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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 ....

 

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

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

April 16, 2012

Takacs Quartet reconfirms its stature in Shriver Hall concert

The Takacs Quartet first came to attention in Budapest more than 30 years ago and quickly earned a prominent place in the chamber music world.

A few personnel changes over the decades have done nothing to diminish the quality and stature of the ensemble, currently based at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

That point was driven home Sunday evening in an appearance for the Shriver Hall Concert Series.

At the start of the program, the players dug into the Debussy quartet with a dark sound and, in the score's more animated movements, a muscular articulation that drew out the music's inner strength.

Janacek's brilliant Quartet No. 1, nicknamed the "Kreutzer Sonata" after Tolstoy's story of love and jealousy, inspired a taut, superbly articulated account from the Takacs group.

The occasion also provided first violinist Edward Dusinberre an opportunity to demonstrate his ... 

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Posted by Tim Smith at 2:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Shriver Hall
        

March 20, 2012

Shriver Hall Concert Series assembles another stellar roster for 2012-2013

It's not news that the Shriver Hall Concert Series offers major artists from the classical music arena. Still, the 2012-2013 lineup strikes me as one of the starriest yet.

For keyboard fans, two exceptionally imaginative virtuosos are slated: Marc-Andre Hamelin and Piotr Anderszewski.

The string soloists are nothing to sneeze at, either. Cellist Alban Gerhardt will give a recital, accompanied by pianist Cecile Licad. Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg will give a concert with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott and the Parker Quartet.

Speaking of chamber ensemble, two of the best from the younger generation will be ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 7:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Shriver Hall
        

March 19, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 2:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Shriver Hall
        

February 28, 2012

Wolfgang Holzmair offers intense 'Winterreise' for Shriver Hall Concert Series

When Franz Schubert was feeling down, we're talking way down. And no composer could capture the heart of despondency the way he could in song, especially in "Winterreise."

Depression never sounded more beautiful.

The 24 poems by Wilhelm Muller he chose convey a chilling case of someone who has his love, and his way. This wintry journey, which, in a good performance, seems every bit as physical as it is emotional and metaphorical, achieves a profound depth.

On Sunday evening, Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair sang "Winterreise" in a Shriver Hall Concert Series presentation, accompanied by American pianist Russell Ryan.

There was some disappointment. Holzmair's voice sounded thin and nasally (a cold, perhaps?), and it was pushed to the limit in the most drama-laden songs, such as "Der sturmische Morgen" and "Mut." But, in the end, the singer ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:50 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Clef Notes, Shriver Hall
        

January 30, 2012

Les Violons du Roy, recorder soloist Maurice Steger light up Shriver Hall

I don't think of the typical Shriver Hall Concert Series crowd as very likely to do a lot of enthusiastic hooting and hollering over baroque music, but that was the reaction given Sunday evening to Les Violons du Roy. No wonder.

This ensemble of 15 from Quebec City delivered a sterling demonstration of period instrument panache, and had the extra advantage of a Pied Piper-like soloist who worked his magic on three concertos.

The whole program had an infectious energy. And, for all of the obvious discipline and fine-honing in the execution, there was an air of spontaneity, too.

If you never thought a "historically informed" performance could be fun, this concert would have turned your ears.

Les Violons du Roy, conducted by founding artistic director Bernard Labadie, got things started with Handel's Concerto Grosso in B-flat (Op. 6, No. 7).

There were pianissimi of the finest grade. Every crescendo, accelerando, ritardando and other expressive device was achieved with great finesse.

The overall sound of the orchestra was quite warm, far from the dry tone of early music groups in the first days of the authenticity movement; tempos, too, felt more flexible.

When speed was desired, as in the most spirited variations in the "La Follia" Concerto Gross by Geminiani (after Corelli), it hit unabashedly supersonic levels, yet never left a single player in the dust. Solo playing within the ensemble was uniformly impressive, at whatever speed.

The rest of the program was devoted to ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:49 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Shriver Hall
        

October 11, 2011

St. Lawrence String Quartet opens Shriver Hall Concert Series

Folks convinced that they hate chamber music should spend a couple hours with the St. Lawrence String Quartet. The conversion rate would surely be high.

This group, which opened the 46th season of the Shriver Hall Concert Series Sunday evening, backs up impressive technical skills with a level of infectious enthusiasm, not to mention an ability to communicate.

In violinist Geoff Nuttall, the ensemble has an unusually effective spokesperson. It's no wonder that he recently succeeded the affable Charles Wadsworth as chamber music director at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC.

Wadsworth earned famed for his folksy, droll introductions at concerts. Nuttall can also deliver aural program notes in an animated, amusing style, as he did throughout Sunday's concert (maybe a little too often).

In addition to knowing how to coax an audience into listening harder, he can even get them to ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:40 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Clef Notes, Shriver Hall
        

May 31, 2011

Single Carrot Theatre names new artistic director

Nathan Cooper has been named artistic director of Single Carrot Theatre, the ensemble company that has been shaking up Baltimore's arts scene since 2007.

Cooper has acted in several Single Carrot productions since 2008, including "Killer Joe," "The Wild Duck," "Playing Dead" and "The Other Shore." His edgy performance in the doomsday satire "Tragedy" last season was particularly effective.

He's in the cast of "Linus & Alora," which opens next week, wrapping up Single Carrot's fourth season, and he will direct a production of "MilkMilkLemonade" next season for the company.

Cooper has also served as director of finance for the company. He succeeds founding artistic director J. Buck Jabaily, who left the organization last year take the helm of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance.

"My focus first and foremost is the ensemble," Cooper said in a statement released Tuesday, "but I want to ensure that we collaborate with the greater theater community to develop artistry on a larger scale in Baltimore ... I’m excited to further these relationships, and recognize that collaboration is at the heart of continued sustainability."

Jabaily said he felt it was important "for the next artistic leader of Single Carrot to ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 10:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Shriver Hall
        

May 2, 2011

Shriver Hall Concert Series ends season with Tokyo Quartet, Leon Fleisher

The Tokyo String Quartet is a strong enough draw on its own, but the additional presence of veteran pianist Leon Fleisher guaranteed a large turnout to Sunday's season finale of the Shriver Hall Concert Series. Extra seats were added onstage.

The program underwent a change due to the slow recovery from right-hand thumb surgery Fleisher has been experiencing since last year.

Out went the hefty Brahms F minor Piano Quintet; in came a chamber version of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12 (with the participation of Baltimore Symphony principal bassist Robert Barney).

Offering an "explication" to the audience before the performance, the ever-droll Fleisher said that his surgeon told him ...

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

April 8, 2011

Escher Quartet, fresh from surprise at NY emporium, to make Baltimore debut

The Escher String Quartet has been winning attention as an up-and-comer on the chamber music scene. It also got some fresh notice earlier this week at Zabar's, the up-market food emporium in New York City.

There, the ensemble played some serious Beethoven for unsuspecting shoppers near the fish counter. I must say I still get a kick out of this national trend of sneak attacks by classical musicians. I've posted video below.

Note that the Escher Quartet will make its Baltimore debut Saturday, courtesy of the Shriver Hall Concert Series. The 3 p.m. concert, part of the annual Discovery Series held at the Baltimore Museum of Art, offers works by Brahms and Zemlinsky, as well as the complete Op. 95 by Beethoven that the players served up the first movement of at Zabar's.

Admission is free; advance reservations recommended (and a $10 donation gladly accepted).

Now here's that nosh of Beethoven with smoked salmon:

Continue reading "Escher Quartet, fresh from surprise at NY emporium, to make Baltimore debut" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Shriver Hall
        

March 16, 2011

Shriver Hall Concert Series announces 2011-2012 season

With a typically starry flourish, the 46th Shriver Hall Concert Series will do its part to light up Baltimore's classical music scene.

Recitalists on the 2011-2012 lineup include eminent pianist Richard Goode performing Chopin and Schumann; top-notch violinist Christian Tetzlaff with the equally incisive pianist Lars Vogt in a program of Schumann, Brahms and Bartok; Steven Isserlis, a remarkably colorful cellist, whose program includes music of provocative contemporary British composer Thomas Ades; and the fine keyboard artist Angela Hewitt in a program that includes works of Bach, Faure and Ravel.

It's also great to see that, despite resistance from some Shriver Hall subscribers, there will be another vocal recital next season. And it promises to be a most absorbing one --

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Posted by Tim Smith at 11:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Shriver Hall
        

March 15, 2011

Shriver Hall Concert Series presents Michael Lawrence documentary 'Bach and Friends'

If you haven't yet seen "Bach and Friends," the fine documentary by Baltimore filmmaker Michael Lawrence, there will be a showing Wednesday evening by the Shriver Hall Concert Series.

The film, released last hear on DVD, has been getting more and more attention at film and music festivals. No wonder. It's an affecting tribute to the inspirational force of Bach, with fascinating comments and remarkable music-making by a rich cross-section of artists, from uke virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman to violinists Joshua Bell and Hillary Hahn and composer Philip Glass.

And if this film whets your appetite for more, the good news is that Lawrence is embarking on another; the next one will focus on Bach's vocal music.

Here's a clip from "Bach and Friends" to get you in the mood -- banjo ace Bela Fleck explaining and demonstrating his attraction to the heart and genius of the composer's music:

Continue reading "Shriver Hall Concert Series presents Michael Lawrence documentary 'Bach and Friends' " »

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

March 7, 2011

Weekend whirlwind, final round: Andre Watts at Shriver Hall

This being the Liszt bicentennial year, it's not surprising that pianists should devote recitals to his music, or that there would be two such recitals in the DC/Baltimore area over the weekend. It's also not surprising that Evgeny Kissin's performance Saturday afternoon at the Kennedy Center would be an awfully hard act to follow.

Stepping in for an indisposed Nelson Freire, Andre Watts offered his homage to Liszt Sunday evening for the Shriver Hall Concert Series. (It was my fourth concert in 48 hours; all of them involved pianists, as it turned out.)  

Maybe if I didn't still have Kissin's sound and style still so fresh in my head I would found Watts' playing more satisfying. But I still suspect I would have wished for a greater variety of tonal shading, more technical polish, more interesting approaches to phrasing.

That said, I was, as always, taken with ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 1:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Shriver Hall
        

February 15, 2011

Measha Brueggergosman explores nocturnal themes in Shriver Hall recital

In addition to having one of the longest names in the business, soprano Measha Brueggergosman has one of most engaging personalities around.

It comes through the moment you see her walk onstage barefoot -- her trademark -- and it shines quite brightly even though she tends to stand quite rigid, hands at her side, when she sings.

At her best, she produces a warm, vibrant sound and articulates with admirable clarity. Her phrasing tends to be straightforward, unfussy, but never indifferent. She can communicate a text in telling fashion. If there are times when one might wish for a little more tonal and dynamic nuance, such moments tend to be fleeting.

So it was during Brueggergosman's appearance Sunday evening on the Shriver Hall Concert Series as she explored repertoire centered, more or less, around nocturnal themes, the subject of her recent Deutsche Grammophon recording "Night and Dreams." The program included some selections from that disc and was accompanied by the same remarkably sensitive pianist heard on the recording, Justus Zeyen.

In Schubert's "Nachstuck,"

Continue reading "Measha Brueggergosman explores nocturnal themes in Shriver Hall recital" »

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:11 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes, Shriver Hall
        

February 13, 2011

Nelson Freire cancels U.S. tour; Andre Watts steps in for Shriver Hall recital

Due to a recurrence of tendonitis, superlative pianist Nelson Freire has canceled his U.S. tour that was to have included a recital for the Shriver Hall Concert Series on March 6.

That was one of the events I was most looking forward to this season. As it turns out, there will still be a piano recital March 6 at Shriver Hall, performed by a fine artist. Andre Watts was available to step in and will bring an all-Liszt program with him.

Since 2011 marks Liszt's bicentennial year and since the composer has been associated with Watts from the beginning of the pianist's long career, that program looks all the more enticing. The B minor Sonata will be on the bill, along with several etudes and a Hungarian Rhapsody. Remarkably, this will be Watts' Shriver Hall debut.

Posted by Tim Smith at 2:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Shriver Hall
        
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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at baltimoresun.com/artsmash. This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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