Still better than 'Fame'

Glenn McNatt

June 04, 1991|By Glenn McNatt

WHERE will the next generation of performing artists like Jascha Heifitz, Leontyne Price and Andres Segovia come from? If the talent on display at last week's Baltimore School for the Arts' senior recital is any guide, a lot of them may hail from right here.

In a city in which the quality of the public schools in general is a persistent cause for worry, the achievements of the Baltimore School for the Arts, a public school, are little short of astonishing.

The school sends 90 percent of its graduates to college or directly into professional performing careers. The drop-out rate is virtually zero. Earlier this month the Greater Baltimore Committee praised the BSA as a model for restructuring the city's troubled high schools. Last year The Evening Sun, comparing BSA to the fictionalized New York school depicted in the TV series "Fame," headlined its editorial "Better than fame."

Those encomiums were more than justified by the seven senior performers in last Thursday's Armstrong Honors Recital, named after former board member Margaret Armstrong, a musician who worked on the original task force that led to BSA's founding. The recital showcases the most promising musicians in the senior class based on juried exams that all students must pass before graduating.

The participants in this year's Armstrong recital were classical guitarist Tad Bullock, pianist Linda Joo, trombonist Nils Fredland, violinist Eric Chang, sopranos Amelia Kambic and Keyontia Hawkins and mezzo-soprano La'Shelle Allen. These six young artists displayed a maturity and technical mastery of their instruments that mark them already as world-class contenders.

This is one of the most gifted classes in the Baltimore School for the Arts' history. Earlier this year Keyontia (pronounced Key-ON-tia) Hawkins and Amelia Kambic won first and third prize respectively in the National Arts Recognition Talent Search sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. That achievement bestowed on Baltimore the honor of being home to two of the top three young sopranos in the country in 1991.

Hawkins, in addition, has been named one of 141 Presidential Scholars drawn from the best students nationwide and will perform for President and Mrs. Bush at the White House June 19. She hopes to attend the Juilliard School of Music in New York City in the fall. Kambic, the class valedictorian this year with a perfect 4.0 average, has been accepted into a special dual curriculum program at Juilliard and Columbia University.

All three singers performed works from the standard classical repertory by Schubert, Verdi, Wolf, Purcell, Debussy, Mozart, Strauss and Ives, sung in the original German, French and Italian. Hawkins and mezzo-soprano La'Shelle Allen, who has been accepted at the Mannes School of Music in New York City, also included traditional Negro spirituals in their programs, ably accompanied by faculty member Adam Mahonske at the piano.

One of the real delights of the evening was the dazzling virtuosity of Eric Chang, whose performance of Ravel's devilishly difficult "Tzigane" for violin called to mind Pinchas Zuckermann's masterful recording. This was playing of the highest caliber. Chang, whose family immigrated to this country from Taiwan when he was a child, will attend the Peabody Institute in the fall.

Linda Joo struck just the right balance between dreamy meditation and romantic passion in her rendering of Schubert's lovely Sonata in A minor Op. 42. She will attend the Cleveland Institute to prepare for what no doubt will be a promising career as a concert pianist.

Trombonist Nils Fredland, whose virile brass timbres made Paul Hindemith's modernistic "Sonate" sound refreshingly colloquial, will prepare for an orchestral career at Southern Methodist University in Texas. And Tad Bullock's sweetly unaffected reading of works by Guiliani and Bach make one regret anew the guitar's wholly undeserved rarity on the concert stage. Bullock goes to Peabody in September.

Concerts like this cannot fail to impress with the staggering abundance of talent among Baltimore's young people. At BSA the goal is to nurture and shape that talent for entry into the real world of work and careers. Clearly they are succeeding.

The GBC was right on the money in recommending BSA as a model of what public high schools ought to be doing. Yet with the city looking hard for leadership, I saw no school board members or any of the five "insider" candidates for school superintendent at last week's concert. It's a pity that no one at North Avenue seems to be listening.

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