Singing praises for mayor

Concert: Martin O'Malley receives a vote of confidence from the BSO and the audience after his performance at the Meyerhoff last night.

April 08, 2000|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

It used to be that the only time a Maryland politician made news by singing, a federal prosecutor was involved.

But last night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Mayor Martin O'Malley made a splash by singing and playing with his six-piece Celtic rock band, O'Malley's March, while backed by a local group called the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

O'Malley, dressed Johnny Cash-style in a long-sleeved black shirt and black pants, stood with his band in front of the orchestra, to the right of conductor Jack Everly. Unlike the orchestra, he and the rest of O'Malley's March were amplified and led the way in three of the four numbers they performed.

His accompanists were thrilled by the event. "He's a wonderful person -- no airs or pretensions," said BSO piccolo player Laurie Sokoloff. "How about having a mayor who can sing?"

"I think it's a wonderful thing for music and the city," agreed trumpeter Langston Fitzgerald.

O'Malley's March wasn't the only guest with the symphony. The concert, part of the BSO's "Superpops" series, was devoted to the many forms of dance and featured soloists from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, a pair of Broadway singer/hoofers, five step dancers from the O'Hare School of Irish Dance and a dance company from the Baltimore School for the Arts.

In terms of audience reaction, the dancers got as much applause as the mayor. But in terms of interest, the spotlight was very much on "the mayor who can sing."

Earlier in the day, a crew from the "Today" show taped the mayor in rehearsal (the TV cameras will also be there for the concert's final performance tonight). The event has earned national attention for the mayor and the symphony.

Not everyone was smitten by His Honor the Celtic rock singer. Bethy Hagan of Lutherville and her friend, Kate Kauffman of Baltimore, were more impressed with the step dancing of the O'Hare troupe. "It was awesome. It was really cool," said Hagan.

And the mayor?

"That was good," said Kauffman. "But I liked the `Riverdance.'"

"He's just starting out, you've got to appreciate this guy," said Karen Jenkins of Baltimore. "He runs the city by day and plays the Meyerhoff at night."

O'Malley's March played three of their songs --original compositions by O'Malley -- with the BSO adding orchestral accompaniment. After the first tune, an instrumental called (what else?) "O'Malley's March," was greeted with enthusiastic response, O'Malley smiled and said, "I want to thank you for having such great taste in Irish music."

For someone who has been playing with a band since 1988, the mayor seemed self-conscious in front of the orchestra. But once he got into his second and third songs, "The Streets of Baltimore" and "Wait for Me," he seemed to bask in the spotlight.

Given that the BSO normally works with guest soloists like Leon Fleischer and Hillary Hahn, it would probably be unfair to judge the performance of O'Malley's March on a strictly musical level. But as entertainment, it helped make for a memorable evening.

"I thought it was marvelous, better than any New York show," said Sandy Panitz, 72, of Cross Keys. He and his wife, Alice, are regulars at the symphony's "Superpops" concert series and thought the show with O'Malley was one of the best they'd seen.

"I thought he was excellent," said Alice Panitz. "It was a pleasant surprise to see the mayor be a normal person."

For BSO principal cellist Mihaly Virizlay, the most important thing about the mayor's performance was the message that it sends. "This is all great, because in the long run it sends the message to people that music is great," Virizlay said. "And by participating, he is motivating people to come and enjoy the symphony.

"His message is not just `Clean up the city.' It's also `Participate in culture.' Let's have some beauty!"

Tricia Bishop of The Sun staff contributed to this story.

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