Friday, December 18, 2009

The Spectacularness of Holiday Spectacular

About a week ago, I was walking down the hall in the UMD School of Music, on my way to the mail room, and the Opera Studio Coordinator, Laura Lee, stopped me and said "Are you coming Thursday?" "Coming to What," I said. "Holiday Spectacular!" I came to find out she has been stage-managing the Baltimore Symphony's Holiday Spectacular show for several years now. A sneak peak at the final dress rehearsal? Can't really pass that up.
This past Thursday, I beat my way up I-95 in rush hour traffic, and it was well worth it. The host, this year, Ann Hampton Calloway, of broadway fame, has a fierce set of pipes, and opera star, Daniel Okulitch, duos and solos with the deepest bass-baritone voice I've ever heard.
And I'm going to let out a secret about those Dancing Santas (which, by the way, are really something to see): they are high school students from the Baltimore School for the Arts!
I know the BSO musicians might find the music a bit tedious; the level of music does not rank up there with Mozart, Strauss, and other classical greats. I've even heard some of them say it's all a bit chintzy- but you know, chintzy is as chintzy does. And, in this case, they do chintzy well!
There are four shows left: two on Tuesday and two on Wednesday, to accommodate the wee folk. Check it out Here.
Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Show Time

Friday the 11th, I performed the Sibelius Violin Concerto with my son Stephen conducting his student orchestra at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. The program began with Stephen conducting a commissioned piece by a Yale composer, then the orchestra played the first movement of Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, conducted by the Berkeley College Orchestra's assistant conductor.

Thankfully we had about 25 minutes shortly before the concert to rehearse the entire second movement, and spots in the first and third movements. That was valuable because it was our first time together in the Battell Chapel, the site of the concert. The acoustics there were quite different than they were for our rehearsal the previous Sunday. There was warmth and reverberation in the chapel, both great qualities for making music. However, reverberation often makes it more challenging for a performance with a soloist, because the orchestra can easily be too loud for the soloist, especially a violinist. So I spent some of the rehearsal tying to play as loudly as I possibly could. That isn't usually the best strategy for making music, or even for getting the most sound out of a violin!

So getting ready for the concert, I made some mental adjustments, planning to play just a little faster in the slow movement, for example, in order to sustain my tone more easily. And I tried to ignore the thought that I might be drowned out in this very symphonic concerto. I knew that if I played well, the way I had been practicing, I would be heard at least most of the time.

Playing one of my very favorite pieces with Stephen conducting was truly magical! He controlled the orchestra very well, both in terms of tempo and volume. I was just a little nervous and tight for the first part of the first movement, but gradually I felt more comfortable and I started letting go. All the practice since early August really paid off, my memory didn't fail me, and my pitch was generally good (though there are a few notes I wish I could have back). Before we knew it, the 35 minute piece was over, and we faced the applauding audience, many of whom were standing. What a moment! I am blessed to have had such a great opportunity with my son. The members of the orchestra were very appreciative of my coming to play with them. I thanked them for such a great opportunity.

My other son Eric came up from New York to see the concert, and of course my wife Jeanne was there. My parents made the trip from Virginia, my brother and his partner came from Boston, and my cousin from Rhode Island even came! So afterwards we all went out and celebrated.

Then another blessing over the weekend: two whole days without touching the violin!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sibelius, Family Style Part 2

Last Sunday afternoon I rehearsed the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Berkeley College Orchestra of Yale University. My 21 year old son Stephen conducted. It was a wonderful experience for me!!!! The orchestra members were good musicians and very supportive. The Sibelius is a complicated piece to put together, especially if many of the musicians are playing it for the first time, as was the case on Sunday. Fortunately, we had a 2 and a half hour rehearsal to work on everything. By the end of the rehearsal, Stephen and I felt really good about all that we had accomplished.

The orchestra rehearsed again last night. Today I drive to New Haven, this time with my wife Jeanne. We have the privilege of staying in the guest suite at Berkeley College, at the invitation of the Berkeley Master, Marvin Chun. Then tomorrow, we will rehearse a little around 6 pm for the 8 pm concert.

I'm very excited, thankfully not too nervous, that the concert is almost here. I've worked really hard on the piece this fall, and I am enjoying the results to this point. I look forward to sharing the piece with tomorrow night's fellow performers and the audience.

Wish me luck!

Oh, here is the link to the BCO's website, if you would like to learn more about my concert and my son's orchestra. Above is a picture of my son Stephen.

Friday, December 4, 2009

BSO Awarded Grammy Nomination

Got a tip-off about this from Tim Smith's noteworthy blog: the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra received a Grammy nomination for their recording of Bernstein's Mass yesterday in the Best Classical Album category. I suspected this recording would get this level of notoriety soon. Listen to clips or purchase the CD Here.
And Marin Alsop got another Grammy nomination for the recording she did with the London Philharmonic with her pal (We can assume they are friends, right?- since Higdon's pieces and premieres are all over the BSO's lineup every year), Jennifer Higdon's piece, the Percussion Concerto.
So, in other words, congrats to the musicians, Marin, and the staff who put this together!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sibelius, Family Style

My son Stephen was home for Thanksgiving last week. He brought his orchestral score to the Sibelius Violin Concerto. He and I spent several hours studying it, mostly in the form of me playing the solo part as he followed the score, singing and conducting. We discussed how Stephen should conduct some parts where the meter of the piece is somewhat confusing, as the violas are in 4 while the rest of the orchestra is still in 6. We discussed tempos and how to make transitions.

Not only was he learning how to conduct this particular concerto, and how I want to perform it; I too was learning again what it is to play a big romantic violin concerto with an orchestra (in this case the Berkeley College Orchestra of Yale University, an undergraduate group.) Despite the fact that the soloist gets most of the audience's attention in any concerto, there is a lot of give and take between soloist, conductor and orchestra. It is one thing for a soloist to know his notes, and quite another for him to understand where he must play as loudly as possible because the horns are playing at the same time, to know where there can be rhythmic freedom, and where he must play strictly in tempo to avoid causing the orchestra to have a train wreck!

The last time I played a big solo concerto was 1993, so this is a reawakening of sorts for me. It truly is satisfying to practice one of the great masterpieces, to learn more and more about a piece that I have loved for decades. And the chance to perform it with my son conducting his orchestra makes it even more special than it would already be.

I go up to New Haven this Sunday to rehearse with the orchestra, then the concert is the evening of December 11.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's a Family Affair

Thanksgiving week. FINALLY a break! It has been a great 5 weeks of BSO classical concerts, with 2 guest conductors and 3 weeks with Marin. Mix in a couple of November chamber concerts, and I am a little tired out. One day away from the violin, then back to practicing. In two and a half weeks, I go to New Haven to perform the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Berkeley College (of Yale University) Orchestra with my son, Stephen conducting. I'm excited about this project, as I haven't performed any concerto with any orchestra for over 10 years. And the Sibelius is my favorite of many favorite violin concertos. There is nothing like it: it is a virtuosic workout for a violinist, but it is too great to call it a "showpiece." The orchestral writing is superb; after all, it is Sibelius.

Making music with my family goes back a very long way. When I was quite young, I used to play violin while my dad accompanied me on the piano. My brother took up the violin, and my sisters, pianists to start, eventually also learned the cello and the viola. So a least once a year we like to get together and play great string quartets. Now that there is another generation of string players, we can expand that to string quintets, etc. when we want to.

Meanwhile, I'm grateful that both my boys, Eric and Stephen, are home this week from law school and college. We'll have a nice Thanksgiving with my parents and my sister's family, who will all drive up from Virginia Thursday.

And if this weather would just clear a bit, we could manage one more outdoor tennis match this fall!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Joys of Engagement

Tonight I'm going to see Maryland Opera Studio's L'elisir d'amore (Elixir of Love) at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. (Yes, tonight is the last performance-not fabulous on the timing!) I've heard some great things about this year's opera students, so I'm hoping to thoroughly enjoy myself (as you will too, if you come.)
And now, similar to the Baltimore Symphony's multimedia for events, you can further engage with with the performance before and afterwards by going to the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library Previews page to find books, recordings, and scores relating to the event.
With so much cyber media these days, there's no excuse not to be an educated concertgoer!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Difference Between a Bassoon & a Violin

Here's a funny story to follow up on the performances of Beethoven's Symphony #4 that the BSO performed a few weeks ago, and that the Berkeley College Orchestra of Yale University also performed, with my son Stephen conducting, the same weekend.

We were comparing notes that week, and I asked how the violins were doing with the very difficult last movement. Stephen said the violins were really cooking, then he told me about the notoriously hard bassoon lick midway through the last movement. It is a few bars of very fast 16th notes more suited for violins than for bassoons! In the dress rehearsal, Stephen looked up at the bassoonist to give him a cue for this passage, but the bassoon was sitting on the musician's lap, and the musician just shook his head "no," as if to say "you gotta be kidding me."

In the end, Stephen and the bassoonist worked out the version of the passage to play for the concert. Seems like an effective technique; maybe I will try the instrument in the lap, shaking my head thing the next time we have an impossible passage! lol.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How I LOVE the Fall!

The beauty of the leaves on the trees, and especially the crispness of the air. I think I also love fall because, though a nice vacation at the end of the summer is always welcome, we get back to work on great music.

It's also perfect time for tennis, usually. A bunch of BSO guys play often on Monday: David Coombs, Ken Goldstein, Ivan Stefanovic, Chris Williams, Karin Brown's husband Dan. Jon Carney sometimes plays too, though not lately. We always whoop it up onthe court, pretending for a day that we are athletes, not just musicians.

Fall seems to be the only part of the year when I remember to ride my bike. I have a mountain bike, though I discovered that rough trails weren't exactly kind to the muscles in mmy forearms, which get enough wear and tear playing the violin. I live fairly near Worthington Valley, north of Owings Mills/Reisterstown, so it is easy for me to ride through a couple of neighborhoods and get into the great part of Baltimore County that is still horse farms, etc. Great vistas from my bike!

Mahler's Symphony No. 4 is on the program this week, conducted by Marin Alsop. There is such a great sense of peace in the work, less of the overt drama characteristic of most of his symphonies. It has been a long time since we performed it, so I will savor the rehearsals and performances of it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Like Father, Like Son

I'm looking forward to the concert this week, Simply Classical. Louis Langree will be our guest conductor. He conducted us in the Mozart Requiem a couple of years ago, and I enjoyed him then. One of the interesting parts of our job is to be able to experience the inspiration of guest artists, both conductors and soloists. They come from all over the world to make music here in Baltimore and at Strathmore (and occasionally, like this week, in Wye Mills on the eastern shore.)

Simone Dinnerstein will make her BSO debut with us, playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23. I have heard that her playing is wonderful. By the way, she also happens to be a beautiful young woman. Today she has an interview on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi show at 1:30 pm. Listen live at! Should be very interesting.

We will also perform Haydn's Symphony No. 44 and Beethoven's 4th Symphony. I love the 4th: it isn't performed as frequently as many of Beethoven's others, but it is a great piece. The outer movements are lots of fun, and the slow movement is gorgeous! Coincidentally, my son Stephen, a student a Yale University and an aspiring conductor, will be conducting a student orchestra in Beethoven's 4th Symphony this Saturday evening, too. We will be comparing notes, I'm sure.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The BSO and -State Your Name Here-

Have you ever fantasized about playing alongside Emily Skala on flute, or perhaps thought about sharing some nice harmonic support with Chris Dudley in the brass section? Well, here's your chance, but you'll need to sign up early on November 2.

The BSO is auditioning "Rusty Musicians" to play the fourth movement of the Tchaik 4. I've seen this kind of publicity before, but not with such a top tier symphony orchestra. This should be interesting...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Reflections on Bartok

Last week we recorded Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, a 20th Century masterpiece. Bartok used folk elements in his music; he combined them with an amazing mathematical sense for structure. Bartok is rarely "easy listening." The first time I heard a Bartok string quartet I thought it was noise. The music becomes intelligible when the listener can grasp some of the unusual harmonies through repeated hearing. Marin showed Bartok's connection to Eastern European folk music and its harmonic language by having the group Harmonia perform on stage before the BSO played the Bartok.

The Concerto, like most music Bartok wrote, is a very difficult piece. I think that, with lots of good practice and four performances, we were able to do it justice. In June we will record another piece by Bartok, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste. Eventually we will release those two pieces together on a CD.

This week Jack Everly returns for his always entertaining Pops programs. The program this week is "Hollywood: The Epics," and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society will be performing with us.

Come have fun with Jack and us this weekend!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Diversifying Your Musical Portfolio

After hearing the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's season opener, with special guests, Time For Three, I have become a full supporter of the prevailing philosophy that classical musicians should do more than just dabble outside of western classical music. In other words, they should diversify their "musical portfolios" to include folk music, jazz, bluegrass, and other such similar genres to appeal to a wider audience.

I went to a lecture by Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker Magazine, a few years back during National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland that advocated this same message. The more versatile you are, the more likely you will be able to succeed in the classical music climate of the twenty-first century.

Just take the group, Time For Three, for example, who performed Jennifer Higdon's Concerto 4-3 with the BSO Saturday night (and held a jam session in the lobby following the concert). The group is composed of three talented young musicians who were classically trained at The Curtis Institute of Music. While at Curtis, they began meeting after orchestra rehearsals to let loose and play some bluegrass music. Their casual jam sessions developed into a group with a sound that bridges the classical and bluegrass realms. Time For Three has gone on to produce two successful albums and they maintain a busy touring schedule. (Higdon composed Concerto 4-3 specifically for them.)

There are many other classical musicians that have had enormous success specializing in different genres, such as the group, Pink Martini (most of their "little" orchestra are former top tier symphony orchestra members ), and don't forget, Wynton Marsalis has a degree in classical music performance from Juilliard. In the end, it just makes the musician more desirable when they possess an expanded musical pallette.

And sticking around for a bluegrass crossover jam session in the lobby following the powerhouse Tchaik 4 is always an added bonus:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Opening Night!

Today we start rehearsals for the piece by Jennifer Higdon, "Concerto 4-3." I'm looking forward to seeing what it is like. I almost always enjoy learning and performing contemporary music, and Marin does a nice job of finding interesting, accessible music of today. It is a different experience to learn and perform a new piece.

When we play something familiar, there are certain expectations that most of us have when we go into the first rehearsal: the tempos should be so and so, we will slow down in this spot, etc. etc. When we attack an entirely new piece there are fewer expectations. This can free us to make music in a different way. In one sense there is more risk to us as performers. We don't know how well we will perform the piece, or even which sections might prove to be most difficult. We don't know whether or not the audience will enjoy the piece.

On the other hand there is less risk. Since there aren't 15 recordings by famous conductors and orchestras that we and the audience may know of the piece, it is "ours" to make what we will of it, both from the performers' and from the audience vantage points. And if we miss a few notes here or there, will anyone but us know?

Enjoy life's little surprises. Come hear the Higdon Concerto 4-3 this week. And by the way, we are playing great standards by Tchaikovsky and Brahms, too!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

BSO 2009-2010 Season Kick-off

After several weeks break, I am looking forward to playing the violin with the BSO this weekend for the Gala concert. Lang Lang will be the pianist. He is a big audience favorite, and he hasn't been here for awhile. The Tchaikovsky Concerto should be a great piece to hear him play.

I have been practicing hard for the last many weeks, even though the orchestra hasn't performed since late July. It is essential to keep up my skills, and this quiet period for the orchestra gives me a chance both to prepare repertoire for the upcoming BSO season and also, to work on pieces that I will perform this year as a soloist and a chamber music performer.

One piece I have worked very hard on the Sibelius Concerto, my favorite romantic violin concerto. I will perform it December 11 in New Haven with my son, Stephen, conducting the Berkeley College Orchestra, a student orchestra at Yale University.

There are lots of great programs to look forward to this fall. Hope to see you all at JMSH and Strathmore!

Click here to view the season.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Live Classical Music on the Cheap?

My bank account has been hurting the last few months. That west coast vacation I went on took a tole on my "going out" funds, not to mention this "recession" phenomenon. It has sadly been too long since I was able to see some live classical music, so I went online to see if there were any events in the DC/Baltimore area coming up. As the 2009-2010 concert seasons are raring up, it is the perfect time to list some good deals. Here is what I came up with:
  • Many people do not know that the Kennedy Center has a FREE concert every day on the Millienium Stage. Check out their series here. They also have deals for the 17-25 age range through the Attend Program once you set up an account.
  • The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has two ways to save, depending on your age range: (1 $10 Student tickets to most concerts in the 2009-2010 season (valid Student ID required), and 2) BSO Forte events (Friends Under Forty), which include parking deals, free food, and discounted concert tickets.
  • Free Fall Baltimore- I just discovered these FREE open rehearsals on the BSO website this fall.
  • The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland offers free Engagement Events every week during their 09-10 season, including 5:30pm weekday concerts if you want to grab a concert right after work.
  • The University of Maryland School of Music has many student performances throughout the year, as does many other colleges and universities in the Baltimore/DC area. The Peabody Conservatory of Music is another local music school with exceptional student performances.
  • The Library of Congress has more than books, archives, and every newspaper in existence. Their FREE Concert Series is held in the Coolidge Auditorium located in the gorgeous Jefferson Building. The LoC also requires you to pick up advance tickets. Information will be up soon on their 09-10 season.
Do you know of any other live classical music deals in the area? Post a comment and I'll add yours to the list.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Today we rehearsed Psycho. The music was written by a well known film score composer, Bernard Herrmann. It is very creepy music, very interesting and dissonant at times. Then there are the sections with the pretty famous slasher music. Herrmann uses motives, chords and themes repeatedly; I'm sure that must be connected with various characters and/or moods in the film.I wish that I could see the screen. On some occasions, like when we played the music for Wizard of Oz last summer, I can look up when the violins have rests in the music. But for this performance, I am in back of the screen. I guess I will have to use my imagination and listen for the screaming!

July 3 and 4 were great last week at Oregon Ridge. Absolutely perfect weather, nice big crowds, and I enjoyed our conductor, Damon Gupton, quite a bit. I think that was the first time we played the entire Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture at OR for a long time; how nice.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY - June 27

I'm really looking forward to this concert, and I'm glad that the Baltimore Symphony has decided to perform this music. I've been a serious gamer for years, and in my experience, a soundtrack can make the difference between a good video game and a great one.

Video game music, like everything else about video games, has evolved greatly since Tetris, Galaga, and Super Mario Bros. Crude synthesizers have given way to more advanced ones and in many cases to full orchestras.

Nobuo Uematsu, who composed the music for the Final Fantasy series through Final Fantasy X, has witnessed this evolution as well as anyone. His music has helped make this fantasy/science-fiction series one of the most popular video game series in history, and I am happy to see the Baltimore Symphony recognize his achievements.

I will also be glad to see some people my age at the symphony. The concert is this Saturday, June 27 at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.

Eric Mulligan (age 23), son of Greg Mulligan

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reflection on the 2008-2009 Season

The main season is almost over. We are playing this weekend to full houses, with a concert of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto, performed beautifully by Yefim Bronfman, and excerpts from Wagner's great Ring Cycle of operas. It will be nice to have a little break next week!

We have had a great season that included some unusual repertoire this past year. Bernstein's Mass, which we performed in Baltimore, New York, and Washington last October, was a once-a-career opportunity for us. Though we all admire Leonard Bernstein, I think that it was still a pleasant surprise to experience the eclectic chaos of the work. Marin put together a great cast, and it was truly thrilling to perform the work with children's choirs from here and from New York. Click here to watch Marin discuss the project.

Mahler's Ninth Symphony, which we performed this spring, was another highlight. This is a difficult piece, even by Mahler's standards, but we were all very pleased with the results. There were a lot of other great performances, too, but the Bernstein and the Mahler stand out to me.

So in couple of weeks we will have our first summer season concert, "Distant Worlds: The Music of Final Fantasy." To be honest, I don't know exactly what to expect from this show, but I will ask my 23 year old and 21 year old sons about Final Fantasy. I know that Eric, my older son, enjoyed "Play, a Video Game Symphony," last summer, in which we performed music from various video games while scenes from the games appeared on a screen over the orchestra. I'm sure that Distant Worlds will be a big hit with the gaming crowd, too.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Greg Mulligan's First Post

Hi, I'm Greg Mulligan. I play in the First Violin section of the BSO. I have been here in Baltimore since 1980, except between 1989-1994, when I left to become the concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony. Now I'm glad to be living and performing in Baltimore again. Click here to read more about me.

It's funny to me that I am writing a blog for the BSO, because, while I am a good typist and I love to communicate, I am technologically challenged. Whenever something goes wrong when I am on the computer, I hope that my wife Jeanne, or one of my sons, Eric or Stephen, is around the house because there is little chance that I can find the problem! But with their help, and with the help of Jamie Jean Schneider, E-Commerce Coordinator of the BSO, I think I can do this.

Last weekend we performed a Pops show featuring music from the 1970s, "Disco Days and Boogie Nights," with our great Pops conductor, Jack Everly, and nine excellent singing and dancing solo performers. While the disco craze has the reputation of having produced some very silly music, I have to say that I really enjoyed the show. I was a teenager in the 1970s, and I remember very fondly going out with friends to dance to all that music. It all has a great beat and it inspires moving your body. And there is a lot of variety. This show wasn’t only disco; it also featured many other types of popular music from that era.

It was fun to wear 70s clothes. I used to have an old disco (loud pattern!) shirt, but I'm sure it got donated to Goodwill at some point. So I went into Hampden and found a copper-silver polyester shirt. There were some great costumes in the orchestra, including the French horn section dressed as the rock group Kiss. Join the BSO facebook fan page to view pictures of us dressed to the max for the evening.

I'm looking forward to this week. Hilary Hahn is a local girl who has amazed the classical music world with her incredible, beautiful violin playing. She is playing the Higdon Violin Concerto, which I don't know, but I am looking forward to learning it. Also, it will be nice to have Marin back again. Besides Higdon we are playing pieces by Beethoven and Dvorák, two of my favorite composers. If you want to see just how classically cool Hilary Hahn really is, visit her YouTube Channel.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

O'Riley, Ravel, and Radiohead (that's right- you didn't read it wrong)

It's not too often you can come to a concert and hear a musical potpourri of pieces, all in one sitting. The April 25 Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert I recently attended at The Strathmore included pieces such as Ravel's well known but not often performed Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, to Ballet Music from Mozart's opera, Idomeneo, to piano arrangements of the band, Radiohead, and lastly, excerpts from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. I originally thought that this is just way too much to cram in to one concert, but I was blown away.

Chistopher O'Riley, the guest artist, made the night. His immaculate performance of the Ravel was as fascinating to watch as to hear. After having grown up listening to O'Riley as host of the popular radio show, From the Top, it was thrilling to see him live, right here at the Strathmore Music Center. I always thought it was so cool that he would play the piano part for the young solo artist performing- I used to imagine how great that would be to have a chance to play with O'Riley, and he seemed to be able to converse with the young people with easiness. That same calm, collected, easiness was present during this performance.

James Gaffigan, the guest conductor, flown in all the way from San Francisco, teamed up with the BSO and ORiley for the weekend’s performances. He brought a fresh approach to conducting, and, although no other conductor works as well as Alsop (yes, I’m biased), Gaffigan's large and expressive motions seemed to pull every last drip of passionate playing from the musicians.

The Classical Period Selection of the Night:
Mozart’s Idomeneo, re di Creta, K.366 (1781), his first attempt at opera seria (serious opera), was composed when he was only eighteen years of age. The story of Idomeneo, Kingof Crete, was thought to be chosen by Elector Karl Theodor of Bavaria, who commissioned Mozart to compose the work. The Ballet Music from the opera, traditionally inserted at the end of the performance, is rarely performed with the rest of the opera today. This shortage is more than adequately filled in the orchestral field, where the ballet music is on repertoire lists the world over. As the opener, the BSO, always a pro group with Amadeus, performed the short pieces with a fierce daintiness. Mozart exists for strings, in my opinion, and the string section, led that night by Madeline Adkins, performed with a pure, unified sound. I could almost see the dancers on stage during the opera.

Romantic/Contemporary Period Work of the Concert:
After much striking and set-up of the stage, (Mozart performances require a much smaller orchestra- some of the instruments in today's symphony orchestra were not yet invented during the eighteenth century and it was not until the works of Berlioz and Beethoven that the orchestra grew in number and variety of instruments), the Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (1929-1930) was performed with O'Riley on the piano. I had forgotten the extensive jazz influences in this work. The offbeat, syncopated rhythms and clarinet/saxophone slides (yes, there’s a tenor saxophone part) significantly move the piece up to the twentieth century. The work does demonstrate many Romantic Period traits as well, especially in the traditional concerto structure, disguised within one lengthy movement.

It is truly a shame that this work is not more developed into the musical canon. It appears that one would have to spend as much time and effort developing the skill of keeping the right hand limp and resting in the lap as pushing the limits of the left hand, the unfortunate appendage that rarely gets a chance to play the melodic line. The work was composed for Ravel's good friend, Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961), who lost his right arm during WWI. Apparently, Wittgenstein could not stand the work at first, but it quickly grew on him as he came to perform it many times over the course of his career.

Rock Music Work of the Concert:
Radiohead arrangements for the piano, composed by O'Riley himself. He took the time during the changeover of the stage to talk about how he developed a liking for Radiohead's music (beginning with their CD, OK Computer). He began playing the arrangements on From the Top, and their popularity took flight after that. There were some really advanced technical moments that the audience Oood' and Ah'd to, and he performed more works as an encore. I have to admit I really like Radiohead's music, but I don't know it that well. When O'Riley played an arrangement of the song, Paranoid Android, I (and the rest of the audience) clapped prematurely, before the song was actually over. My date, a devotee of Radiohead (and not a devotee of classical music), did not clap, and gave me that eyebrow lifted, judging look that I usually give him when he claps too early! The roles were certainly reversed for a hot second, and it was oddly refreshing to be out of my element.

Contemporary American Work of the Concert (out of the Canon):
Leonard Bernstein's "Three Dance Episodes" from On The Town, was another jazz-influenced work, but more mainstream since the pieces were from the 1944 musical. I always enjoy Bernstein, and this was certainly an audience favorite. People couldn't stop "air toe-tapping" in their seats and mouthing the words during the BSO's performance. This was the only piece on the program that I felt had weak moments; there were occasionally transition points where it felt like the ensemble was not completely together, and althought I loved seeing the sax onstage, he could have projected more over the orchestra as it was hard to hear his solos.

Contemporary Period Work of the Concert (in the Canon):
Prokoffiev's Romeo and Juliet, Op.64 (1935, with revisions), was a fantastic way to end the concert. I did not read through the program close enough to see which Romeo it was, falsely assuming it was Tchaikovsky's version, written many years prior. I am now decidedly a fan of the Prokofiev, moreso than Tchaik's. The Prokofiev has more tension and drama- it is so much more powerful, especially in the first movement, Montagues and Capulets.

After a whirlwind tour of classical music, the college night festivities began. O'Riley and Gaffigan (and their lovely dates) came to the party to meet everyone and of course participate in some fun photo-ops! The only downside for me at these events is the food is always gone by the time I get to the table! Please bring more food, BSO staff, and don't forget about vegetarian options!!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Music Matters. Spread The Word.

Check out the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's new campaign, Music Matters. I know I don't have to tell you that, so pass the message along to those who don't know how vital music and the BSO are to this region!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Cirque de la Symphonie

For me, the debate always returns to whether or not orchestras should involve extraneous performers or acts to glitz up the concert. Does this take away from the music itself? Is this somehow a way to get those not interested in classical music to attend? Or, is this a way to make the symphony orchestra more approachable, not so lofty in its aim and intentions? As evidenced by the full house that night, this concert was a giant success, and those who do not normally attend BSO concerts were drawn by its appeal. I'll have to attend another pops concert for more "research," but in the meantime, it's certainly safe to say I had a good time.

The College Night reception had good food and great prizes. A Hopkins student won the Baltimore harbor cruise in the raffle and just about flipped her lid with excitement. The gymnasts came out for the concert and mingled through the crowd. (Pictures are up on the BSO fan page.) I heard through the grapevine that all the student tickets were sold out for that concert, so you might want to get your $10 tickets for April's Romeo and Radiohead concert early!

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Friends of the BSO and the arts in general,
Please take some time to read this letter and follow the instructions below. The arts have suffered enough without a significant cut in the MD State Arts Council budget in these hard economic times.

Dear Friend,

As many of you know, the Governor's proposed FY10 budget includes a drastic 36% cut to the Maryland State Arts Council. If passed, this would be a devastating blow to the arts community. For the BSO, this would represent a cut of $700,000 on the FY10 budget (2009-10 concert season).

Please take a moment to click on the following link, enter your zip code, and write to your elected representative. There is an already scripted letter, which you can use as is, or feel free to edit. I can't emphasize enough how important it is that our legislators hear from us – silence will be taken as acceptance.

Thank you,

Paul Meecham
President & CEO

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

BSO College Night- The Raven

A great way to spend a classy evening out on a tight budget is with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at one of their acclaimed College Nights. I attended my first BSO College Night a few months ago, on November 6. It was certainly a night of big names. The Baltimore Symphony aptly chose to have their Fall College Night during The Raven concerts.The BSO brought former NSO Music Director, Leonard Slatkin, on board to conduct the evening’s performance, which included his work, The Raven: a dark and exciting piece composed of several poems by Edgar Allan Poe accompanied by music. Among the very skilled poem readers was none other than John Astin- yes, of The Addams Family claim to fame (Gomez)- who read Poe’s most famous poem, The Raven. Other works such as The Sleeper, The Bells, Romance, and The Coliseum were also read by different speakers and accompanied by music. The recitations and music certainly put one in a ghostly mood, but it reminds one of just how many good Poe poems are out there, and that more than the “regulars” should be circulated more often.

As many locals might already know, Edgar Allan Poe was native to this region in the early nineteenth century. After his parents’ death, Poe lived with his unofficial guardians, the Allans, in Richmond, VA, even attending UVA for a year. Poe moved back and forth between Richmond, Baltimore, New York City, and Boston, and although the circumstances regarding his death are uncertain, he most certainly died and was buried in Baltimore, following a long list of ailments and illnesses.

What many might not know is that John Astin is also native to this region! He is Baltimore born and raised, graduating from Hopkins with a drama degree before departing to Hollywood. Slatkin, whether or not he was born and raised here is obsolete; once you are the music director of the NSO for THAT long, you are a local. End of story.

With all these big name artists, the evening was sure to be a hit. To keep the event evenly spread throughout their two concert halls, College Night was at the Music Center at Strathmore to make it easier for the Western MD and DC students to make it out. The hall at the Strathmore is a work of art on its own, and with the place metro accessible (Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro) and the BSO’s great student discount tickets (we’re talking cheap here- 10 bucks), there’s no excuse for the young, low-on-funds college student not to attend!

After a lively rendition of Rossini’s "The Thieving Magpie" Overture, complete with a solid and steadfast drum roll solo by Christopher Williams, Slatkin conducted his Raven. The work is organized around five of Poe’s works, each set in different musical “guises.” He states, “The first four are scored for narrator, with each utilizing just one section of the orchestra. [The first poem features the woodwinds; the second, “The Bells,” a variety of bell-like percussion; the third is a dreamy waltz for strings; the fourth uses brass instruments to evoke ancient Rome.] In the final poem [“The Raven”], the whole orchestra is represented by solo instruments from each section.” One by one the readers came out slowly and solemnly onstage to recite their poems, each rendition increasingly creepier that the last. A personal favorite was the rendition of The Bells was performed by Rosemary Knower and the percussion section of the BSO. This piece reminds us of just how disturbed and demented the author’s psychological state was for most of his life. (I was definitely on edge throughout the entire work.)

John Astin came out to read the big finish (The Raven) and it was remarkable. It was obvious this was not his first public reading of that poem! It is very easy to see why this work was originally composed for Vincent Price to do all the readings, but having the pleasure of hearing John Astin and the other talented speakers, I believe their interpretations were just as provocative and gripping. Except for some minor sound problems, the work went off without a hitch.

After a brief intermission, the second half was devoted to another big name, Sibelius, and his second symphony. Composed in 1901, this Finnish favorite was actually inspired by the warmer climate of Italy- the location where Sibelius vacationed for a time. Excluding the slow movement, the majority of the symphony exudes joyousness and gaiety, and Slatkin and the Baltimore Symphony worked well together to achieve this atmosphere.

Some symphony goers get a bit tired during the long programs of the second half (the Sibelius included at a whopping forty-five minutes), and I feared this for my date, who does not typically attend symphony orchestra concerts. I glanced over halfway through and was shocked to see him wide awake and attentive- in fact, a quick glance over the rest of the audience, and they too were sitting up in their seats, quite alert. This was probably owing to College Night, but it was so nice to see such a variety of ages in the audience as well. This has definitely improved in recent years, and the BSO is doing an outstanding job attracting younger audiences with College Night and Forte BSO Friends under 40 events.

The College Night soiree after the performance was held in the swanky Comcast Circles Lounge, complete with soft lighting, yummy appetizers and desserts, and a cash bar. It is always exciting to see other students with an interest in symphony orchestra concerts, and I mingled briefly as a handful of orchestra musicians, fresh off the stage, and John Astin strolled in. I was highly pleased that Astin attended College Night. It was quite a treat to meet the legend in person and very generous of him to stay a while and mingle. The pictures of the event (available on the Facebook BSO Fan Page) turned out great as well!

Not that it’s too obvious, but I will definitely be attending the next College Night with the BSO and Cirque de la Symphonie on February 6 in Baltimore. For more information, visit for a full listing of future concerts!