore's second season, the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric announced a $1 million pledge in support of opera from the Baltimore-based Sandra and Malcolm Berman Charitable Foundation, Inc.

"It is one of the largest gifts in the Modell Lyric's history," said Sandy Richmond, president and executive director of the center. "We're thrilled to receive it.

"This is a four-year commitment that started last season. We are announcing it now in conjunction with Lyric Opera Baltimore's grand production of 'La Boheme,'" Richmond said.

Performances are Nov. 2 and 4.The season continues with a gala concert in April and a production of "Rigoletto" in May.

The Berman gift, which will help underwrite a grand opera production each season, as well as support opera education programs and capital improvements, has been acknowledged inside the Modell Lyric with the naming of the Sandra and Malcolm Berman Grand Foyer.

The Bermans were subscribers for several years to the old Baltimore Opera Company, which folded in 2009.

"When that happened, we wanted to do whatever we could to help opera come back to Baltimore," said Sandra Berman, who is a member of the Lyric Opera Foundation board of trustees.

"We support a lot of other things, too, but we think that opera is extremely important in Baltimore. People shouldn't have to go to Washington or New York for opera. They should have top quality opera right here," Berman said.

When Lyric Opera Baltimore emerged as part of the Modell Lyric, the Bermans attended the company's 2011-2012 inaugural season of "La Traviata," The Marriage of Figaro" and "Faust."

"We thought the productions were ...

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Categories: Clef Notes, Opera
        

September 20, 2012

Handel Choir of Baltimore artistic director Melinda O'Neal to step down

Melinda O'Neal, whose nearly decade-long stewardship has helped turn the Handel Choir of Baltimore into a much stronger musical force in the community, will step down as artistic director and conductor after the 2012-2013 season.

"This is my ninth year with Handel Choir and it's time for me to stand aside, make room for the next generation," O'Neal said.

The organization "is in very good shape," she added, with a "fabulous board [and] leadership with real dedication and resourcefulness ... Singers are younger on average and evidencing increasing skills and lots of heart."

In a statement, Leslie Greenwald, president of the Handel Choir board of trustees said that O'Neal's "unique talents have established Handel Choir's reputation for outstanding and innovative concert experiences.

"Melinda has breathed new life into a longstanding Baltimore cultural institution, making even annual performances of 'Messiah' fresh and new. Because of the artistic strength of the Choir under Melinda's direction, we are confident we will attract exceptional talent for this position," Greenwald said.

A search committee has been formed. A new artistic director is expected to be appointed in time for the 2013-2014 season.

Founded in 1935, the Handel Choir is one of the city's oldest cultural organizations, devoted not just to music of its namesake but a wide range of choral repertoire.

Musical quality was decidedly uneven when O'Neal joined the group in 2004, but she moved quickly to improve standards and fashion a firmer identity for the choir.

That she achieved most notably by ...

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Categories: Clef Notes
        

Peabody Institute features recent works by composer Michael Hersch

Michael Hersch writes music of astounding, even thrilling, complexity; music that can be hard to grasp, yet impossible to let go of; and music of stark, unsettling, seemingly implausible beauty.

There was an impressive demonstration of all these qualities in a concert Tuesday night at the Peabody Institute, where Hersh studied and now heads the composition department.

The long, meaty program focused on works written in the past two years, works that find the composer as uncompromisingly serious and reflective as ever.

The newest item, receiving its world premiere, was "of ages manifest," a riveting score for unaccompanied alto saxophone.

In seven movements, the piece exploits what seems to be every conceivable, or inconceivable, sonic property of the instrument.

The myriad sounds encompass breathy whispers from the threshold of audibility, as well as horn-like wails, with many a finely shaded gradation in between.

Melodic lines leap wildly one moment, center on long, slow crescendos the next (the latter starts to sound a little too like an etude in the fifth movement).

Aggressive, almost martial rhythms (the fourth movement) are balanced by episodes of mournful song (the sixth).

Some of the wildest movements seem to rush toward a cliff and emit one last, primal yell that is eventually answered by just two or three soft notes, like a faint echo, or a message trying to make its way from another galaxy.

Out of all of this emerges a riveting kind of sound-poem that the soloist, ...

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Categories: Clef Notes, Peabody Institute
        

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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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

Midweek Madness: Honkin' with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass

It takes too long between each "Madmen" series to get a good '60s fix, so, as a public service, Midweek Madness presents a blast from that fabled era to tide you over.

Yes, I'm talking about Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, the quintessential (non-rock) '60s phenomenon. And this version of the giga-hit "Tijuana Taxi" -- well, it's beyond words.

Such choreography, such costumes, such camera angles, such inanity. Just try not to tap your toes, honk your horn, or wiggle your tush:

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Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

September 17, 2012

Kennedy Center picks Baltimore as ninth city in its Any Given Child education project

The Kennedy Center has chosen Baltimore as the ninth city to participate in Any Given Child, an education initiative aimed at improving access to the arts for all students K-8.

At a press announcement Monday morning at Highlandtown Elementary, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke of how the initiative would help the school system "leverage every resource we can."

In addition to providing increased exposure to the arts for students, the initiative will provide "professional development opportunities for our teachers," the mayor said.

Any Given Child is a multiyear project provided at no cost by the Kennedy Center. The first phase involves an audit conducted by Kennedy Center staffers and consultants to determine current arts education activities and needs throughout the school system.

The audit looks at ...

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Categories: Clef Notes
        

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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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

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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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

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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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes
        

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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Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop
        

Francesca Zambello named artistic director of Washington National Opera

When Francesca Zambello was named artistic advisor to Washington National Opera last year, after the company became an official part of the Kennedy Center, a widely held assumption was that she would eventually emerge as artistic director.

The assumption proved correct.

On Thursday morning, WNO made it official that Zambello, one of the opera world's most respected and in-demand stage directors, has been named WNO's artistic director, effective Jan. 1.

She joins an administrative team that includes Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser, WNO executive director Michael Mael and WNO music director Philippe Auguin. She will also direct one production per season, as well as oversee the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program and the American Opera Initiative, a project recently launched by the company to commission new works.

In a statement, Zambello said that she will aim to maintain "the high standards set by my predecessors" and "will respect what appeals to our long-time patrons and supporters while at the same time ...

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Categories: Clef Notes, Opera
        

September 12, 2012

On the Record: Complete solo piano music by Riccardo Malipiero

The classical recording business, which has had more postmortems than Howard Stassen (that'll give you younger folks something to Google), still keeps on ticking.

There is certainly not the same volume of yore, but that also means that there aren't quite as many additions to the overstuffed bins of Beethoven Fifth CDs.

I am constantly surprised by the esoteric fare that now pops up on disc, from obscure baroque gems right on through cutting-edge works where the ink on the scores is barely dry.

One recent item that caught my attention: The first recording of the complete solo piano music by Italian composer Riccardo Malipiero, performed by Jose Raul Lopez on a Toccata Classics release. Talk about off the beaten path.

The name Malipiero is not likely to register with many folks today, at least on these shores. Even people open to the more complex side of 20th-century music may not have encountered his work.

(His uncle, Gian Francesco Malipiero, left a larger mark as a composer, but is not really any better known to the average concertgoer or record buyer.)

With Riccardo Malipiero (1914-2003), we're talking about an ...

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2012 Kennedy Center Honors: Letterman, Hoffman, Makarova, Zeppelin, Buddy Guy

And the 35th annual Kennedy Center Honors  go to:

TV giant David Letterman, distinguished actor Dustin Hoffman, magical ballerina Natalia Makarova, influential blues guitarist Buddy Guy, and the potent rock band Led Zeppelin -- keyboardist/bassist John Paul Jones, guitarist Jimmy Page, and singer Robert Plant will each receive one of the awards.

(2012 is a shutout year for classical music, but that genre is bound to get back into the picture before too long.)  

Here's a statement released Wednesday morning from Kennedy Center chairman David M. Rubenstein:

With their ...

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Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens
        

September 11, 2012

National Symphony announces outreach in DC neighborhoods

Representatives of the National Symphony Orchestra gathered on Tuesday at Ben’s Chili Bowl, the U Street fixture that counts President Obama among its satisfied customers, to announce a new community outreach project.

The venture includes a concert in January at Howard University with NSO music director Christoph Eschenbach, principal pops conductor Steven Reineke and an eminent Howard U alumna -- soprano Jessye Norman.

The program will include ...

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Categories: Clef Notes, NSO
        

A musical reflection on 9/11: Soothing Schumann

Here in Baltimore, the day looks uncannily like Sept. 11, 2001, with the same gorgeous sky, the air that holds the last breath of summer and an enticing hint of fall. The image of nature's beauty contrasted with the horrid events caused by humans who had no regard for humanity continues to haunt.

Like a lot of people, I find in certain works of music a kind of balm, and I thought I would share an example on this anniversary, as I have in previous years. It's the third movement from ...

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September 10, 2012

Music in the Great Hall opens 39th season with French flourish

Virginia Reinecke, artistic director emerita of Music in the Great Hall, couldn't make it to the opening of the organization's 39th season Sunday afternoon;  the indefatigable nonagenarian keyboard artist is recuperating from shoulder replacement surgery (I think of her as the Bionic Pianist). But she would have had a ball.

To start, she would have loved the good turnout at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church; just as Virginia predicted, current artistic director Lura Johnson has lit a fresh fire under the concert series. The imaginative programming would likewise had pleased Virginia, the quality of the music-making even more.

The concert centered around the Bryant Park Quartet, a New York-based, six-year-old ensemble that features as first violinist Baltimore native Anna Elashvili, an alumna of Peabody Prep and the Baltimore School for the Arts.

In its local debut (it will be back for Sundays at Three in Columbia in February, Community Concerts at Second in May), the quartet came up with a ...

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Van Cliburn, battling bone cancer, makes surprise appearance onstage

Van Cliburn, who is battling advanced bone cancer, made a surprise appearance the other day at a concert marking the 50th anniversary of the international piano competition that bears his name in Fort Worth.

I've posted video of the event below. It is really something to see.

The 78-year-old Cliburn arrived unexpectedly at the concert hall at 7:29 p.m., a minute before the performance was to have started. According to

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September 5, 2012

Midweek Madness: A cetennial salute to John Cage

He was an amazing creative artist who taught the world that music is not defined by dots and bar lines on a page, or restrained by conventions of time and structure. Ironic, then, that his name was John Cage.

Nothing caged about this man, born 100 years ago on Sept. 5, 1912. He was the ultimate free thinker, the ultimate opener of doors and minds, the ultimate American maverick.

But Cage had quite a sense of fun, too, so I don't think he would mind being used for this installment of Midweek Madness. And what could be madder -- or more endearing -- than Cage's 1960 appearance on the TV game show, "I've Got a Secret"?

It's really something to see him politely putting up with host Gary Moore's skepticism and then, to nervous laughter from the audience, delivering a hearty performance of ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:33 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Midweek Madness
        

September 4, 2012

Personnel move at New York Times stirs concern in classical music world

Allan Kozinn, one of the most widely respected and admired critics at the paper for more than three decades, has been reassigned to a broader cultural beat.

 

It seems that Kozinn will not be reviewing for the Times at all. What a curious move for one of the greatest and, many of us thought, wisest of publications. Why would you ever want to marginalize such an incisive, engaging voice?

I know that there are at least two sides to every story. I know, too, that ...

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August 31, 2012

Pro Musica Rara offers student composer competition with royal twist

Competitions for young composers are not uncommon.

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:06 AM | | Comments (0)
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August 29, 2012

Midweek Madness: A light-hearted moment with Van Cliburn

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:53 AM | | Comments (0)
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August 28, 2012

Mobtown Modern 'on sabbatical' for 2012-2013 season

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

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

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

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

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

For the past few seasons, Sacawa essentially ...

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

Celebrated pianist Van Cliburn diagnosed with advanced bone cancer

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

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

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

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

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:30 AM | | Comments (0)
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August 27, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 24, 2012

A stay-cation interlude from the divine Leontyne Price

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

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

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:12 AM | | Comments (0)
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August 22, 2012

Young Victorian Theatre Company finds new home for 2013 summer season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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August 21, 2012

How I spent my summer stay-cation, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
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August 17, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:13 AM | | Comments (1)
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August 15, 2012

Midweek Madness: Splittsville in the country

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:31 AM | | Comments (0)
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August 14, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 7:25 AM | | Comments (0)
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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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Posted by Tim Smith at 8:49 AM | | Comments (0)
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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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Posted by Tim Smith at 12:49 PM | | Comments (0)
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A musical interlude: Reynaldo Hahn, Solomon

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

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

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:48 AM | | Comments (0)
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August 7, 2012

Marvin Hamlisch left imprint on Baltimore as BSO principal pops conductor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 12:48 PM | | Comments (0)
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EMI to release 'Fifty Shades of Grey' classical album selected by E L James

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:09 AM | | Comments (2)
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'The Rake's Progress' gets potent staging from Wolf Trap Opera

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 6, 2012

Maryland Public Television offers Opera Week featuring Met performances

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

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

But, hey, no station is perfect.

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

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

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

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

There will be three ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:53 AM | | Comments (0)
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August 3, 2012

Barry Manilow donates new Yamaha piano to Baltimore City Public Schools

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 4:14 PM | | Comments (0)
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Broadway-bound 'Diner' to be retooled, postpones out-of-town tryout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:45 AM | | Comments (0)
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July 31, 2012

Wolf Trap Opera to stage 'The Rake's Progress' by Stravinsky

If you missed Peabody Opera Theatre's production of "The Rake's Progress" last season, or if you want to discover or rediscover this unusual and rewarding work, consider a little trip to Vienna, Virginia.

Wolf Trap Opera Company, which can be counted on to enliven our summers with great repertoire, imaginative productions and promising young singers, unveils a new staging of the Stravinsky gem this weekend.

"The Rake's Progress" is a remarkably complex piece. Although the neoclassical music falls easily on the ears, there are intricate layers in the score, which has one foot in the 18th century, the other in contemporary times.

Same for the libretto, fashioned in extraordinarily rich poetic language by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

The story, inspired by William Hogarth's series of prints, "A Rake's Progress," the plot presents an allegory that has hardly lost its relevance or sting.

The would-be hero, Tom Rakewell, abandons his love and the kinder, gentler world of country life for the amoral enticements of the wicked city.

The director of the Wolf Trap production, Tara Faircloth, has written Tom "struggles to find meaning and purpose in a world that simply does not make sense anymore."

Who can't identify with that, especially these days?

The cast includes Corinne Winters (upper left) as Tom's aptly named sweetheart, Anne Trulove; Eric Barry (upper right) as Tom; Craig Colclough (middle left) as Nick Shadow, the Mephistophelian protagonist in this tale; and Margaret Gawrysiak (middle right) as Baba the Turk, the bearded lady who plays a curious role in Tom's descent.

Aaron Sorensen (lower left) as Father Trulove and James Kryshak (lower right) as Sellem the auctioneer are also in the cast. 

Dean Williamson will conduct. The stage designer is Erhard Rom, who has a quite a track record for ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:35 AM | | Comments (0)
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July 30, 2012

Washington International Piano Festival features Van Cliburn gold medalists

With all the talk of gold medals these days, it seems like a doubly appropriate time to point out that two winners will be at Catholic University in Washington this week. OK, so they're not Olympic athletes, but they did have to display exceptional skills during a high-pressure, competitive event to win the gold.

The Washington International Piano Festival, which provides master classes and private lessons to participants from around the world, also offers several public concerts. Two of those concerts will feature gold medalists of the high-profile Van Cliburn Competition.

On Wednesday evening, the ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:32 PM | | Comments (0)
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July 27, 2012

Hippodrome confirms 'Book of Mormon' for 2013-2014 season

First, the good news:

The Hippodrome Theatre has confirmed what could only be vaguely hinted at before, namely that "The Book of Mormon," the hottest Broadway musical in years, will play Baltimore.

The bad news:

Those singing, dancing Mormons will not hit the Hippodrome stage until the 2013-2014 season. But, hey, that's really not so far off.

The musical, which was created by the folks behind "South Park" and which won nine Tonys, starts its national tour this coming season. It will reach the Kennedy Center next July.

The dates for the Baltimore visit have not yet been finalized. Subscribers to the 2012-2013 Hippodrome Broadway Series will be first in line for the 'Mormon'-spiced 2013-2014 season.

REUTERS PHOTO

Posted by Tim Smith at 1:14 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

Trying to enjoy Wagner, guilt-free, and mostly succeeding

I adore Wagner's music, but, every now and then, I feel terribly guilty about it. And conflicted. Self-contradictory, too. Lately, the mix of enjoyment and queasiness really got to me.

It started with the weird story of Evgeny Nikitin, the Russian baritone who was supposed to sing the title role in "The Flying Dutchman" at Bayreuth, the festival/shrine in Germany that Wagner built to honor himself.

Nikitin withdrew (or was pushed out) a few days before Wednesday's opening performance after pictures surfaced showing a certain hideous symbol among his many tattoos. Yep, the swastika. (The picture here does not show the offending image. It's on his chest.)

Nikitin said he got the tats in his wilder young days when he was a member of a heavy metal band, as if that was justification. Didn't the Russians have a little trouble with the Nazis, too? Wouldn't a swastika be a really stupid thing for a Russian to decorate his body with?

Subsequent reports and images of the offending portion of the singer's chest confused the issue somewhat. Another design appears to have been placed over the swastika, as if in an attempt to obscure it. Whatever. The damage was done and, like any tattoo, will be awfully difficult to erase.

The issue just reminded everyone all over again about the hideous connection between Wagner and the Nazis, between the Nazis and Bayreuth, where Hitler was such a warmly welcomed guest.

I think the festival's decision to part ways with Nikitin was understandable and justifiable. Anything to avoid a scandal. But I know others will howl about over-reaction and hyper-sensitivity. I also imagine that ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:18 AM | | Comments (3)
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July 25, 2012

Midweek Madness: A swingin' summery song from (the original) January Jones

Since the whole country seems to be havin' a heat wave, a tropical heat wave this summer, I figured we could all use a beachy number for Midweek Madness. So here's the beachiest -- and bounciest -- I could find.

Let's have a great big welcome for the oh-so-talented January Jones (no, not that one), her bustin'-out calendar pinup girls and ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Midweek Madness
        

July 24, 2012

On the Record: Michael Tilson Thomas and San Francisco Symphony

One of the great success stories in American musical life is the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, which just celebrated its centennial season.

One of the contributing factors to that greatness is the 17-year tenure of music director Michael Tilson Thomas.

You just never know how the chemistry between an orchestra and conductor will turn out over the long haul, whether initial euphoria will give way to ennui (or vice versa).

And whether the inevitable bumps along the way in the relationship -- unpopular decisions about repertoire or personnel, displays of temper, workplace and contract issues, whatever -- will cause a serious or only glancing blow.

But something pretty cool happened right from the start of the union between SFS and MTT, and every indication is that the magic still happens on a regular basis.

There's a lot of recorded evidence of the synergy in San Francisco, thanks to the orchestra's own label, SFS Media, which has produced several Grammy winners. The latest CDs are devoted to works by ...

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July 22, 2012

Yekwon Sunwoo wins 2012 Kapell Competition at University of Maryland

Yekwon Sunwoo capped his two-week efforts in the 2012 William Kapell International Piano Competition and Festival with a bold, confident account of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 3 Saturday night at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Center.

After about a half hour of deliberations, the jury gave Sunwoo the first prize.

In addition to the $25,000 award, the 23-year-old South Korean pianist won the audience prize, tabulated by ballots cast after the concerto round, which featured three finalists performing with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

It was easy to hear the reasons for Sunwoo's success. He tackled the demanding concerto with technique to spare and, more importantly, ...

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July 19, 2012

Three Kapell Competition finalists to perform with Baltimore Symphony Saturday

Last week, there were more than two dozen young artists vying for top honors in the 2012 William Kapell International Piano Competition at the University of Maryland. There are three now.

The last hurdle for the finalists is to perform works for piano and orchestra with the Baltimore Symphony, conducted by David Lockington, Saturday night at the Clarice Smith Center.

Jin Uk Kim, 28, from South Korea, will be the soloist in Brahms' Concerto No. 2. Kim is working on his doctorate at the New England Conservatory.

American Steven Lin, 23, a graduate student at the Juilliard School, will play ...

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July 18, 2012

Modell Center at the Lyric announces 2012-13 season

Popular, propulsive musicals; vintage rock bands; a smattering of cirque and Celtic; an evening with Whoopi Goldberg -- all components in the 2012-2013 season lineup of the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric.

Two Broadway hits that have toured the region in recent years are on the list: The energetic Public Theater revival of the original rock music, "Hair" (March 8 and 9); and "Dreamgirls," a high-energy show very loosely based on The Supremes and other Motown groups (May 4 and 5).

In a bit of age-defying bravado, 60-year-old Cathy Rigby will be back in the air as the title character in "Peter Pan," the role that earned her a Tony nomination in 1990. The show is booked March 22 and 24.

Other productions on the schedule include ...

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July 17, 2012

Young Victorian Theatre Company offers exuberant 'Mikado'

Even folks usually immune to the charms of Gilbert and Sullivan -- such people are to be viewed with sincere pity (if not a little wariness) -- may find it hard to resist Young Victorian Theatre Company's exuberant production of "The Mikado."

Whatever ragged edges may crop up on the vocal and orchestral fronts, along with a few theatrical misfires, this staging at the Bryn Mawr School reflects well on Baltimore's intrepid champion of the G&S canon.

The boundless melodic invention of Sullivan's score emerges engagingly, especially in the brilliant Act 1 finale, which, for structural ingenuity and expressive intensity, can hold its own against anything by Donizetti.

And the production effectively honors Gilbert's nutty plot about thwarted love and governmental lunacy in Titipu (the Japanese trappings do not disguise for a moment the British targets). Gilbert still seems remarkably ahead of his time in how he manages to ...

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July 14, 2012

BSO, Bach and the Brandenburgs prove to be potent draw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 13, 2012

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato on the art of being yourself

Would-be opera singers of any voice type -- and hair color -- need to read and take to heart the advice that stellar mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato gave on her Web journal to a young singer.

The question that prompted the advice was about, yes, hair color -- whether a blond mezzo can have more fun, or ...

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July 11, 2012

Midweek Madness: Sliding with Yvette

Honest, I have nothing against the accordion. And I think it's great that the American Accordionists' Association is holding its annual festival and competition this week right here in dear old Baltimore.

I am, however, one of those unfortunate souls ever so old enough to recall the days when the instrument wasn't taken too seriously, thanks largely to some pretty tacky accordionists, so it took me a while to view the accordion in a better light.

I love the fact that the accordion is now getting more respect and more exposure, in a wide variety of musical genres and performed by serious musicians of all ages. Turns out it's really cool after all.

That said, I couldn't resist sharing a ...

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July 10, 2012

More season announcements: Great Hall, Pro Musica, Community Concerts

The 2012-2013 music season is shaping up nicely. The latest evidence comes from these three long-running Sunday afternoon concert series:

Music in the Great Hall will mark its 39th season with an exceptionally strong lineup, the strongest I can remember in recent years.

Of particular note is an appearance by the always-impressive duo of revered pianist Leon Fleisher and his wife, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher. They'll be heard on April 28 in one of their signature pieces, Ravel's "La Valse," on a program of four-hand and solo repertoire.

The Bryant Park Quartet from New York will open the season Sept. 9, joined by BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney and Great Hall artistic director Lura Johnson in a performance of Chausson's lush, infrequently programmed Concerto for piano, violin and string quartet. (UPDATE: Though more frequently programmed in Baltimore, I should have added -- the Chausson work will be performed in March in a Shriver Hall Concert Series presentation.)

Speaking of the BSO, the orchestra's ...

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July 8, 2012

Kapell Competition opens with recital by jury chair Santiago Rodriguez

The bar has already been set high for the 2012 William Kapell International Piano Competition, and the first round hasn't even started.

To launch the two-week event at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, the chair of this year's jury, Santiago Rodriguez, gave a terrific recital Saturday night, part of the keyboard festival that runs concurrently with the competition.

Rodriguez, the 1975 Kapell winner, offered a level of interpretive imagination and technical poise that ought to have been inspiring (and maybe a little intimidating) to any of the young contestants who will be vying for the $25,000 top prize this year.

Sure, there are pianists who can play faster or louder -- the primary goals of many a keyboard practitioner. But what you heard in this recital was, from start to finish, a remarkable dignity.

I don't mean it was reserved, stuffy, pedantic or anything like that. I'm talking dignity -- of musicality and bearing (Rodriguez is of the poker-face school, which some hyper-emotive younger players would be wise to emulate).

There was more than enough bravura along the way, but never in an indulgent manner. And the pianist, unlike far too many these days, always maintained beauty of tone.

OK, not always. There was one harsh, whomping attack just before the coda in ...

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July 4, 2012

Midweek Madness: Yankee Doodle marching to a different beat

Wednesday being a great big holiday, we don't really need the diversion of Midweek Madness, but what the heck?

Here, to get you into the swing of Independence Day is a burst of Stan Freberg, from his ...

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July 2, 2012

Guest blog post: Report from Washington Early Music Festival

Apologies for being late posting this guest blog review (there was a little storm in the area over the weekend that threw me off-course). --TIM

By Logan K. Young

One of the greatest things about classical music has always been its deference to history. In fact, it's this particular truth that’s enabled the Washington Early Music Festival to thrive for the past six seasons.

But what makes for an "historically informed performance"? For those unfamiliar with viols, mean tone temperament and the Doctrine of Affections, it can seem like a needlessly heady designation. In theory, any performance that’s not a premiere is inherently informed by history.

At the head of the information debate sits the notion that Bach's orchestra was indeed vastly different than the one Marin Alsop leads today. This idea may be held self-evident, but as in any argument of sound, there's bound to be a slippery slope.

For extremists like Canada's Tafelmusik, everything must go — down to the strings, themselves. It's gut, not hair (much less synthetics), that Jeanne Lamon, Tafelmusik's activist director, demands.

And let's not even get started on Sir Roger Norrington...

The truth is some ensembles are simply more "H.I.P." than others. And the really great ones, well, they study at least as much as they rehearse.

John Moran and Risa Browder's Modern Musick, celebrating its own tenth season in 2012, is one such group.

Moran teaches viola da gamba, baroque cello and performance practice at Peabody, where he co-directs the Baltimore Baroque Band with Browder, his wife. Both are distinguished graduates of the Oberlin Conservatory and the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland.

And Thursday night's concert at St. Mark's Episcopal on Capitol Hill proved just how well-read they are; every eye, and ear, was upon them.

Thankfully, Moran and Browder aren't nearly as dogmatic as some of their performance practice peers. To wit, their kind of grace made Modern Musick's all-Venetian program ("Venezia, mi amore!") truly resplendent.

Marco Uccellini's opening "Sinfonia boscarecie" (1660) remained effective, but not affected. There are some thorny chromatic passages in the middle movements, and Moran, Browder and second violinist Leslie Nero executed them with aplomb.

All evening, harpsichordist Adam Pearl's continuo realizations sounded ...

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Exceptional American soprano Evelyn Lear dies at 86

Evelyn Lear, the exceptional American soprano whose repertoire ranged from Mozart and Berg to Bernstein and Sondheim, died Sunday at a nursing home in Sandy Spring, Maryland. She was 86.

Her death comes six years after that of her husband of five decades, baritone Thomas Stewart. Each singer enjoyed a remarkable career; as a team, they were even more formidable and delectable, onstage and off.

Although both entered retirement, they never really left the music world. They put a lot of time and effort into the mentoring of young singers, for example, especially those with a potential for tackling the Wagnerian repertoire. The Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Emerging Singers Program, established through the Wagner Society of Washington, was a project that gave both artists considerable pride.

Miss Lear enjoyed getting back onstage long after her Metropolitan Opera farewell in 1995. I'll never forget one of those post-Met performances, when she portrayed ...

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June 28, 2012

Baltimore Concert Opera founder to become general director of Opera Delaware

Brendan Cooke, founding general director of Baltimore Concert Opera, has been named general director of Opera Delaware. He starts on the new job July 10.

Cooke launched Baltimore Concert Opera three years ago when Baltimore Opera Company started its descent into bankruptcy and liquidation.

A baritone who sang regularly with Baltimore Opera and other companies, Cooke successfully built the new organization with the help of other local singers and opera fans.

There was little money to start, and no guarantee that audiences would come to un-staged performances with only piano accompaniment in the ballroom of the Engineers Club.

But the concept caught on, and the Baltimore Concert Opera has developed a loyal audience.

The organization plans to continue. Cooke will ...

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Centennial of conductor Sergiu Celibidache a reminder of poetic license

OK, I know -- I pay way too much attention to anniversary dates. Which reminds me: Why aren't people in Baltimore doing more to acknowledge the150th anniversary of Debussy's birth?

But I digress. Today's indulgence in backward glances has to do with Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache, born June 28, 1912 (he died Aug. 14, 1996). I think it's safe to say that the general classical music-loving public in this country does not know much about the man or his work. But he is well worth discovering.

Active mostly in Europe -- he led the Berlin Philharmonic after the war until Furtwangler's return and later held posts with orchestras in Stockholm, Munich and elsewhere -- Celibidache became something of a cult figure over time. This was due both to ...

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June 27, 2012

Midweek Madness: You gotta have a gimmick

As they sing in "Gypsy," "get yourself a gimmick and you, too, can be a star."

Here, for your Midweek Madness diversion, is a soprano who found her gimmick in ...

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June 26, 2012

Christina Scheppelmann to Oman, after artistic operations post at Washington National Opera

UPDATE 6/26: Word is that Christina Scheppelmann will become CEO of the Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman.

Christina Scheppelmann, the highly skilled, broadly knowledgeable and genial director of artistic operations for Washington National Opera, will depart Nov. 30 after a decade on the job.

Scheppelmann, hired by former WNO general director Placido Domingo, has been involved in putting together repertoire and casts, launching new projects (such as the American Opera Initiative), overseeing management of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, etc. According to the company's announcement Thursday, Scheppelmann will disclose "her forthcoming plans at a later date."

She is quoted as saying: “I owe thanks to ...

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National Symphony Orchestra adds Oman to 2013 tour

While still traveling on its first tour with music director Christoph Eschenbach, the National Symphony Orchestra has just added a stop to the next one.

Word arrived Tuesday from Sao Paulo that the NSO will be visiting Oman next February, becoming the first major American orchestra to perform at the Royal Opera House Muscat. The soloist will be violinist Dan Zhu, performing Mozart’s Concerto No. 5.

The Oman concert extends the previously announced winter 2013 tour that begins on Jan. 31 and includes stops in Paris, two cities in Spain, four in Germany. The NSO is currently wrapping up its Americas tour, which has involved visits to Trinidad, Tobago, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:59 AM | | Comments (0)
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On the centennial of Mahler's Ninth, a look at the embedded Strauss waltz

One hundred years ago -- June 26, 1912 -- Bruno Walter conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in the posthumous premiere of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 9.

To mark this important anniversary, I think we should all find 90 minutes somehow and lose ourselves today in this music, which so profoundly sums up the composer's art and soul. A live performance may not be possible to find on the actual bicentennial date, but there is no shortage of excellent recordings.

The obvious one to seek out on such an occasion is ...

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June 25, 2012

Rembering the art of composer/lyricist Richard Adler

The death last week of composer and lyricist Richard Adler at the age of 90 got a lot of us remembering the colorful Broadway scores that he created with Jerry Ross, "Pajama Game" and "Damn Yankees."

The death of Mr. Ross at age 29 cut that inventive collaboration short, but those two shows were enough to assure both men lasting fame. Mr. Adler continued to write and produce -- he most famously staged the now iconic celebration for President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden where Marilyn Monroe breathed "Happy Birthday."

I thought you might enjoy these reminders of Mr. Adler's gift -- the endearing ...

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June 20, 2012

MIdweek Madness: A little something stupid, insipid and possibly insane

OK, Midweek Madness fans -- you ain't seen nothing yet.

I am almost sorry to unleash this one on you, because it could make your day feel quite unbalanced, and lead to some very disturbing dreams at night.

As you know, the illustrious Frank Sinatra occasionally slipped a little in the choice of musical material. One of his aesthetic plunges was ...

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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 18, 2012

Next-day thoughts on Philip Glass' 'Overture for 2012'

If you blinked (metaphorically speaking), you might have missed "Overture for 2012," the new work by Philip Glass unveiled Sunday night in Baltimore and Toronto as part of events commemorating the War of 1812.

It seems the composer took the term "overture" at its most literal, fashioning a brief curtain-raiser of about five minutes.

The Baltimore and Toronto symphonies were expecting something closer to 12 (can they get a partial refund of the commission?).

I've heard from folks disappointed at how quickly the Glass piece flashed by. I, too, was surprised by the brevity, but, mostly, in ...

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June 17, 2012

Barbara Cook and the art of song-styling in Kennedy Center concert

It's worth being reminded, from time to time, that our musical divinities are human after all.

Barbara Cook, who made her Broadway debut six decades ago and has long enjoyed living legend status, looked a little unsteady as she made her way with a cane onto the stage at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater Friday night. (She told the audience she had been barely able to walk a few weeks earlier.)

She sounded a little unsteady, too, when she launched into her opener, "Let's Fall In Love," only to stop after a couple measures because she didn't like what she was hearing (or not hearing) through the monitors.

Even after things resumed, there were occasional unsettled moments, a few pitch slips, a bit of hoarseness. But you know what? None of that, absolutely none of it, mattered in the slightest.

First of all, Cook turns 85 this fall -- yes, 85. Many singers can't carry a tune well after 70. She still sets an amazing standard not just for vocal longevity, but also for artistic consistency.

Cook remains extremely important, even crucial, to our understanding of how to communicate through song. Any opportunity to be in her presence is to be treasured. It's that simple.

For about 80 minutes, the artist reaffirmed her stature (and her great sense of humor). Backed with sensitivity and stylish flair by pianist Ted Rosenthal and a trio of other first-rate players, Cook moved through a program rich in ...

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June 16, 2012

Center Stage artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah on Queen's honors list

Kwame Kwei-Armah, the British-born playwright, director and actor who just wrapped up his first season as artistic director of Baltimore's Center Stage, has received an OBE -- Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire -- from Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen's Birthday Honors List for 2012, released Saturday, recognizes achievement and service in a variety of fields, from government and journalism to philanthropy and the arts.

Kwei-Armah's, whose plays have been produced in London's Wets End to considerable acclaim, received the OBE "for services to Drama."  He will be presented with the honor at Buckingham Palace later this year. (An OBE is a couple steps below the top honor of knighthood, so he will not be known as Sir Kwame.)

UPDATE: In a statement released Monday, Kwei-Armah said: "My mother came from a tiny village in a small island in the Caribbean. If she were here today on this announcement, I perceive that it may have validated much of the pain, suffering and self-sacrifice she, my father, and many other family members of the Windrush generation went through to give their children a shot of living what I would of course call the West Indian dream, but what is in fact, the immigrant’s dream.

"A dream that although far from complete, has made our country a warmer, more equitable place than it was when they first arrived on its shores. It is with this narrative at the forefront of my mind that I say I am truly humbled to have been given this award."