Art Reigns

Impressive glimpse of BSO's range

Classical music



First it sweltered, then it poured, but the weather seemed hardly to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds that descended on Artscape, Baltimore's 25th annual outdoor festival of the arts.

From funnel cakes to evening concerts there was much that was familiar along the Mount Royal Avenue corridor and elsewhere around the city - but there also were new touches including the 100-foot-tall Ferris wheel in front of the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the fireworks on Friday's opening night.

We sent a team of arts writers - pop music critic Rashod Ollison, theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck, classical music critic Tim Smith, restaurant critic Elizabeth Large and art critic Glenn McNatt - to survey the scene. Here's what they thought.

Artscapers seeking classy sounds, air conditioning or, when the storm hit late Saturday afternoon, a place to dry off could find refuge in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Hundreds took advantage of those opportunities as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, for the first time in nine years, offered free Artscape concerts.

The BSO was warmly received at two 45-minute programs Saturday by all-ages audiences. The house sounded at times like a Catholic church that doesn't have a cry room, but wails and rattles from the youngest kids on hand didn't cause any serious damage.

Associate conductor Andrew Constantine's unfussy, naturally expressive approach yielded substantive results as he offered folks "a little flavor of the music we play here in Meyerhoff."

Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture got a very lyrical treatment that inspired lovely clarinet playing. The closing portion of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite came through impressively, despite thin violin tone and an ill-tuned last chord. Stokowski's riot-of-color transcription of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor found the BSO in polished, fiery form.

The second program took a more modern spin. Violinist Ellen Pendleton Troyer tore into a down-home-fiddling showpiece by Mark O'Connor and then, backed by a small combo from the orchestra, switched to an electric violin for a romping tune by Jean-Luc Ponty.

Chris Dudley offered cool playing on an "electric valve instrument" in an attractive, smooth-jazz-like work of his own.

The finale got even further out-of-the-ordinary -- Michael Daugherty's volatile Hells Angels for bassoon quartet and orchestra. It's a little wacky and a little too long, but brilliantly crafted.

Bassoonists rarely step out in front, let alone dressed up like renegade bikers. Philip Kolker, Julie Gregorian, Brent Rickman and David Coombs made the most of the opportunity. Constantine kept things churning tightly, and the BSO, adding in strategically timed foot-stomps and yells, did a smashing job.

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