Dynamic minimalist program by Mobtown

Music column

May 13, 2008|By Tim Smith ... | Tim Smith ...,Sun music critic

Last weekend's music scene in Baltimore afforded me some interesting deja vu sensations.

On Friday night, I got to hear a live presentation of In C, Terry Riley's groundbreaking minimalist work from 1964, for the second time in a month. On Sunday afternoon, I heard some of Orff's Carmina Burana and the original orchestral/choral version of Borodin's Polovtsian Dances performed for the second time in a week, and music from Puccini's Madama Butterfly for the second time in less than 24 hours.

What are the odds of that?

The Riley opus, considered the ignition point of minimalism, provided a fitting finale to a dynamic program presented by Mobtown Modern, an imaginative organization that bowed earlier this season at the Contemporary Museum. Founded by saxophonist Brian Sacawa and composer Erik Spangler, Mobtown has revealed a knack for putting works and musicians together in effective combinations.

This concert kicked off Friday with an engrossing account of Philip Glass' Music in Similar Motion, played by a tight ensemble of winds and percussion, with Spangler adding percussive support from some electronic DJ equipment that hadn't been invented when the work came out in 1969. Katayoon Hodjati effortlessly handled the technical intricacies of Steve Reich's prismatic, hypnotic Vermont Counterpoint, which fuses live and pre-recorded flutes.

A pre-recorded track also figures in Nico Muhly's Honest Music, with a violin as the real-time protagonist in a moody, arresting tone poem. Lisa Liu was the ardent soloist, undistracted by some playback glitches.

The account of In C, intriguingly punctuated by Shodekeh's "beatboxing," didn't fully click. The piece, built on dozens of short phrases repeated arbitrarily by the performers, lacked the firmness and organic quality I recall from Harmonious Blacksmith's version at the Creative Alliance in April.

Next season's Mobtown Modern series at the Contemporary Museum promises to be quite an adrenaline-pumper for Baltimore's new-music scene. There will be five programs and a rich assortment of 20th- and 21st-century composers, including Babbitt, Berio, Cage, Carter, Feldman, Messiaen, Stockhausen, Varese and Zappa.

For more information, go to mobtownmodern.com.

BSO's Choral Pops

For his season-closing SuperPops program with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conductor Jack Everly cut a wide swath through repertoire that involved choral forces. There were stops on Broadway and in Hollywood, as well as samplings from opera and the classical hit parade.

All of that variety didn't make a neat, easy-transition package Sunday afternoon at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, but, as usual, Everly made everything enjoyable with his interspersed commentary and, above all, his dynamic music-making. He had the BSO and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society (prepared by Leo Wanenchak) responding with flair.

No one appreciates the value of vintage American stage and screen music more than Everly, and he made the most of colorful souvenirs from The Most Happy Fella and Meet Me in St. Louis.

Other highlights included crisply executed excerpts from Carmina Burana and Poulenc's Gloria, and a beautifully molded performance of "America the Beautiful" in the Carmen Dragon arrangement. Everly's own gentle arrangement of "Back Home in Indiana" also, well, hit home (he's a Hoosier, after all).

Borodin's Polovtsian Dances had an effective sweep. Even more fun was Everly's chorally boosted version of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. And the BSO dug vibrantly into the atmospheric Intermezzo from Madama Butterfly.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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