Orchestra to deliver a season of strings

CRITIC'S CORNER

Music Column

May 30, 2006|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Lots of classical concerts these days have themes that tie all the works on the program together in some fashion. The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra's music director, Markand Thakar, likes to go one step further. He specializes in creating themes that tie an entire season together.

Thakar's thematic link for the BCO's 2006-2007 lineup is string instruments, traditional and exotic. The latter types include the pipa, an ancient Chinese instrument, which will be featured in a new work by American composer Anthony DeRitis called Ping-Pong. The soloist in this season-opening concert in October will be Min Xiao-Fen.

Also on the unusual side is the charango, a staple of South American folk music. It will get a workout in Three Pictures from My Life, a piece by composer and charango specialist Hector Martinez-Morales.

As for more traditional string sounds, they will be heard in such works as Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 with soloist Juliette Kang, gold medalist at the notable Indianapolis International Violin Competition, and Alberto Ginastera's Harp Concerto with Nancy Allen, the much-recorded principal harpist of the New York Philharmonic.

Still more strings will be attached to an unusual program that will spotlight one of the most popular composers you have probably never heard of - Ignaz Pleyel. The Austrian-born Pleyel (1757-1831) enjoyed enormous success in his lifetime, but is perhaps best known today for the pianos bearing his name that were made in a shop he founded.

In a program that will be recorded for commercial release on the Naxos label, the BCO will perform one of his violin concertos and two pieces that feature pairs of string instruments. Violinists David Perry and Isabella Lippi (husband and wife) and violist Victoria Chiang (Thakar's wife) will be the soloists.

In addition to the novel repertoire, the five-concert season will include such favorites as Handel's Water Music, Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings.

All concerts will be at Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road. For more information, call 410-426-0157.

BCO's finale

Strings also figured prominently in the BCO's 2005-2006 finale Wednesday night at Goucher - Elgar's youthful Serenade, a string orchestra arrangement by Thakar of Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet, and the U.S. premiere of a 2003 work for flute and strings by Australian composer Carl Vine.

Vine's fundamentally neo-romantic and exceedingly well-crafted music has earned him considerable popularity. Pipe Dream can only add to it.

From the opening flute solo, with its long, sensual lines, the piece is engaging and eventful, if not necessarily substantive. Vine writes as interestingly for the strings as for the flute and sets up lots of colorful interaction between them as he works his way through a clear-cut structure.

Jeffrey Khaner, principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, sailed through Pipe Dream with a pearly tone and superb clarity. His virtuosic effort enjoyed vibrant support from the strings.

I was not able to stay for the Schubert work, but enjoyed Thakar's elegantly molded account of Elgar's endearing, unpretentious Serenade, which found the BCO strings in supple form.

This concert served as a farewell to longtime BSO concertmaster Craig Richmond, who is stepping down from the post. The standing ovation he received from his colleagues when he first walked onstage spoke volumes about his contributions to the orchestra.

Youth orchestra

The Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestra, which will mark its 30th anniversary next season, closed its 29th with an ambitious program Sunday afternoon at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

It's pretty rare to find professional ensembles in the Baltimore area playing anything by notable minimalist composers Philip Glass or Steve Reich, whose music is widely and often wildly popular elsewhere. Works from the 1980s by both men turned up at this concert.

A subsidiary group of intermediate string players worked through the appealing motoric churning of Company by Glass, led by MaryAnn Poling.

The main youth orchestra, conducted by Jason Love, tackled the finale to Harmonielehre, an important and compelling symphonic creation by Adams. Even hearing this single movement is enough to reveal how far the composer moved beyond the initial limitations of the minimalist style to create something as bold and rich as anything in the traditional orchestral repertoire.

Much to his credit, Love has programmed music by a living American composer on each GBYO concert this season, from the exceptional Jennifer Higdon in the fall to this blast of Adams.

A lot of the almost-Wagnerian power and color in the Harmonielehre finale emerged Sunday, thanks in no small measure to the sturdy percussion section. Variances in intonation and articulation among other sections did not detract greatly from the overall energy of the playing under Love's astute guidance.

The orchestra's most cohesive, vibrant effort came in Duke Ellington's final composition, the intriguing Les Trois Rois Noirs.

The program also spotlighted winners of the orchestra's concerto competition, flutist Kate Bateman and violinist Ryan Lee, who each got a chance to reveal considerable potential for pursuing a professional career.

The main message of the concert was that a healthy number of the area's young people - the orchestra includes fourth- through 12th-graders - is busy making meaningful music. You can't value that highly enough.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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