Red flags were up early for ambitious DC Philharmonic

CLEF NOTES

April 09, 2009|By TIM SMITH

You know what they say: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

A certain amount of skepticism was natural when word came a few weeks ago that a new ensemble, the DC Philharmonic Orchestra, was being formed by a 30-year-old conductor, John Baltimore. And that its debut, scheduled for this week at the Music Center at Strathmore, would be with a well-packed program capped by Mahler's huge Resurrection Symphony, featuring the Heritage Signature Chorale and two stellar singers, soprano Harolyn Blackwell and mezzo Denyce Graves.

On Wednesday, there was an announcement from Strathmore that "for the best interests of all involved," the DC Philharmonic is "postponing [the] April 9 and 10 performances" and "looking to reschedule their inaugural concerts in the fall of 2009."

Andre Johnson, spokesman for the DC Philharmonic, said "a combination of things" led to the decision, including slow ticket sales. "We had money in the bank to pay the musicians," Johnson said. "But the rehearsals showed a few things we wanted to work on. I am confident in September we will be able to present a tremendous product."

Specific dates have yet to be set.

The change in plans is not surprising, especially since the opening program was so ambitious (works by Torke and Barber were on the bill, too), and since Baltimore had never led a Mahler symphony before.

It's hard enough to start an orchestra in the best of times, but during a recession? In an area already flush with orchestral activity?

Still, having secured Graves and Blackwell and a venue as classy as Strathmore, the conductor gained initial credibility.

And the Washington-born Baltimore, who attended the Peabody Conservatory for a couple of years before finishing his studies at the Mannes School in New York, certainly had lots of ideas for the DC Philharmonic. He envisioned a self-governing orchestra, for example, along the lines of London's Philharmonia, which has long been run by the musicians. And he wanted to incorporate educational projects into the venture.

But he first had to raise the funds for this week's concerts, which would have been performed primarily by freelance players in the region. He told me that he and two others put in their own money and some borrowed from family members.

It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

Memorable concerts

April got off to a fabulous start, concert-wise. For detailed reviews, please go to my blog. Meanwhile, here's a brief rundown:

Pianist Peter Serkin offered an illuminating recital Saturday night at the University of Baltimore that included refined Bach and Debussy, as well as a bravura charge through Brahms' Handel Variations .

In her finest achievement to date at the helm of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop led her forces in a memorable account of Mahler's profound Ninth Symphony. The synergy of her incisive conducting and the ensemble's committed playing Sunday afternoon at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, especially in the elegiac finale, yielded a deeply involving experience.

Tenor Ian Bostridge, in his Baltimore debut, delivered an all-Schubert program for the Shriver Hall Concert Series on Sunday night with an exquisitely shaded voice and keen interpretive nuance. Pianist Julius Drake matched the singer note for sensitive note.

And the Washington Performing Arts Society presented the astonishing Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and its superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel in an incendiary concert Monday at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Just one of the highlights: an account of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring that brought out the score's savage power as it showcased the intrepid, finely polished ensemble. If all adult orchestras played with anything like the visceral enthusiasm of these youths, classical music would be the hottest art form around.

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