Live Review: Leila Josefowicz Gives John Adams’ Violin Concerto Total Depth (2009.10.29)

josefowicz10_high-croppedJohn AdamsViolin Concerto comes across like a melodic discourse on gravitational forces, but a touch more tender. Alien tensions built slowly from the BSO, with little far-off explosions. The center around which this Adamonic universe whirled was Leila Josefowicz.

She’s the personal champion for this concerto, making it her signature piece, a task only a Hilary Hahn could envy.  She plays entirely from memory, giving full impression of a piece taken within — the raw stuff of notes — spit out with unexpected expression. I’d have to think even Adams is surprised at what she finds in it.

Without hearing a single other play it, I’m willing to bet she’s the definitive interpreter of the work. Read the rest…

Live Review: Three French Operas Meet Free Fall Baltimore (2009.10.19)

bannisterThe first up, Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Adonis took us as close as you can get to an evening in Versailles without the price tag.  My friend and I scored the last two tickets to be had.  This free-for-all packed the house as part of Peabody Opera’s tie-in with Free Fall Baltimore.

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Live Review: Lorin Maazel Guides NSO to Technical Glory

lorin maazelIf we were the National Symphony Orchestra, we’d ask the 79-year-old conductor, Lorin Maazel, back anytime. A lot of great things happen under the baton of a man who took his first conducting lesson at age seven.

From the moment Maazel took the podium to conduct Night on Bald Mountain (the Rimsky-Korsakov arranged, Fantasia favorite by Mussorgsky), you knew the highpoint of the evening would be tight control — no matter the piece.  A night of spot-on entrances and deft togetherness reigned in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

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Live Review: Bartók vs. Bartók – BSO trumps National, Harmonia Lends Hungary For the Night

Bartok-DSC_2150Last weekend, a wonderful conjunction took place among the Baltimore-Washington musical spheres: Bartók’s music overtook its two great concert halls on the very same night.

To compare Baltimore’s own playing Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and the NSO’s take on Bartók’s The Wooden Prince is like pitting a Shakespeare tragedy against one of his comedies, and venturing that one is far better.

While it may not be fair to pit a concerto against a ballet score, we’ll give the BSO, under Maestro Marin Alsop’s baton, the upper hand. Both orchestras did fantastic things we’ve never quite heard before. Bartók brings out the best of an orchestra because he’s not something you can take for granted. You can take Beethoven’s “Pastoral” for granted. You might even take Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto for granted, but James Ehnes’ ample sprezzatura helped the BSO make a great case for Tchaikovsky, perhaps better than the composer himself when he called it “One violin concerto too many” – despite its being the only one that he composed.

Here’s what tips the scales in favor of B-more…

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Live Review: Time for Three Takes The Carpet Center Stage at the BSO (2009.09.24)

time for three

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MP3: Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs – Orange Blossom Special

Move over Tchaikovsky, step aside Brahms. Time for Three steals the season opener from the classical crowns.  Tf3 does what Hilary Hahn did last season: highlight the skills of fellow Curtis Institute heavyweight and composer Jennifer Higdon.

This time, the blues-jazz-gypsy trio of classically trained fellas takes on Higdon’s Concerto 4-3.  The name is a little schticky, but the East Tennessee bluegrass fiddling and bass-slapping ring sincere.  As she did for Hilary, Higdon composed this piece especially for the trio, debuting in Philly last year.

Zach De Pue started us off, his violin chugging like a shaking train.  The bassist enters with slaps down the strings, the second violin starts racing, bow hairs already breaking…and we’re off.

Of the three, bassist Ranaan Meyer holds the reins. Highly-endorsed are his beatings of the cello’s body with naked fist.  The two fiddlers, Zach and Nick Kendall seduce with hipster charms, perhaps hamming up their onstage personas a touch too much.  They listen well to each other – the mark of any good improv group – but they amplify the pantomime of listening with foot nudges and shoulder-hunkerings, just as they amplify their strings.

I’d say Higdon left the symphony with little to do. Although, when the players were called upon, what came through strongest was the passion of conductor Marin Alsop.  These are the works Alsop digs!  It’s all in her shoulders and her tempi. And that is a great sign for a season opener: conviction.

Frankly, I missed a lot of what happened in Higdon’s Violin Concerto: orchestra section stars playing one-on-one with curious pairings against the soloist.  In this case, Higdon trivialized the moment by letting too much of Zach v. Nick rock the stage.  Whenever the orchestra entered we tended to get majestic arcs of sound that were brief – probably for fear of turning torrid, then insipid.

What matters most perhaps is that the bejeaned guy next to me, clearly on a date, felt happy enough in the hall to kick off his shoes, and enjoyed Tf3’s encore, “Orange Blossom Special,” completely open-mouthed.  This encore really cemented the night on the family porch feel, strongly contrasting Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4 that closed the show.  Movement 3 was a highlight: pizzicato strings formed little eruptions like popping corn straight into grade A oboe work.    The vigor of the finale had Peabody kids in raptures, but I remain unconverted to Tchaikovsky.

Preview: Only Spot in Baltimore to Dance All Night (Aug. 7-Aug. 9)

Tired of not finding a place to dance until dawn cracks over Fed Hill? Grab a pair of leather-soled shoes and get fresh with Afro-Brazilian roots at an Argentine milonga. Between now and Monday morning at 3 AM, you can dance all-day and all-night in the ballroom of the grand historic Tremont Plaza Hotel at 22 St. Paul Place.

Tango Element Baltimore gives three nights of freedom to dance (in 2/4 time) for as long as you can last. Master your feet with blind instinct, hand on the flesh your partner bares over red denim pants. Unlike your usual club circuit follies, the name of this game is infinite trust. Dare we venture it? Intimacy. But don’t worry, the scene’s not without it’s eyebrow piercings and black-painted toenails, shaved headed sweethearts, cargo pants with high heels and plenty of tattoos (some peeping out from under a flash of skirt during a leg kick). This is a heaven of tight skirts and pantylines. No one is shy.

Excepting old friends, most of the conversations are conducted by shoe. A white leather shoe speaks volumes when it crosses a red heel. The red heel rebuffs then relents in a serpentine twist that’s untangled in a flash.

Eyes closed, breath bated, you’re ready to follow your partner’s lead. There’s the chiding tease of the instep, a coquetry unmatched by any bump and grind for subtly of seduction. A foot brush is a request. The lady can request right back. The beauty of tango is about delineating boundaries in order to break them. (Astor Piazzolla’s tangos break as many rules as the almighty Beethoven did.)

There’s the art of looking open and ready to dance even when sitting down, bidding an invitation to stroll onto the floor. When I asked waiting dancer: “Why tango?”

She responds in a heartbeat: “It’s the best cure for a break up.”

She then confides that it’s a “smart” dance. Smart did not only mean sharp footwork. She said she met more PhDs per capita dancing tango than through any other scene. This prowler trekked all the way from Montreal to seduce cheek-to-cheek.

Really all that’s missing is a live bandoneonist, someone who makes fast and bold as lightning on those buttons. Yes, one who plays that sweltering squelch of air and sex box we call the bandoneón. The rumor is one used to play church music on this Argentine cousin of the concertina. So what better sounds to soak into these hallowed old walls of Grand Lodge of Masonic templedom? I had it from the organizer of the event, Callie, that the developer of the new Tremont Grand building came into this space and didn’t have the heart to tear it down. Thanks to him, you’ve got a chance to twine legs in a Gothic church under heavy candle chandeliers, facing a painting of Christ Jesus and his many sainted compatriots on one end, before swinging by the DJ table on the other.

The guests, top-notch performers who show you how it is done didn’t even hit the dance floor until 2 a.m. Mariano “Chico” Frumboli take Mariano Montez into close embrace just as I was bound for the door. (Sigh. Some of us have work at 9 am the next morning).

Try out a milonga for $10-$15. Click here to see the full schedule. Drop in during the day for classes.

All you need: stamina, passion, and leather-soled shoes. (Strappy heels for the ladies).

Live Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho Hijacks Baltimore Symphony (2009.07.10)

pyschoshower130x130Who knew the word “transvestite” would be uttered aloud in the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to such ringing laughter from a raucous movie house audience.  The Landmark and the Charles Theater have nothing on the BSO showing of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

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Live Review / Preview: An Die Musik presents 3-Part Haydn/Mendelssohn Fest (2009.07.09)

Philadelphia Camerata Orchestra‘s goodwill tour hit B-more with its first concert in a three-part series honoring two bicentennials: the death of Haydn and the birth of Mendelssohn.  An Die Musik offers two more nights of music at 8 pm on July 16 and July 20. Cellist Steven Framil is the star of the series, hands down.  This is not the first time I’ve heard him, and it won’t be the last.  Both times the audience has been so thin that it’s a sin.  Come for Steve alone, and you’ll not be disappointed to get his friends in the Camerata.

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Live Review: Catching Up with Karita Mattila and Nietzche at the National Symphony (2009.06.26)

Mattila5When last we saw Karita Mattila, this blond soprano was biting the lips of John the Baptist – after his decapitation. She again gave Richard Strauss a workout with Four Last Songs. The conductor, Andreas Delfs, pitch-hit this gig for Mikko Franck in what was billed as an all-Finn tour de force: Finnish conductor, Finnish composer and Finnish soprano.

When told of the change, we lamented bitterly, because now Finn composer and conductor were out of the picture leaving us only the sun of Karita to light up the hall. We were to hear Helsinki’s own Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Manhattan Trilogy. This exciting composer was hand-picked by Sibelius himself to get a one-year stipend to go to Julliard – a move that paid off. Instead of his symphonic poem of much promise with movements Daydreams, Nightmares, and Dawn, we got Frederick Delius. Read the rest…

Live Review / Preview: BSO Season Closer, Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3…And Summer Music Preview (2009.06.12)


The BSO tackled the great Rach 3, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minorwith the help of soloist Yefim Bronfman.  The 1996 Jeffrey Rush film, Shine, made a modern plug for its popularity, but Vladimir Horowitz was the master (and master propagandist) of the work, which earned him rapturous applause and television specials.  Rachmaninoff offered this testament of Horowitz: “He swallowed it whole. He had the courage, the intensity, the daring.”

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