A new dimension to a familiar face

February 19, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

One of the most familiar faces in Baltimore's classical-music world is about to make himself known in a new way.

Patrons of the venerable Chamber Music Society of Baltimore -- this city's oldest and most valuable presenter of new music -- know Anthony Stark, the organization's managing director, as the man who introduces concert performers and pleads articulately for support for the society's efforts.

Tonight at 7, at LeClerc Auditorium at Notre Dame College, Anthony Stark the composer and pianist will be revealed during "An Evening with Anthony Stark."

On the first half of the program, Stark will perform his own "Three Waltzes" and Piano Sonata No.

1. On the second half, his friend, the pianist Edward Newman, will perform Stark's Piano Sonata No. 2 ("French Variations"), which was written for Newman.

Stark, 49, who teaches composition and music theory at Notre Dame, is scarcely a newcomer to composing. In fact, he is a distinguished composer -- winner of several prestigious international prizes (including those from Italy's G.B. Viotti and this country's Delius competitions), and a frequent recipient of awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP). His work has also been commissioned by important organizations such as Washington's Philips Collection, Speculum Musicae of New York City and the Ordway Music Theatre in St. Paul, Minn.

The Sonata No. 2 ("French Variations") is particularly intriguing. Stark asked Newman, who specializes in French music, what pieces he wanted variations on. Newman chose three works by Cesar Franck -- the "Prelude, Chorale and Fugue," the "Symphonic Variations" and the ubiquitous Sonata in A Major for violin and piano. Stark plays with all three of these pieces in fantastical ways, sometimes quoting them directly and sometimes standing them on their heads. It's a work by a composer obviously willing to take risks. But it is also compactly organized, consistently lyrical and -- just as importantly -- beautifully written for the instrument.

"It should be," says Stark. "It's piano music written by a pianist."

How is it that Stark ended up as an administrator?

"It's one of the ways I cobble together a living," says Stark, good-humoredly. "But administration is also an important part of what I am."

Stark has been an administrator since his undergraduate and graduate years at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, when he ran the student concert series. He was a double major in piano and composition. A tape of his performance of the Piano Sonata No. 1 clearly indicates that he is talented, but by the time he finished his master's degree in piano he decided to focus on administration.

"At my master's recital, I performed some of Bach's Preludes and Fugues, Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7 and Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Handel," Stark says. "Immediately afterward, I decided the last thing the world needed was another person saying the same old thing about those pieces. So I decided to serve composition -- and not just my own pieces."

Stark serves new music not only as an administrator, but also as a performer -- particularly in recitals with his wife, the talented soprano Pamela Jordan, who often sings her husband's music.

However, Baltimore music lovers will never hear a work by Anthony Stark on a Chamber Music Society program, the composer says.

"I keep my administrative life wholly separate from my creative life," Stark says. "The energies I use for each feed off each other, but it's necessary for me to eschew appearing to use the organizations I manage to further my compositional career. Even when they ask, I won't allow people to play my pieces. It looks bad, and I just won't have it."

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