You should hear what we're missing

Schedules: Baltimore should learn from Washington and make some noise to attract more of the world's best orchestras.

Music

September 05, 2000|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The music calendar for the Baltimore area is chock-full of goodies, as you will see in the annual arts guide in Thursday's paper. But a few attractions are missing.

You won't find the world's great orchestras performing in Baltimore. They'll only visit Washington, as usual, and that's too bad. Baltimore concert-goers could benefit from convenient and regular exposure to, say, the London Symphony Orchestra, Dresden Staatskapelle and San Francisco Symphony. Not to mention the other BSO, the Boston Symphony Orchestra. All those ensembles and more will be at the Kennedy Center this season, courtesy of the Washington Performing Arts Society.

Getting to hear symphonic sounds from elsewhere in the same hall where your own major orchestra resides is a great ear-opener, a great way to gain perspective. It helps you gauge what you have and, perhaps, what you don't have yet.

It also offers valuable exposure to a variety of styles and timbres, of expressive possibilities, which can lead to a broader appreciation for the musical art in general and certain practitioners in particular.

Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall is such an acoustically beneficent venue that visiting orchestras would doubtless find it most attractive. And traveling orchestras often like to find halls in reasonably close proximity for economic reasons, as is the case in South Florida, where orchestras routinely stop in both West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale - roughly the same difference between Baltimore and Washington.

Of course, launching an orchestra series is a daunting challenge. But it's one that would be well worth looking into. If private impresarios can't be found, the Baltimore Symphony itself could conceivably play a role and follow the example of the San Francisco Symphony, which presents outside orchestras in its concert hall.

And while we're daydreaming, there's another glaring omission from the Baltimore music calendar - vocal recitals. And solving this gap would be an even easier undertaking.

Years ago, singers were welcomed in communities all across the country, giving recitals of art songs from different countries and eras, along with a few arias and maybe some folk songs.

Times have sadly changed. Nothing can clear out a concert hall more quickly than German lieder these days, even though some of the most glorious, profoundly beautiful music can be found in that repertoire.

And even vocalists who avoid Schubert and Schumann are not likely to find much enthusiasm for anything but the same old operatic hit tunes.

Still, the art of the vocal recital is too precious to lose. All it takes to keep it alive is courage, conviction and, yes, cash. But not necessarily a lot of money. A few wise patrons and an intimate hall can make it all possible.

Again, look at Washington. Recognizing that something had to be done there to preserve a venerable tradition, the Vocal Arts Society was founded in 1991 with a modest three concerts held at the French embassy. Over the years, the society has presented such luminaries as soprano Renee Fleming, tenor Ian Bostridge, countertenor David Daniels and baritones Bo Skovhus and Thomas Quasthoff.

For its 10th season, the society will offer eight remarkable artists, starting with tenor Rockwell Blake on Sept. 26. Also on tap: contralto Ewa Podles (Nov. 1); soprano Catherine Malifitano (Nov. 28); mezzo Stephanie Blythe (Jan. 18); baritone Wolfgang Holzmair (Feb. 2); baritone Stephan Loges (March 14); mezzo Susanne Mentzer (March 27); soprano Lisa Saffer and mezzo Bernarda Fink (April 24).

It's the sort of lineup that justifies the cliche "world class," the sort of lineup that a major city with a long cultural history like Baltimore ought to boast. We have the intimate spaces where such a series could be held, and surely we have enough people who can appreciate the special depth and satisfaction of a vocal recital.

Meanwhile, if you want more information about the Vocal Arts Society in Washington, call 202-265-8177.

Music at Evergreen

Alice Warder Garrett, who died in 1952, left her mark on Baltimore in several ways. She was a great hostess, inviting the social set to the grand Evergreen House on upper Charles Street that she shared with her husband, a career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Italy during the Hoover administration. A major patron of the Baltimore Symphony, Garrett also funded many scholarships for young musicians. And for several weeks each season, from 1928 to 1942, she presented concerts by a string quartet from New York at Evergreen.

Two years after her death, the Evergreen House Foundation started a concert series in her honor that has been going on ever since.

The 2000-2001 season of the Evergreen Carriage House Concert Series opens on Sept. 15 with Lionheart, a much-admired six-man a cappella ensemble that specializes in ancient vocal music. The program will explore 12th-century French repertoire.

On Dec. 8, flutist Gary Schocker will team up with guitarist Jason Vieaux for a recital.

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