He Puts His All Into The Music

CLEF NOTES

April 16, 2009|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,tim.smith@baltsun.com

Jonathan Carney puts his whole body into each phrase of music, making it impossible to miss him when he's playing violin from the concertmaster's chair in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Even if you couldn't see him, you'd probably know he was there, from the intensity and commitment of his playing.

That approach to music-making has been a boost to the BSO since he was hired by then-music director Yuri Temirkanov in 2002.

"Jon is a tremendously effective concertmaster, a very extrovert concertmaster," says BSO percussionist Brian Prechtl. "He's very vocal about how things should go in his own section and the orchestra as a whole, and he's got the goods to back that up. I've seen a lot of concertmasters in other orchestras, and he's right up there with some of the great ones."

The New Jersey-born Carney, who steps out front of the orchestra this week as soloist in Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, remains as upbeat about his BSO association as he was when he arrived from London, after a dozen years as concertmaster of the Royal Philharmonic. "I absolutely don't ever have any second thoughts about moving to the States," Carney says. "Baltimore's just been fantastic, musically, socially and family-wise. We've made such good friends here."

The violinist, who lives on a farm with his wife and three children, has branched out in education over the years. He's artistic adviser for the Maryland Classical Youth Orchestra, and he often works with students at the Baltimore School for the Arts and other places.

But his primary focus remains the BSO, where he has experienced interesting changes between the last years of Temirkanov's tenure and the first of Marin Alsop's.

"Yuri let the orchestra play by itself, which could be very visceral and exciting," Carney says. "But some technical aspects were put on the back burner, and the orchestra got into some bad habits. Marin, to her credit, spotted those things and gave them a higher level of importance. Rhythm has gotten tighter, and intonation is better."

Alsop, via e-mail, expresses confidence in her concertmaster. "Jon is a wonderful colleague and an engaged, enthusiastic, thoughtful artist," she says. "He cares deeply about music and the BSO, and conveys that in everything he does."

Midway through Alsop's second season, the BSO sounds in top shape.

"It's no secret that the orchestra's relationship with Marin did not have a great start," Carney says, "but she has made it a priority to work on that relationship, and we keep moving upwards. It's clicking more and more."

Temirkanov tended to "put day-to-day responsibilities of personnel and repertoire on my shoulders," the concertmaster says. "Marin, of course, has taken the role of music director to heart, so my job has gotten much easier. I don't need to be in control. I just need for somebody to be in control."

Carney looks forward to playing the lushly romantic Bruch concerto with his colleagues. "I like music like this that just pours it all out, take it or leave it - sort of like me," he says. "I don't usually get much ambivalence about my personality or my playing."

He takes the occasional criticism of his animated playing style in stride.

"I am what I am, and I've played that way since I was a little boy," he says. "I am only comfortable being that way onstage. I think it's so important to transmit that energy and commitment to the section. Marin is very much in favor of more movement from all the string players."

Carney does have his limits, though. "If I moved any more," he says, "I would need a seat belt."

Marin Alsop conducts the BSO in works by Brahms, Bruch and Copland at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and works by Brahms and Bruch at 11 a.m. Saturday. Alsop will also offer an "Off the Cuff" program devoted to Copland at 7 p.m. Saturday. All performances are at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. For tickets, call 410-783-8000 or go to bsomusic.org.

Operas at UM

Maryland Opera Studio, part of the University of Maryland's School of Music, will tackle two great works from very different stylistic periods - Handel's Serse and Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin - performed in repertory.

The brilliant, eventful Serse, a half-serious tale of the Persian king Xerxes, is best known for the stately aria Ombra mai fu. Onegin, based on a Pushkin verse novel, is a psychologically astute love story that finds Tchaikovsky at a height of melodic inspiration.

Onegin, conducted by James Ross and directed by Leon Major, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. April 23 and 25. Serse, conducted by Kenneth Slowik and directed by Nick Olcott, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Wednesday and April 24; 3 p.m. April 26.

All performances are at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Stadium Drive and University Boulevard, College Park. Tickets are $7 and $30. Call 301-405-2787 or go to claricesmithcenter.umd.edu.

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