Peabody's anniversary: something to celebrate

The conservatory's sesquicentennial is packed with musical treats

Music Column

September 08, 2006|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,sun music critic

As it celebrates the 150th anniversary of its founding, the Peabody Conservatory will showcase notable alumni, as well as current faculty and student artists, in an action-packed performance calendar.

This will also be a season of enhanced collaboration between Peabody and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which has long provided members of the school's faculty and, in the 1940s, was conducted by a Peabody director.

In addition to hosting a joint concert of the BSO and members of the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in January, conducted by BSO music director-designate Marin Alsop, the conservatory has named Alsop "distinguished visiting artist" this year.

Alsop, who conducted a rehearsal with the Peabody Symphony last season, will work with Gustav Meier, head of the conducting program at the conservatory.

In a statement released by Peabody, Alsop called the joint concert scheduled for January "a great beginning to what we all hope will be a long-term collaboration between Peabody and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra."

The Alsop-BSO-Peabody venture was spearheaded by Peter Landgren, a longtime BSO musician and Peabody faculty member who served as acting dean of the school last year.

Peabody's new dean, Jeffrey Sharkey, said that Alsop would likely interact with conducting students, as well as with the student orchestra, as a visiting artist.

"For a conductor to be willing to work with young people like this is so enlightened," Sharkey said. "That she is excited about this, and so are we, speaks well for a future relationship between our organizations."

If you have never experienced music-making at the Peabody Conservatory, or haven't done so in a while, this is the season to do it.

Substantive programs abound, an unusual number of them this fall with free admission. The new gratis portion of the calendar - seven performances in October and November - is the result of a grant from a citywide outreach project called Free Fall Baltimore.

As for the paid-admission part of the schedule, that's as attractive as ever; Peabody tickets have always been among the city's best bargains.

The sesquicentennial observance is placing extra emphasis on music by notable Peabody composers, past and present. These include such current faculty members as Nicholas Maw, Michael Hersch (he's also an alum) and Kevin Puts, and former Peabody teachers George Walker and Benjamin Lees. Dominick Argento, one of the school's most successful grads, will also be a significant presence on the programming.

Peabody's orchestras will perform large-scale works by Berlioz, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, among others. Choral ensembles will cover a wide range of material, from Bach and Haydn to Schoenberg and Poulenc.

The well-established Peabody Trio (faculty artists) and up-and-coming Monument Piano Trio (alumni) will be featured. In January, faculty artists will collaborate on a program that includes music from 1857, the year Peabody was founded, and today.

The Peabody Renaissance Ensemble and the much-traveled Baltimore Consort (which includes several alumni) will have the early days of music history pretty well covered. Several other groups, among them the Peabody Wind Ensemble and the recently formed Conservatory Avant Garde Ensemble, will shine a welcome light on contemporary fare.

Operatic projects include Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro (opening night is one of the Free Fall Baltimore performances), Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann and Britten's The Rape of Lucretia.

Among the most unusual and enticing events are two by the Peabody Camerata, one devoted to Olivier Messiaen's mystical music, the other to rarely encountered chamber-music arrangements of vocal and symphonic works by Gustav Mahler.

And then there's Peabody student Felix Hell, an organist who has begun making a name for himself beyond Baltimore. He will perform the complete organ works of Bach in the span of about 80 hours in November - 10 concerts in all, four of them in one day.

For more information on Peabody's music season, call 410-659-8100, ext. 2, or visit pea body.jhu.edu.

Pianistic sculptor

Barry Johnston, a Baltimore-based sculptor whose bronzes have been commissioned by organizations around the country, has another notable artistic talent - the piano. He is one of 30 Americans who will be competing in the First International Piano Amateur Competition that begins Sept. 19 in Berlin.

Contests for amateur pianists have grown in popularity and substance in recent years (one of the best known is held by the Van Cliburn Foundation in Texas). Top prize in the Berlin event, which will involve nearly 60 pianists, is 2,000 euros (about $2,500).

Johnston will give a competition preview recital, performing works by Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and others, at 4 p.m. Sunday at Faith Christian Fellowship, 505 E. 42nd St. Free admission. For more information, call 410-323-0202.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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