BSO will serve wine with its music

Summer themes include France, Italy and Spain

Stage: theater, music, dance

July 08, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra uncorks its summer season next week with a new variation on the theme of festive music and refreshment.

Returning will be outdoor live entertainment, food and drink, offered before and after the performances. And the basic format inside Meyerhoff Symphony Hall will be familiar - chamber music performed by BSO members and guests, followed by an intermission-less orchestral concert. But this year, pulling everything together will be a combination of fermentation and travelogue.

The Summer Wine and MusicFest will feature wine tastings - a half-dozen varieties each night - focusing on products from a specific country or region, complemented by musical programming that does the same. Opening this Wednesday - Bastille Day - the festival will, naturally, take on a French accent first. Then it's off to Italy July 16, Spain on July 21. To close the festival July 23, the action will shift to North and South America.

Conductor Mario Venzago, a favorite with local audiences, has been artistic director of the past several MusicFests, but his schedule did not permit his participation this time around. On the podium for the first three concerts will be Juanjo Mena, principal conductor and artistic director of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra in Spain since 1999. Taking over for the finale will be a fairly frequent visitor to the BSO, Marin Alsop, principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in England.

Also new for 2004 - higher ticket prices. Box seats are $55, the remainder of the house $35 (last summer's range was $18 to $30). Tickets include the performances and the wine tasting.

The festival gets under way Wednesday with attractive chamber pieces by Couperin and Debussy. Mena then leads the BSO in Ravel's homage to Couperin (Le Tombeau de Couperin), Saint-Saens' brilliant Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (featuring the BSO's top-drawer concertmaster Jonathan Carney), Milhaud's La Creation du Monde (with exceptional alto saxophonist Gary Louie) and a suite from Bizet's Carmen.

The Italian salute July 16 offers one of the great sonic workouts for brass by Gabrieli and a string quintet by Boccherini during the chamber music portion. The orchestra has slated a concerto for two horns by Vivaldi, a set of Respighi's colorful Ancient Airs and Dances, and the Notturno by unjustly neglected composer Giovanni Martucci. Italy's greatest gift to music, opera, will be represented by one of Rossini's popular overtures, along with well-known arias and duets for tenor and baritone from operas by Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini sung by tenor Garrett Sorenson and baritone James Westman.

Eminent classical guitarist Manuel Barrueco will take part in both portions of the Spanish program July 21. During the chamber music concert, he and dancer Anna Menendez will collaborate on a work by Albeniz; the guitarist will also team up with BSO players for a piece for guitar and string quartet by Boccherini (this Italian composer spent a good part of his life in Madrid).

Barrueco will then join conductor Mena and the BSO for what is probably the most popular of all guitar concertos, Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. The orchestra will also play music from two hot ballet scores by de Falla, Three-Cornered Hat and El Amor brujo, with Menendez dancing to some of the selections.

The festival's thematic visit to the Americas July 23 will stretch a point for the chamber music part of the evening, devoted to a work by a Czech composer. But Dvorak's Piano Quartet, written a few years before he took up temporary residence in the United States, is such a potent work that no one could complain. Noted pianist Jon Kimura Parker will perform that quartet with BSO players and, later, take the solo in Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the orchestra and Alsop.

The orchestral program also offers Copland's evergreen Appalachian Spring and a vivid work by great Argentine composer Ginastera.

For music - and wine - lovers, it's definitely summertime, and the sippin' is easy.

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see Page 35.

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