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 ...
The Elegiac Trio by Arnold Bax also owes something to the sound world of late-19th, early-20th-century French music. The concise, beautifully constructed piece received a supple performance.
The Trio by Harold Genzmer, a work full of charm, where flirtations with dissonance are invariably resolved peacefully in the final chord, a la Hindemith. The concluding folk song variations -- the wry coda is especially fun -- found the players in vivid form.
I made a dash for it at intermission to Kraushaar Auditorium for the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra's concert, which was in progress when I arrived.
The portion of the Mozart Divertimento I caught found the ensemble's fine string section maintaining a cohesive tone and phrasing with a good deal of nuance. On the podium, Markand Thakar demonstrated the art of the unobtrusive conductor -- minimal gestures, maximum expression.
Things were likewise polished and vivid at the program's close in the deliciously neo-baroque Concerto Grosso No. 1 by Bloch. Thakar had the ingenious music percolating nicely and drew finely detailed efforts from the orchestra and the various soloists within.
The rest of the program showcased guest artist Katherine Needleman, whose work as principal oboe of the BSO has long been admired.
She soared through Bach's A major Concerto for oboe d'amore as if on one breath, sculpting the melodic lines with great flair. The strings, led by the concertmaster, backed the soloist sensitively; the gently rocking second movement emerged with particular warmth.
Needleman was even more impressive in Vaughan Williams' Oboe Concerto. The piece, much of it in the composer's "Lark Ascending" mode, inspired exquisite, mellow-toned phrasing from the soloist, while Thakar and the ensemble provided stylish partnering.
Instead of Feb. 17, the new closing date will be Feb. 24.
There are many reasons to catch this show, starting with the brilliant play that Tracy Letts wrote. In peeling away layer after layer of a heavily troubled Oklahoma family, Letts uncovers unsettling things about all of us.
Those uncanny insights into human behavior, not to mention a wonderful streak of humor, earned Letts a Pulitzer and Tony Award for "August."
Everyman's staging -- the Baltimore premiere of the 2007 work -- features an excellent cast headed by the wonderful Linda Thorson in her company debut as the messed-up matriarch.
There are extraordinary efforts as well from Nancy Robinette (another company debut) and such Everyman veterans as Deborah Hazlett and Wil Love, to mention just a few.
The all-out ensemble effort reaffirms Everyman's quality and value to Baltimore's theater scene, while the handsome staging shows off the company's new venue to great advantage.
PHOTO OF LINDA THORSON BY STAN BAROUH
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 ...
The strings summoned a great deal of tonal warmth; basses and cellos articulated the pizzicato start of the Andante with great sensitivity. That Andante also found the brass producing walls of sound with remarkable gravity and tonal richness.
There were colorful contributions from the woodwinds as well. And Katherine Needleman delivered the third movement oboe solo with her usual sensitivity.
Other strong examples of musical romanticism filled out the program.
Tchaikovsky's stormy "Francesca da Rimini" received a taut account at the top of the evening, with Lintu stressing momentum and structural cohesion.
A sense of abandon would have been welcome during the final moments, and maybe one more notch of explosive power here and there, but this was still an impressive take on the score, and the orchestra was in superb form. Steven Barta's clarinet glowed eloquently.
Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2, one of the composer's most inventive creations, provided -- at least in this context -- a lighter mood. Which is not to say less consequential.
Having the brilliant English pianist Stephen Hough as soloist guaranteed an absorbing performance. His playing was not just precise and pristine, but full of telling detail as he dug into the ingenious thematic metamorphosis that makes the concerto such a gem.
Lintu was a supple collaborator. Other than some questionable intonation at the start, the orchestra was again in fine form. Dariusz Skoraczewski delivered the cello solo tenderly.
The concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Meyerhoff.
PHOTO BY HEIKKI TUULI
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 ...
But the main event, in terms of music and music-making, came in the second half as those five players, plus violinist Ivan Stefanovic, offered the "Offering."
It's a long, complex work made up of more than as dozen individual components, so Whear sensibly provided introductory remarks to each, accompanied by quick demonstrations of things to listen out for. I often lose patience with chitchat during concerts, but Whear kept his remarks brief, enlightening and spiced with a wit drier than the driest vermouth.
A few frayed edges aside, the playing was quite nimble and expressive, with many a telling detail, such as Nichols' downright sensual phrasing at the start of the "Canon a 4."
She, Stefanovic, Whear and Shin did shining work in the darkly beautiful Trio Sonata that, as Whear pointed out, demonstrated that Bach could write as well for the heart as for the mind, all the while extracting still more mileage out of the royal theme.
And all six musicians rose to the challenge of the concluding Ricercar, tapping into the score's almost spiritual immersion into the intricacies of fugal thought.
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.
-- "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
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:
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.
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 ...
The conductor kept the pacing taut and ensured that the multiple melodic lines emerged clearly. If the last note lacked the ultimate in impact, that was partly the fault of Hindemith; his habit of wrapping things up with a straightforward consonance, no matter how spicy the harmonic action preceding it, can get anticlimactic.
Remaining performances are likely to be smoother, but this was still impressive music-making. And it sure was fun to hear enthusiastic cheers and whistles from the audience on Thursday. Who knew there were Hindemith fans in this town?
The brass players, who delivered some vibrant waves of sound in the Concert Music, stepped up their game in the Mussorgsky classic. They gave the deep, dark chords in the "Catacombs" section a wonderful, menacing presence, and they were more than ready when the "Great Gate of Kiev" loomed in the finale.
Admirable contributions came from the rest of the orchestra -- terrific sparks in the "Tuileries" and "Unhatched Chicks" passages; smoky sax solo by Steven Temme in "The Old Castle," etc. -- as Tortelier fashioned an invigorating visit to Mussorgsky's sonic gallery. The performance, conducted form memory, had a remarkably spontaneity and sweep.
The Mozart concerto was rather dwarfed in this context, perhaps more than necessary, since Tortelier cut the orchestral forces down considerably. I'm all for trying to achieve historically appropriate balance in the presentation of 18th -century repertoire, but, after all, a modern grand piano is not exactly historically appropriate.
Weiss, who has given extraordinarily fresh and nuanced accounts of concertos by Grieg and Ravel with the BSO over the years, seemed a little faceless this time around. Articulation was pristine, phrasing elegant, but I would have welcomed a more distinctive stamp.
Tortelier provided proficient partnering. And, aside form some scrawny sounds from the violins, the ensemble held up its end of things nicely. The woodwinds, in particular, produced a colorful glow.
Remaining performances are Friday night at the Meyerhoff, Saturday night at Strathmore.
IMG ARTISTS PHOTO
Harper, who was nominated for a 2010 Tony Award for her performance in "Looped" on Broadway, was hospitalized during rehearsals for the tour.
The actress, famed as the character Rhoda on "The Mary Tyler More Show" and its spinoff, has returned to Los Angeles, "where she will receive continuing treatment and medical care," according a statement from producers. The tour opens in Fort Lauderdale Feb. 26.
Harper said that the "play has been such a gift and it was my hope and intention to play this role again in the upcoming tour. But given my doctor's recent recommendations, I must now put all my energy into getting well and renewing my strength."
Powers, whose extensive stage and screen credits include the hit TV show "Hart to Hart," makes a particularly apt choice as a replacement. "Looped" is set in a sound studio, where Bankhead has a great deal of difficulty recording ("looping") a line of dialogue for the film "Die, Die, My Darling." That 1965 co-starred Powers.
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!
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.
"Maintenance is a breeze. I am so happy that we chose InstantEncore!"