Classical music: expanding horizons

September 13, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

As the following list of events makes plain, there's more music packed into the 2001-2002 season than any one pair of ears could possibly absorb. But it sure would be fun trying.

It's a season marked by anniversaries, including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 85th; the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra's 25th; the Washington Bach Consort's 25th; the Concert Artists of Baltimore's 15th; and Tom Hall's 20th at the helm of the Choral Arts Society of Baltimore.

It's also a season marked by important new venues: at Morgan State University (the Carl Murphy Fine Arts Center) and the University of Maryland (after a warm-up last season, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center has scheduled an action-packed inaugural lineup of events). And the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is ready to make a great deal more use out of its Fine Arts Recital Hall with a steady, welcome infusion of contemporary music events.

A fair amount of horizon-expanding is going on this season. The Concert Artists will tackle Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, for Example - a bold step for a chamber orchestra and chorus. The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and Heritage Signature Chorale will take on no less daunting a work, Verdi's Requiem.

At least one group is changing location. The Baltimore Classical Guitar Society is moving from Catonsville to the Baltimore Museum of Art, where it will present the noted Assad Duo, among other performers, and will no longer have to use amplification.

As for progamming, several organizations are venturing into off-the-beaten-path material; you'll uncover such novelties as the 1916 Piano Quartet by Henry Howells at Music in the Great Hall and Darius Milhaud's Rhapsody for viola and orchestra performed by the Hopkins Symphony. And world premieres are all over the National Symphony Orchestra's schedule; fresh score will spice up a few other ensembles' concerts as well.

Additional enticements ahead include an extra dash of music by Richard Strauss. On tap are the once-neglected Burleske, performed by pianist Emanuel Ax and the BSO this week and by the same pianist and the National Symphony at the end of May; the deliciously egotistical Ein Heldenleben offered by the BSO next week; and two of Strauss' greatest operas, Ariadne auf Naxos and Salome, performed by the Peabody Opera Theatre and the Washington Opera, respectively.

Gustav Mahler's music is also prevalent this season - the BSO will play the Third Symphony, the Peabody Symphony Orchestra the Fourth. In Washington, you can also add the First (New York Philharmonic), Second (Royal Concertgebouw), Fifth (National Symphony) and the Seventh (Chicago Symphony).

Just about every chapter of music history will be covered somewhere in the region, from the Renaissance on through the Romantic and beyond. When it comes to the Baroque period, it's particularly worth noting performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion by the Washington Bach Consort (in its first major Baltimore visit), the U.S. premiere of Handel's recently discovered Gloria by the Handel Choir, and a rare production of Handel'sAgrippina by Opera Vivente. And thanks to the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, there's even going to be a dose of P.D.Q. Bach, the defiantly unclassifiable composer whose Oedipus Tex and Art of the Ground Round should shake things up a bit.

When you factor in all the stellar guest artists due on the scene, the season looms even larger. You want pianists? How about Garrick Ohlsson (Shriver Hall), Leon Fleisher (Concert Artists), Helen Huang (Baltimore Chamber Orchestra) and Maurizio Pollini (Washington Performing Arts Society), just for starters. Violinists? Pamela Frank (BSO and Shriver Hall), Midori (at Clarice Smith) and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (BSO) leap to mind.

And for the vocal arts, you can't go wrong with such luminaries as Jessye Norman (Morgan State University), James Morris (Peabody), Sergei Leiferkus (Shriver Hall), Renee Fleming and Ben Heppner (Washington Performing Arts), and Anonymous 4 (Candlelight Concerts).

That doesn't even include all the fine singers headed to the Baltimore Opera, including Vladimir Chernov, Mark Delavan, Aprile Millo and Roberto Aronica. Also on that roster is famed film director Werner Herzog, who returns to the company to direct The Magic Flute.

In addition to the Verdi Requiem, choral masterworks abound - Orff's Carmina Burana (BSO), Kodaly's Missa Brevis (Towson University), Mendelssohn's Elijah (Columbia Pro Cantare, Cathedral Choral Society), among others.

The chamber-music front is no less active, from faculty artists collaborating at Peabody and BSO members playing in candlelight at Second Presbyterian Church, to visiting ensembles performing at Evergreen Carriage House and Candlelight Concerts in Columbia.

It's all a little dizzying. So just take a deep breath and plunge in; you'll be glad you did.

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