A toast to concert pioneer


April 27, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Baltimore's classical music scene is enriched not just by the organizations with big budgets and big staffs, but also by all sorts of modest-sized ventures that consistently serve musicians and listeners alike.

A lot of these ventures owe their existence largely to a single, determined individual with a vision and the backbone to withstand any number of financial and logistical pressures. Virginia Reinecke, founding artistic director of the Music in the Great Hall series for 30 years, is one example. Margaret Budd, founder of the Community Concerts at Second in 1987 and Chamber Music by Candlelight series in 1995, is another.

Like Reinecke, Budd is retiring at the end of this season, passing on a valuable enterprise to new leadership. The soft-spoken Illinois native is also stepping down after 33 years as organist at Second Presbyterian Church, home of the two concert series she launched. Her friends and admirers will not let her depart quietly.

On Sunday, "A Tribute to Margaret Budd" will bring together several fine artists for a fund-raising concert. Proceeds will benefit the newly established Margaret Budd Endowment Fund to support the series that she established. "I'm gratified - and embarrassed - by the concert," Budd says, "but if it can raise money, I'm thrilled."

The series can always use the help - all of the Community Concerts at Second and all of the Chamber Music by Candlelight events have always been free, supported by a few patrons and government grants, along with donations at the door.

With its superb acoustics and inviting architecture, Second Presbyterian Church fulfills the role of part-time concert hall very effectively. And, under Budd's guidance, the variety and quality of performances there have been remarkable. It says a lot that the inaugural Community Concerts season in 1987 boasted a newly donated Steinway grand, dedicated by Leon Fleisher.

Over the years, this series has presented established and emerging instrumentalists, vocalists and ensembles. (The series stretches beyond classical music, too.) Not every event has gone without a hitch. Budd still laughs about one afternoon surprise. "We had a really wonderful early-music concert," she says. "In the middle of it, a little elderly lady sitting right up front suddenly said at the top of her voice, `I don't care much for this music, do you?'"

Budd's appreciation for a wide range of repertoire and genres is one reason the series has prospered, providing something for just about anyone. Her particular fondness for chamber music led to a separate series featuring members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

"She's always giving us the credit for starting it," says BSO violinist Ivan Stefanovic, "but it was her brainchild. She approached a couple of us about having a nice place to play chamber music. And she wanted the highest quality. But she said she couldn't pay much." That was an understatement. The musicians shared whatever came in at the door during the early years of the series. "I think it gave them enough for one dinner out and their baby sitter," Budd says.

That really didn't matter. "This has never been just a gig for any of us," Stefanovic says. "We started from the heart, just as she did. She has become kind of like a mother to us in many ways. She's a strong, wonderful woman with a very kind, soft heart. And she has a special place in her heart for music."

Eight seasons later, the pay scale for the chamber concerts is more substantial, while the quality and breadth of the series keeps getting better, providing quite a showcase for the BSO's talent pool. And, like the Sunday afternoon Community Concerts at Second, the Sunday evening Chamber Music by Candlelight programs represent one of the best bargains around.

Budd's stamp on both series will be felt for a long time. Her familiar smile and ingratiating manner will be felt, too. She's retiring, not hibernating. "You know I will be back for concerts," she says. "I can't stay away."

Several artists who have performed in Budd's concert series are donating their services for Sunday's tribute, which will be emceed by Robert Sirota, director of the Peabody Institute. The lineup includes soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson and baritone John Shirley-Quirk, accompanied by Donald Sutherland; pianist Awadagin Pratt (he was an early winner of an annual competition presented by Community Concerts); organist Fred Swann; and Stefanovic. A new piece composed for the occasion by Ray Sprenkle will be performed by the Second Presbyterian Church Choir.

"A Tribute to Margaret Budd" will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at Second Presbyterian Church, 4200 St. Paul St. Tickets are $30 and include post-concert reception. Call 410-744-4034.

New chamber orchestra

Vladimir Lande, best known locally for his admirable playing as principal oboist for the Baltimore Opera Orchestra and Concert Artists of Baltimore, is founder and conductor of a new chamber orchestra, the Metropolitan Soloists. The ensemble, made up of freelance musicians from throughout the region, will take its first bow Sunday in a concert sponsored by the Peggy and Yale Gordon Trust.

The Russian-born Lande, former principal oboist of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, has programmed a work for string orchestra by Rossini; a guitar concerto by contemporary Argentine composer Oscar Roberto Casares (William Feasley, soloist); de Falla's El Amor Brujo (with vocalist Nancy Ginsberg and flamenco dancer Sara Jerez-Marlow); and tangos by Astor Piazzolla.

The concert is at 3 p.m. Sunday at Har Sinai Congregation, 2905 Walnut Ave., Owings Mills. Admission is free. Call 410-654-9393.

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