Classical concerts offer a break from holiday jingles

Critic's Corner / Music


If you've already had your fill of holiday music (anyone who has stepped into a shopping mall lately might understandably be on early overload), there are plenty of alternatives available in local performance venues.

Here are just a few of the programs that look particularly promising in the days ahead.

The Concert Artists of Baltimore, the fine orchestral and choral ensemble that opened its season last month with a vividly presented exploration into the genius of J.S. Bach, will now focus on works for strings.

Edward Polochick will lead the orchestra in Tchaikovsky's evergreen Serenade for Strings, Arensky's Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky and Britten's Simple Symphony. A single wind instrument will slip into the picture for Vaughan Williams' Oboe Concerto (the soloist will be Vladimir Lande). The concert is at 8 p.m. Saturday at Gordon Center for Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills. For tickets, call 410-625-3525.

Speaking of strings, two excellent string quartets will visit the area this weekend.

Candlelight Concerts presents the New Zealand String Quartet in a program that balances Haydn and Beethoven with something completely different, a recent work by New Zealand composer Gillian Whitehead that incorporates Maori music and instruments. Richard Nunns will join the ensemble for the latter work, playing the conch shell trumpet, gourds and the like.

The concert is at 8 p.m. Saturday at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Call 410-480-9950.

For its appearance on the Shriver Hall Concert Series, the St. Lawrence String Quartet will offer music by Mozart, Beethoven and Shostakovich. The concert is at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Shriver Hall, the Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles St. Call 410-516-7164.

Also, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Concert Lab, founded in 2003 by violinist Ellen Orner, continues down its experimental path with the Maryland Institute College of Art.

The next program includes the premiere of Trail of Memories by Dafnis Prieto, commissioned by BSO principal trumpet Andrew Balio, who will be heard in that work and Tromba Solo, written in the 1970s by Ketil Hvoslef.

Percussionist/composer Brian Prechtl will collaborate with Balio in the Prieto piece and with BSO principal trombonist Chris Dudley in Prechtl's own work from 2000, At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners. Also on the bill is a golden oldie, Zoltan Kodaly's Duo from 1914, featuring the BSO's assistant concertmaster, Igor Yuzefovich, and assistant principal cellist, Dariusz Skoraczewski.

Throughout the concert, the audience will see visual responses to the music created by MICA students, who have been getting their inspiration attending rehearsals for the concert.

The performance is at 7:30 p.m. Monday at MICA's Brown Center, 1301 W. Mount Royal Ave. Tickets are available through the BSO box office. Call 410-783-8000.

BSO with Hans Graf

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Thanksgiving weekend program brought the return of Hans Graf, Austrian-born music director of the Houston Symphony, to the podium and the debut of young, Latvian-born violinist Baiba Skride.

At the Music Center at Strathmore on Friday night, the BSO warmed up nicely on the second half of the concert to deliver considerable enchantment in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1, nicknamed "Winter Dreams." This is music with few pretensions. The piece is all about color, atmosphere and lyrical flight.

Graf opened up the work's charms with naturally flowing tempos and finely judged phrasing. The orchestra responded smartly and with the smoothest balance of sound I've yet heard in Strathmore, presumably the result of Graf's sensitivity and acoustical adjustments to the hall.

Skride revealed a bright, singing tone in Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole, along with mostly firm articulation and pitch control. Graf was attentive but did not always keep the ensemble on track.

Stephen Albert's Tapioca Pudding, a two-minute trifle commissioned by the BSO in 1991, left little taste.

Alsop at Strathmore

The BSO's future music director, Marin Alsop, will give her first Washington-area concert with the orchestra Feb. 13 at the Music Center at Strathmore.

Alsop, already scheduled to conduct a program of Mozart, Dvorak and Christopher Rouse with the BSO in Baltimore in January, will repeat most of that program for her Strathmore debut.

Tickets for the Feb. 13 performance go on sale Thursday. Call 877-276-1444.

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