September 19, 2011

Monday Musings: The perennial problem of thoughtless audiences

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

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

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

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:19 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Monday Musings

August 29, 2011

Monday Musings: What should classical musicians wear onstage?

The music season is getting closer, which seems as good an occasion as any for addressing the issue of dressing -- what classical musicians wear onstage.

It's an old, old issue, of course, but one that never loses its ability to generate different, often very strong views.

There was a flurry of chatter on the subject a few weeks ago after the gifted young pianist Yuja Wang performed at the Hollywood Bowl.

Audiences don't always get so much -- or, in this case, so little -- of a fashion statement when they hear a Rachmaninoff concerto. The pianist's red mini-mini-mini-dress had eyes bugging out like crazy, from all reports.

Soloists typically are granted considerable leeway when it comes to attire. Same for conductors. Individuality is quite common, and is likely to remain that way.

Time was when male soloists and conductors didn't look much different from each other, fashion-wise, or from men who played in orchestras. White tie and tails ruled.

Now, lots of variety is seen, from the untucked, open-neck black shirts of Joshua Bell to the snazzy, specially designed suits sported by Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

Women have long had more freedom. A woman dressed in a conservative black dress to give a recital or perform a concerto would, I think, be a decided anomaly now. A woman changing at intermission into a second take-notice outfit for the rest of a concert isn't uncommon at all.

The public probably ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 9:21 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Clef Notes, Monday Musings

August 22, 2011

Monday Musings: How just a few notes can create lasting magic

Like so many artsy types, I spend a good deal of most Sunday mornings poring through the New York Times. It's what one does, after all.

After going through Sunday Review and getting all worked up again about one political issue or another (speaking of Sunday Review, will Gail Collins please, please finish writing her damn book and get back to penning those marvelous op-eds?), I turned to the A&L section.

Zachary Woolfe, whose work has impressed me a good deal since he joined the Times stable of music writers last season, had an interesting column on the nature of charisma -- why some classical musical artists have it, some don't; why "you simply can't look away from" the charismatic ones, how their gift can elevate "even the most unassuming musical passage."

(Nice to see an essay on such a subject given prominent play on the front page of the section. That wouldn't -- couldn't -- happen at a lot of papers in this country.)

Reading Woolfe's article made me start to think about ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 5:55 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Clef Notes, Monday Musings

July 25, 2011

Monday Musings: The slow movements of Mozart and Schubert piano sonatas

Welcome to a blog feature that I have decided to launch today, despite an inexcusable lack of popular demand. I'm calling it Monday Musings, for want of a better title, and I'll be using this space to bore the heck out of you with some of my most intimate, revealing and downright shuddering thoughts on musical topics. Set your automatic reminder devices now.

About a week ago, in the privacy of my living room and seated at my beloved Steinway, I started working my way through the piano sonatas of Mozart -- not the whole sonatas, mind you, just the easier -- I mean slower -- movements.

There was no great forethought to this. The Mozart sonatas book just happened to looking up at me from the periodically re-stocked stack of scores I keep, not very tidily, next to the piano (much to my partner's annoyance, I'm sure).

Anyway, I picked up the book and just decided to start at the beginning, looking for the slow, or at least slower, movements, possibly because I was feeling a bit melancholy (working in journalism these days can leave one quite moody).

Besides, I don't have the technical suavity to handle the faster stuff without frightening the cats. Not that I can guarantee that every note of the slow stuff will be immaculate, either. Like Algernon in "The Importance of Being Earnest," "I don't play accurately. Anyone can play accurately. But I play with wonderful expression."

So there I was, starting with the Andante from K. 279 and then the Adagio from K. 280, and so on (I confess that my Andantes are usually closer to Adagios, but that's just so I can slip in more of that wonderful expression.)

I remember thinking how much ...

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Posted by Tim Smith at 6:49 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Clef Notes, Monday Musings
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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

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

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