Need gift inspiration? Try Baltimore arts scene

Skip the mall and try local authors, artists and musicians

November 24, 2012

Across the nation, consumers snapped up TVs, toys and other mass-produced goodies last week, as the holiday shopping season expanded into "Black Thursday" (aka Thanksgiving).

But closer to home, authors, artists and musicians have been toiling over works that, given as gifts, are more apt to say, "Baltimore pride" than "Doorbuster special!"

In the spirit of local enterprise, we've rounded up locally themed gift ideas that sample the offerings this year from Baltimore's arts and culture scene.


A bewitching tale from Newbery winner Laura Amy Schlitz. A posthumous compilation of Lucille Clifton's poems. A soon-to-be released Thurgood Marshall biography from University of Baltimore law professor Larry S. Gibson. Baltimore's literary scene has been humming this year with poetry, biography and children's books — along with notable novels and general nonfiction.

'Baltimore Sounds,' Joe Vaccarino

Local musician and general music lover Vaccarino released the first edition of his well-received nostalgia trip back in 1994. This year's second edition gives an update of Baltimore's ever-expanding — and influential — music scene, covering a period through 2000 and doubling the size of the first edition. It's an important time capsule of the collective tunes in Baltimoreans' heads. List price: $30.

'And When She Was Good,' Laura Lippman

The ever-reliable Baltimore author's latest acclaimed work is a twisty tale featuring a single mom and escort business owner who's also caught up with a drug dealer. You can relate. List price: $26.99.

'Big Ray,' Michael Kimball

The Baltimore resident has gathered a devoted following, thanks to his excellent novels "Us" and "Dear Everybody." The emotional and yet funny "Big Ray," about a son dealing with the death of his pretty darn awful father, was an Oprah Winfrey book of the week. List price $23.

'Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing,' Rob Kasper

It's not all Boh. Kasper (a former Baltimore Sun reporter and columnist) drinks in the city's brew history, from old-school craft brewers to ... well, new-school craft brewers. Bonus: recipes! List price: $19.99.

'Teaching in the Terrordome: Two Years in West Baltimore with Teach for America,' Heather Kim Lanier

OK, so it's not the most holiday-ish gift. But Lanier's work is engrossing, chronicling her time at Southwestern High School from 2000 to 2002. If you haven't guessed from the title, it was a little tough. List price: $19.95.

Jordan Bartel

Classical music

Despite innumerable death notices, the classical recording industry is still very much alive, if not necessarily kicking. That means there are lots of products worth considering for the classically inclined folks on your holiday shopping list.

Among this year's recordings are several featuring artists from our own classical community, so your gifts can come with a support-local cachet.

Mahler: Symphony No. 1. Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor. (Naxos)

The BSO's first commercial Mahler recording holds up firmly in a crowded field. Marin Alsop's straightforward, sensitive conducting is especially effective at bringing out the primordial mystery at the start of the symphony, the nostalgic charm in the middle of the scherzo and the blazing emotion of the finale. The CD, recorded at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, captures vividly charged playing by the orchestra.

Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor. (Naxos)

This release also covers much-recorded repertoire and also finds Alsop and the BSO making an admirable showing. They are on the same taut wavelength in the Concerto for Orchestra, which emerges with lots of rhythmic snap and finely detailed coloring. The performance of the intricately layered Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is even more impressive.

Chaconne: A Baroque Recital. Manuel Barrueco, guitar. (Tonar)

Manuel Barrueco, who teaches at the Peabody Institute, has long been recognized as one of the world's finest classical guitarists. On this just-released CD from the Baltimore-based Tonar label, he performs his own transcriptions of pieces by Bach, Scarlatti and Weiss. Barrueco's refined technique and richly expressive phrasing generate particularly eloquent results in Bach's profound D minor Chaconne.

Jonathan Leshnoff: Chamber Music. (Naxos)

With commissions from the likes of the BSO and Philadelphia Orchestra, Baltimore-based composer and Towson University faculty member Jonathan Leshnoff has steadily made a name for himself. This release is devoted to vividly communicative chamber works from the past decade, including the percussion piece "… without a chance," Leshnoff's haunting response to 9/11. (Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for the CD.)

Works of Larry Hoffman. (DBK)

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