Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Holidays (and BSO) in Frederick

Last weekend I discovered that people in the handsome Maryland town of Frederick really like their holidays.

BSO was there Saturday night for a second performance of Handel's Messiah, after a very successful and exciting performance in the Meyerhoff on Friday. We played in the beautiful Weinberg Center for the Arts, which is an old movie theater turned into a performance space. As a matter of face, Ed Polochick, our esteemed Messiah conductor for decades, tells me that he inaugurated the new space a few decades ago!

I had some 30 minutes or so of free time after our bus arrived at the stage door and before getting into concert attire and warming up, so I decided to go for a walk. I have experienced the main street before as a happening place, with many diverse restaurants (let's not forget that Bryan Voltaggio's famous Volt is in Frederick!) that seem to be always at capacity, but this was different yet. Not only were the restaurants crowded, but there were many more people in festively decorated streets and shops, taking in some great holiday atmosphere! Trees were strung with lights to their tops, there was caroling on one corner, handbells on another, free food and drink in many places, horse-drawn carriages taking people up and down the street, tours with people in period costumes, you name it, and it was available! They really know how to have fun up in Frederick. I vowed to come back with my wife and our boys one day, without having to be there on business, and enjoy some of that myself.

The concert was wonderfully attended and received, despite a bit of unwanted accompaniment from an enthusiastic air-conditioning system and a crowded (small) stage. Madeline Adkins played her solos beautifully, then went on to get ready for her wedding day (Tuesday). Let's all wish her a great married life!

-Ivan Stefanovic

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Splitting Logs

Oh, how wonderful this quintessentially American holiday of Thanksgiving is! In this day and age, when families don't see one another much, and when they do, it's a short exchange of thoughts and ideas that mostly run the gamut from "can you get the milk on your way home" and "did you sign the kids' school forms" to "did you turn in your homework" and "please finish your fruit and dessert so you can have time for a shower and practicing," it's so relaxing and it feels so good to have some time off to catch up. A couple of days without rehearsals or late night bus rides from run-out concerts make a world of difference. In my household, that can mean splitting logs while my 6 year-old tells me all he learned about the lives of Native Americans and pilgrims: "Did you know that kids had to pull up the mattresses against the walls in the morning then do chores all day and could only play twice?" Playing Master Mind or Scrabble while the wood is burning in the fireplace and the turkey is spreading its aroma throughout the house. Enjoying a hike through Loch Raven on a crisp autumn day and seeing deer, foxes and an arm-length bass that a fisherman caught in the lake.

And not touching my instrument for a few days. It makes me grow fonder (and does wonders for the physical ailments we all earn during decades of using our muscles in all those unnatural and twisted ways), so when I return to it, it feels fresh and new, and the hunger to make music is so much stronger.

That was certainly true today, when we rehearsed Ed Polochick's so wonderfully unique interpretation of Handel's Messiah, which we perform Friday, Dec 3 at 7:30pm, as well as the Nutcracker suite with the Baltimore Ballet, which we play on Saturday, Dec 4 at 11am. If you've never heard Ed's Messiah, or haven't in a while, it's not to be missed. He makes it sound fresh and exciting in a way that not too many conductors can. And what a better way to start the Holiday season then with your BSO performing The Nutcracker?! While you're at the Meyerhoff, check out the wonderful decorations that are up in the lobby, take a few photos with your little ones, and don't forget to purchase tickets for the Holiday Spectacular, a uniquely Baltimore tradition featuring Maureen McGovern. Check out this video of Dancing Santas or the Holiday Spectacular Jingle, look at the dates we offer (Dec 10-19), and get those tickets before it's too late! Even if you don't have kids to bring, don't worry, this is a show with plenty of entertainment for all ages.

Hope to see you in our halls this December!

-Ivan Stefanovic

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The BSO Takes a Bite of the Big Apple

What an amazing weekend! Perfect weather, a pleasant bus ride, an excellent hotel (no bed bug reports as of yet), great restaurants, only a few delayed metro service stories...oh, and the concerts! BSO went to the Big City, and showed them (and the world) that we're still in top form, and just as capable of pulling off an excellent concert of classics (read NY Times review), as we did on Saturday night, as we are of bringing the house down with a boisterous rendition of the gospel version of Handel's Messiah (read review), as was the case on Sunday afternoon. Both in front of full houses of very pleased patrons who weren't afraid to show us that they liked it. It was so fun for us to play twice in two days in that legendary Carnegie Hall, with its impeccable acoustics and discriminating audiences.
On Saturday, the Barber Essay # 2 started off elegantly, and ended with all of Carnegie's decorations vibrating with our full sound. Our piano soloist in Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, Macedonian Simon Trpceski, outdid himself in his debut with some amazing fireworks, and showed that soloists can still play chamber music with an orchestra, even in virtuoso pieces. After intermission, in Mahler's rendition of Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony, we achieved some incredible pianissimos, the kind which only top orchestras can do, just to end with forceful chords that had to invite an encore, bringing people to their feet. We all enjoyed a wonderful reception with many of our biggest fans and donors in an elegant Italian restaurant nearby.

Merriment couldn't last too long though, because on Sunday morning we had to get moving for a rehearsal of the Too Hot to Handel program. A few of us took a walk through Central Park before the afternoon concert. It was full of people, brought out by an amazing day.

In this post are a couple of photos I took while strolling around, hope you enjoy them and the fall colors.

Me, Chris Williams (Principal Percussion and Timpani),
Ken Goldstein (First Violin)

Then it was off to a different kind of concert, with a stage full of NYC kids that had been practicing for months, so they could be proud of their choral debut with us, in Carnegie Hall. What a feeling that must have been for them! They met and surpassed all of the expectations, and the audience was, once again, brought to their feet as Marin Alsop coaxed them to make even more noise, leading us to a rousing finale.

The buses returned late Sunday night, and now it's time for a couple days off before starting some new repertoire.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Thursday, November 11, 2010

BSO goes to NYC

This weekend, the BSO is embarking on a mini two-concert tour of New York City.

On Saturday evening, we'll be playing a program of classics, and on Sunday afternoon, a soul version of Handel's Messiah, cleverly named Too Hot to Handel.

The first program includes Beethoven's familiar Eroica Symphony, but with a twist: it's Gustav Mahler's version. He does leave a lot of it intact, but every once in a while one can hear some unexpected dynamics, comas in the middle of phrases, and the like. An interesting experiment, definitely worth hearing once, as a curiosity. However, that may have left me yearning for some genuine Beethoven, hence the quartet during my run (look at previous entry).
The rest of the program features Barber's emotional and powerful Second Essay for orchestra, and my (former, now that the country has separated) countryman, a brilliant Macedonian pianist Simon Tryčeski (I give discounts on private tutoring on the pronunciation of the last name (: ), with Prokofiev's exciting, fast-paced Third Piano Concerto. Concerts in Baltimore are on Thursday and Friday nights, then off to NYC we go!

-Ivan Stefanovic

There's Beethoven, and then there's... Beethoven

Consider this the tale of two Beethovens.

On Wednesday afternoon, on a glorious Fall day, with the afternoon sun accentuating the brightest leaf colors of the season yet, I went for a short run in Roland Park, before picking up my three boys from school. Into my ears the headphones were transporting the sounds of the "real" Beethoven, his Op. 132 String Quartet, which I had just started rehearsing with my colleagues, and which we will be playing on November 21st at the Chamber Music by Candlelight series in Guilford (more on that as the date approaches). It is one of his late quartets, at times simple, almost childish, at times complex and deep, and of considerable length. The choice of music, any music, you might be surprised, was an unusual one for me (and some of my fellow professional musicians) : we are often so saturated in music that to not listen to it can be rather relaxing. I am much more likely to listen to some of my favorite radio podcasts (isn't that one of the best inventions of late?), then to job to a music beat. However, other than the obvious reason that I needed to learn from this piece, and listening to it helps that process quite a bit, I realized there was another reason: I was in need of some real, pure Beethoven. More on that in my next entry.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

See You at Forte!

Before I get to this week's programs, I want to say how proud we all are of our colleagues that played solos in our Frederick concert at the beautiful Weinberg Center for the Arts last Saturday. Jonathan (in a triple role as a soloist, concertmaster and conductor), Shea, Fei, Gabe, Bill Jenken, Igor and Daruisz played beautifully and masterfully in a program filled with masterpieces by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. They all reminded us why this is one of the greatest orchestras around. One doesn't usually find that high level of solo playing in orchestra members that are, with the exception of Jonathan, not First Chair players. Bravo to all, and looking forward to another "in-house" concert.

Marin is back on stage this week, and we started on a couple of programs on Tuesday for this weekend. Thursday nights program was only at the Meyerhoff and featured Mahler's and Beethoven's Unfinished Symphonies.

Friday at Strathmore (8:15) and Saturday at the Meyerhoff (7:00), the program Analyze This: Mahler and Freud is sure to be one of the most unique ones we have presented in years. And don't forget, Saturday there's also a Forte Party in the Meyerhoff Lounge...I'll be there, so stop and say hi!

I hope to see you at our concerts!

P.S. Check out this cool webumentary with Marin Alsop:

Greener Fall Colors?

I hope you've been enjoying this beautiful autumn weather. It's such a pretty time of the year in Baltimore, with crisp mornings, bright rays of sunshine cutting through the many colors of the leaves, and the squirrels hurriedly stocking up for the winder. Except for when the crisp morning enters your house because your furnace quit working. Wednesday morning I was actually a bit late for a BSO rehearsal (which happens very rarely), because I had to wait for a service person to show up and fix what turned out to be a relatively minor problem.

I have taken advantage of the dry weather to ride my all-electric scooter (yes, with my violin on my back!) that I bought almost a year ago this month. I live by Belvedere Square, in a location that's about 5 miles or less from just about everything, so I sometimes make several short trips a day.

Last year, as I spotted this beauty in Fell's Point shop, I came to a realization that these trips, in addition to wasting gas, do a great job in keeping food on my auto mechanic's table. The scooter I bought is all electric, and it recharges in my garage in a few hours on minimal amount of electricity. I have since logged over a thousand miles without spending a cent on gas (plus it's almost noiseless, and, of course, doesn't pollute). So, if you ever see an unusual looking yellow/black scooter in town ridden by a black-helmeted guy with a violin case on his back, give me a honk!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

This Week's Events

As promised, here's a (mostly) musical continuation of the last blog.

As most of you know already, our BSO/Peabody conducting fellow, 17-year-old Ilyich Rivas, made his subscription debut last week with a wonderful program of Brahms (Academic Festival Overture), Beethoven (Second Piano Concerto with a very elegant pianist Marcus Groh), Mahler's devine Blumine movement from his First Symphony, and Shostakovich's powerful First Symphony. I'm not planning to turn this blog into a place for concert reviews (I'll leave that to professionals), but my impression is that Mr. Rivas has great potential to become a wonderful conductor. His score memory is obviously strong, and he has great, deep feelings for music that he is not afraid to share with the musicians in front of him. Any other possible shortcomings can be easily corrected with the right guidance and invaluable experience that will come with many more hours on the podium. On the trivial side of things, we have all seen many a baton fly out of hands of conductors (both forward, into the orchestra, and back, into the audience). However, Mr. Riva's cufflink that flew a few audience rows back last Thursday night in a dramatic arc during one of his particularly demonstrative gestures in the opening Brahms piece was a first! It was cordially given back to him so that he could start the Beethoven Piano Concerto in full gear (and he is an elegant dresser). As my violinist colleague Greg Mulligan joked, that was a true Off the Cuff performance!

This Tuesday morning we were treated to a masterfully run rehearsal by Gilbert Varga, a conductor new to us. We rehearsed the Stravinsky Petrouchka, and a complex and exciting piece that is full of traps (mostly rhythmical) out of which it's hard to climb. Mr. Varga showed us, from the first few seconds of the rehearsal, that he is so in control of things, we have little to worry. He is a very organized, energetic conductor that knows exactly what needs to be rehearsed and how, and orchestras always appreciate that. Wednesday, we are rehearsing the rest of the program which includes Glinka's Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla and Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1. It's sure to be an energy-filled week!

Concerts are Thursday at Strathmore, Friday and Saturday at Meyerhoff, all at 8pm. Get your tickets now, and don't forget to contribute to BOLT for the BSO (see last blog), so you can get your tickets free and join us for a lobby party after Friday's concert. I'll be there with some of my family, and would love to meet some of you, so you can tell me in person what you'd like to read about in this space.

Talk to you next time.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Running like a BOLT of Lightning

Dear blog readers,

No, the reason I haven't written in a while isn't that I needed a long break after my first blog. I did, however, need some prep time and the rest after my first ever running race.

After grasping the whole concept of recreational running this summer (up until then I only ran after buses, and, when I was younger, girls (: ), I ended up running the Baltimore Half-Marathon on Saturday. It was an amazing experience, and I achieved my two goals: to finish and feel good about it. For those that care, I ended up with a time of 1:57:39, which is a lot better than the time I decided I'd have been happy with, somewhere between 2:00 and 2:15. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the wind only started getting really crazy after the finish. The city looked amazing, especially from some vantage points along the course that I haven't been to. And the people along the race were simply amazing: from all walks of life, ages, races, in suits and pajamas, holding cats and dogs, sitting on steps and looking through their windows. Many dancing, some in silly costumes, playing pots and pans or some serious music, holding personal and general signs (my favorite: "no one made you do this!"), handing Natty Boh beer to racers (not too many takers, most preferred water or Gatorade), and generally helping us keep pushing.

What made the whole experience even more special was the face that one of the BSO's biggest supporters, Governing Member Cynthia Renn, organized a fundraiser named BOLT for the BSO, which, as of this afternoon raised $13,500 toward your favorite orchestra. My fellow violinist Ellen Troyer, her husband John Troyer and I, plus several of our Administration and Board members, participated in both the race and the fundraising effort, adorned with very visible lime-green (it's the new black!) BOLT t-shirts. Here's what Ellen, John, and I looked like right after we finished:

I loved when one of the race organizers, standing along the race course somewhere around Lake Montebello, who was reading shirts and signs and encouraging such individual efforts, yelled "Go Marathoner for Music!" as I rounded the bend by her!

If you're a runner, or just inspired like so many of your fellow BSO fans to contribute, the BOLT website is still open for just a few more days, and it is a very simple, fast, and easy way to show your support. Please click here for the site where you can contribute (I suggest my name (: ), and then join us for a BOLT party this Friday after the Meyerhoff concert for a celebration. After you contribute, you'll receive an invitation to the party, and we might even be able to swing some tickets for you for the concert!

My great friend and colleague, BSO Concertmaster Jonathan Carney, was nice enough to replace me for some coaching I had missed that morning at Peabody (where I spend most of my Saturdays teaching at the Preparatory Department), but after the race was over and I had caught my breath, it was time to head on foot (cars were useless in the traffic jams of that day) to Mt. Vernon for more teaching. My race support team (my wife Jennifer had brought our three boys Sebastian, Luka, and Tristan for some coaching and rehearsals of their own) adorned in the BOLT t-shirts, were happy to see me in good spirits and with a medal around my neck. After an afternoon of some great music, it was time to be whisked away in my family van (logistics of parking two cars that day took a few days to figure out!) to the bus awaiting to take the BSO to Strathmore for a concert. What a day!

That should do for today, I promise to continue tomorrow with a review of Ilyich Rivas' concerts and a preview of this week's with Gilbert Varga.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Changing of the Blog Guard

Hello everyone, this is Ivan Stefanovic, BSO's Assistant Principal Second Violin (don't you just love our titles?). I'll be happy to share some of my thoughts on things musical and otherwise in this space, so please visit often and tell everyone you think might be interested in a bit of an insider view into a life of a BSO musician. I've always enjoyed writing (as little as I have done so) and I like to think I may have gotten the bug from my Dad, who was a journalist (an Associated Press Chief of Bureau in Belgrade, Yugoslavia for many decades, now retired). So, here she goes. I hope it'll be a fun ride for you (and I am already enjoying it).

A note to self: do not take a rabbit stew on the Strathmore (or any, for that matter) bus again. The bones are way to small, and the whole ordeal, even if tasty, is just too messy. Oh, and my apologies to any non-meat eaters out there; you have my utmost respect! But, that is now history, as is Gotta Dance, our first Pops concert of this season, the week of which we just finished this Sunday afternoon. It was a fun affair, as it always is with Jack (Everly, our Principal Pops Conductor): many different styles of music, and many different types of dance, one of which was most (if not all) of us in the hall had seen before. These twins from Argentina danced to their country's counterpart's music (the ever popular Piazzola) with so much energy that it was difficult for us not to take our eyes off the music we were playing. And their dancing style bridged tap, disco, modern, and even some of the late Michael Jackson's moves. Quite a treat! It was also a great week for the fans of our Associate Concertmaster, Madeline Adkins, who, in spite of a nasty cat bite that had her in a hospital emergency room after Friday night's concert, handled her many solos with her usual elegance, style, and virtuosity.

Now I am looking forward to, first of all, another week of incredible weather (hasn't it been just brilliant?). I'm especially hoping it will hold until this Saturday, when I am running in the Baltimore Running Festival (a long name for a Marathon, don't you think), where I'll be running the Half-Marathon (a fancy name for "those who can't make it"). Cut me some slack though, I just started running this summer and I absolutely love it! That should make the third of this week's concerts rather interesting for me--my plan is to concentrate REALLY hard that evening at Strathmore (previous two nights are at the Meyerhoff).

The program this week features a 17-year-old conducting a first Symphony written by a 19-year-old! Namely, Ilyich Rivas, a 17-year-old BSO-Peabody Bruno Walter Assistant Conductor and Dmitri Shostakovich, the famous Russian composer, who made his feelings against the oppressive regime at the time known through his art (all the while fooling the officials into thinking that he was just writing patriotic music). Rivas, under whose baton we've only had rehearsals so far, is a brilliant and very amicable young man, and he makes his subscription concert debut with an American orchestra (that would be us) this week. I can't help but wonder how intimidating it must be for someone of his young age to conduct and demand things of a big group of people, most of which are all much older than him! He will be joined by a rising young German pianist Markus Groh, in Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto. Don't miss this one, it's a such winner!

So much for now, more as the week unrolls. Have a good one!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Musicians' Picks :: Emily Skala

Each of the musicians who makes up the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is a talented artist in his or her own right with unique musical tastes and ambitions. While they have a voice in repertoire selection, there are some pieces our musicians would love to perform that usually do not find their way into the BSO seasons. This year, Music Director Marin Alsop and the Orchestra have identified and programmed six selections that we call Musicians' Picks. We hope you will enjoy them as much as we will enjoy performing them.

Emily Skala is the principal flutist of the BSO (since 1988). She received her Bachelor of Music with Honors from the Eastman School of Music in 1983 and within five years of graduating was affiliated with six major American orchestras. Emily regularly appears as a soloist and recitalist in the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West regions, has performed at the National Flute Associations’ Annual Conventions, as well as at many of the world’s most prestigious music festivals.

Emily has granted us a look into her thoughts on the Musicians’ Picks of this season.

Mahler: Symphony No. 7

Mahler 7 was especially intriguing because I last played it over a summer break during my years at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. I had been called to sub with the RPO (Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra), led by David Zinman. I played fourth flute alongside my teacher, Bonita Boyd, who was Principal Flute. I remember how exciting the sonorities were. This same excitement arose when, at 16 years old, I played my first Mahler Symphony (the 3rd) with the Aspen Festival Orchestra led by Sergiu Commissiona. For me, and many fellow musicians, there is nothing more thrilling than playing a Mahler Symphony. Perhaps it is because his use of percussion and bass are so visceral, or because more teamwork is required than in most works (the melody is passed back and forth between instrumental groups or players causing the phrase to take shape through the broad collaboration of the orchestra – you must therefore be attentive to what your colleagues have made of the thread before picking it up and continuing on!). The fact that his music is so programmatic, even if it is not declared outright to be, makes it so engaging it is bound to stimulate the imagination! As Marin says, “Who doesn’t love a good story?!” During the performance with my teacher, she had a terrible flu that week which caused her to leave the stage mid-performance. She returned just in time for one of her solos which she played beautifully. I was so very impressed with this feat; the Mahler 7 remains one of my favorite pieces to this day. It will be a special reward to play it again after all this time.

Barber: Essay No. 2, op. 17

Barber Essay #2 was one of the first pieces I played and recorded with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra shortly after joining the group in 1988. It is wonderfully written, evocative, and under played. The audience surely needs to hear this piece again, as do I!

Lutoslawski: Concerto for Orchestra

Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra is a work that music students study in Conservatory. It was a ground-breaking work of its time because of its innovative use of tonalities and technical demands. Although I reluctantly admit, I do not remember the specific points my teacher made, I do remember the feeling my classmates and I experienced while we listened to it for the first time as amazement and awe fell over the room. We then compared several different orchestras handling of the concerto. Like Mahler, it is a tour de force for the entire group and we enjoy a good challenge here at the BSO! Unfortunately for me, it is a week before my concerto appearance and I will be home practicing the Pied Piper instead.

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 6

Prokofiev wrote some of the most difficult for flute in the entire repertoire. The week of the 6th Symphony is also the week of the notorious Classical Symphony, a frequent contender for placement on flute audition lists everywhere. If the 6th Symphony has anything in common with the 5th then we are in for an awakening – a true enrichment of our musical horizons. In all my years of experience specializing in symphonic repertoire (since about 14yrs old), I sadly admit that this is a piece I have never performed. I look forward to the opportunity to bridge this gap in my repertoire – perhaps this is why it has made it to the Musicians’ Picks.

Walton: Symphony No. 1

The William Walton Symphony No. 1 puts me in a similar situation as the Prokofiev. The only piece I know by William Walton is his Shakespeare Suite and potentially another whose title has escaped my memory. I would like to know more of this compose and I am glad that one of my colleagues thought to suggest it! I think it stands to reason we should be an even better orchestra after this season as we shall be much better-rounded!

Shall We Dance?

I really enjoyed last week's concert of Adams/Mendelssohn/Dvorak. I think Marin did a nice job combining the three pieces into a compelling program. The New World Symphony, warhorse that it is, wears very well, at least for me. It is so original in its harmonies and so vital in its rhythmic thrust. And then there is the constant stream of amazing melodies. I remember that the beautiful English horn theme in the second movement became a Methodist hymn, "Going Home," one of my grandfather's favorites. My grandfather lived his whole life in Kansas, and of course Dvorak spent some time in Iowa, which led to his writing the symphony.

Stefan Jackiw was his usual amazing self as our soloist. His playing always has such beauty; believe me, it isn't so easy even for us professionals to produce a consistently great tone, but no matter what the music is that he's performing, Stefan always shines with that gorgeous sound.

I love John Adams. I truly think he is the most amazing late 20th/21st Century composer- my favorite, at least. I didn't know the Dr. Atomic music before last week; maybe one day I will be able to see the whole opera! I think Marin has a special feeling for Adams' music, and I enjoyed her interpretation of the Dr. Atomic Symphony.

Looking forward to Jack Everly's return this week. His program is called "Gotta Dance," and I bet it will be tons of fun. Jack can really put a good show together, with lots of variety and pizazz. Come out and join us!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Summer is Over, Here Comes Mahler!

I had a great summer relaxing awhile at the beach, seeing family and doing a lot of practicing. I put the violin down completely for an entire week this time, enough to get a break but not so long as to forget how to play it. I have to be careful because when I start up again, it is easy to overdo it and stress the muscles more than they can easily handle, especially when you have been playing the violin for about 45 years, as I have.

Still, I can't complain about spending some time at the beach, seeing an O's game with my son Eric, catching up with my son Stephen after his long trip with the Yale Whiffenpoofs, a male a cappella group who traveled around the world this summer. The summer concluded with a family reunion in Glen Summit, Pennsylvania, (near Wilkes Barre) where my dad and his brothers and sisters own a very old summer home. Every Labor Day we gather there for tennis tournaments, swimming in the lake, playing chamber music together and just catching up with aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. Even first cousins once removed, etc. This time I met some relatives I didn't even know I had! Pretty big family.

But I am glad to get back to work this week. I believe that I have only performed Mahler's Seventh Symphony once in my career. The violin part is unusually difficult, even for Mahler, I think. If I am not mistaken, the last time that we did Mahler with Marin, we played the Ninth Symphony. I thought that was a really good performance, so I am excited about this week.

Hope to see you there!

Rusty Musicians is Back!

Last night we had our second Rusty Musician event. This time it was right here in Baltimore, at the Meyerhoff. We rehearsed and then performed Brahm's Academic Festival Overture and the Finale from Stravinsky's Firebird Suite with four different groups of "Rusty Musicians." (The BSO was split into 2 orchestras, each BSO musician performed with two of the four groups of Rustys.)

Funny, though. Both of my stand partners, Tanesha and Gwendolyn weren't rusty at all! They both perform in Maryland orchestras (Columbia and Susquehanah), and I could tell that they both know how to be good orchestral players. I enjoyed sitting with them, hearing them play, and even talking just a bit. They both had children in the audience; Tanesha's son was right there smiling in the front row. He plays the violin too.

It is impressive and inspiring to me how much musicians like Tanesha and Gwendolyn are able to keep up their instrumental skills while working and being moms!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summertime, and the livin' is easy

It certainly has been an eclectic summer, musically speaking! From Tchaikovsky to Michael Jackson to the Eagles and NOW, this week, to famed Baltimore composers Philip Glass and Frank Zappa. I practiced the Zappa music today; it looks like he probably admired Bela Bartok (I do too), as he uses lots of irregular meters, snap pizzicati (where we pull the string hard enough while plucking it to make it hit against the fingerboard of the violin) and glissandi (obviously sliding between notes).

But before we play Glass and Zappa Friday night, Thursday night we FINALLY get to perform Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. We were supposed to do it (three times, I think) in February, but there was that little blizzard or three we had. We lost all of those performances.

I love Porgy and Bess; besides all the wonderful songs that became so popular, there is lots of less familiar music that Gershwin composed in between the songs. After all, opera is mainly a piece of music that just happens to have a plot and characters, right? So while characters are performing some action other than singing, or the strange changes are occurring, instead of just waiting, we in the orchestra play some pretty cool stuff. Actually it is some of the most intense symphonic music that I know of by Gershwin, very moody and dark, action packed. Since we often perform only the songs from the opera, we don't get to play these fairly serious sections nearly as much. I am excited to rehearse and perform them this week.

And to top it all off, Marin will be back (a rarity in the summer!) to guide us through all the music Thursday and Friday. I'm looking forward to seeing her again.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Playing Planet Earth last week was cool. Great photograph, of course, and nice music. I especially liked the way George Fenton, composer and conductor, worked the soprano's voice into the texture in such a beautiful, almost eerie way. It was also nice that at the conclusion of the concert Mr. Fenton expressed some optimism that, because we all value the beauty and diversity of the earth, we will begin to the solve the great problems that are challenging our environment. Let's hope so! (It was great this morning to see that BP may have gotten a better cap on the leaking well; as I write this they are still testing it.)

Our concert on Saturday, conducted by my good friend Christian Colberg, was really fun. Two great young soloists, Sirena Huang and Conrad Tao, playing Tchaikovsky's most famous two concertos, the Violin Concerto and the Piano Concerto No. 1, and his Capriccio Italien. Christian does a remarkable job on the podium, especially considering how much of a newcomer he still is to conducting professionally. Too bad he is leaving us at the end of this summer season to become the Principal Violist of the Cincinnati Symphony. We will miss him greatly!

If you missed it, you can see him in action again this Saturday at our FREE Artscape concert at 2 pm at the Meyerhoff, conducting us in the Capriccio Italien and a few other pieces. AND then that night we repeat last Saturday's program at Strathmore. Come check it out!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


And Serena's not too shabby, either. The Orioles, on the other hand... so sad to see all the losses. It's not as if they aren't trying. Good thing there are lots of opportunities to win games, with 162 of them each year!

This week we are playing the soundtrack to Planet Earth Live video; should be pretty cool, as that was an amazing series.

Then come out and see Christian Colberg, BSO violist and talented conductor. lead us in an all Tchaikovsky program. I can't wait to see what he does with Capriccio Italien!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The End of the Beginning

Last night the Academy musicians, with occasional help from BSO musicians, performed an informal chamber music concert. It was a joy to watch and listen to them perform such a variety of works, many of which I didn't know. The lobby of the Meyerhoff made for a beautiful setting (as the sun was setting) for this event, and there were excellent desserts and drinks.

I particularly enjoyed listening to my group, Steve, Xiaobin, Naomi, Suzanne and Nancy, perform the first two movements of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. They did a beautiful job of not only getting almost all the notes, but of playing musically with each other. It sounds as if they are interested in returning next year, perhaps!

This afternoon is the orchestra concert. Fun!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mozart Clarinet Quintet

Last night I coached the group playing the Mozart Clarinet Quintet for the second time. They got four coaching sessions altogether from my friend Ivan Stefanovic and me.

Wow, what amazing progress! Steve, the clarinetist, has a beautiful sound and knows the piece well. This serves as somewhat of an anchor and helps everyone else. The string players, (Xiaobin and Naomi on violins, Suzanne on viola and Nancy on cello), have really worked on their sound, their overall tempo/rhythm/ensemble (their pitch was already quite good the first time I heard them!) these last few evenings. Noticing each others' dynamics, type of sound and articulation for given passages as well as rhythm, they now sound more cohesive as a group, though they were already accomplished instrumentalists to start.

They are now ready to perform the first two movements of the Quintet in an informal concert in the JMSH lobby tonight. I am excited for them, and looking forward to hearing them and other chamber groups play.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The BSO Academy Is Here!

Yesterday we had our first orchestra rehearsal for the BSO Academy, our brand new week long program in which amateur adult musicians come to rehearse, perform and hang out with the BSO. I met several Academy participants, and it is a pleasure to work with them. My stand partner Sue has clearly played in orchestras a lot; I can tell by how she listens to everything going on around her. Our first piece of the rehearsal yesterday was the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, a challenging piece for professionals. Marin was her usual professional and jovial self, and it actually was very much like a normal BSO rehearsal. Of course there were moments that were less together than usual, but you would expect that even if you added a few dozen new professionals to our mix. Partly it is a matter of getting used to how to play in our hall. When do you play with the other parts you are hearing, and when do you need to try to "play with the stick (baton)"? Because the acoustics can confuse you a bit. These are the questions I'm sure the participants are facing, because we also deal with those issues every week at JMSH.

Last night I coached a group playing the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. Three of the five of them work at the National Institute of Health! Another is a piano teacher, and Suzanne, the violist, came the furthest. She is from New York, and she is an editor. They are very nice and good players. Steven, the clarinetist who studies with Eddie Palanker, our bass clarinetist, has a beautiful sound. We covered a lot of ground in two hours; going through the third and fourth movements, working on articulation, quality of sound, keeping the tempo. Then we went back to the first movement and concentrated on the first half. I love coaching chamber music. I was ready to continue when I finally looked at the time and realized that we had already gone ten minutes over. They had had a long day, and the shuttle was waiting to take them back to their hotel.

I'm really excited for the rest of this week. The BSO Academy is off to a good start!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Season Finale!

What an amazing way to end our regular season! (Don't forget about our summer season, with lots of variety.) It is impossible to put into words the beauty of Janie Chandler-Eteme's singing. She has sung with us many times over the years, and she is always outstanding, but her singing in Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 last night at Strathmore is as good as it gets.

There are a few tickets left for tonight, tomorrow and Sunday at the Meyerhoff and you absolutely should not miss this performance. Stephen Powell, bass soloist, is also excellent, and the Washington Chorus, who sing Brahms' A German Requiem, sound wonderful too.

See you at the Meyerhoff, and Oregon Ridge, Strathmore or Pier 6 this summer.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tennis Season, My Favorite Season!

Who caught the womens' final of the French Open this morning? I love watching womens' tennis, maybe because I can relate to their game more than I can relate to the sheer power of the mens' professional game. Also, tennis on clay is very cool. I get to play on clay once a year at my family reunion in Mountaintop, PA. And we play on Har-Tru, which is artificial, but very similar, at the Roland Run club when David Coombs, BSO contra-bassoonist extraordinaire, hosts us here. Clay slows the game down just enough to give us amateurs a little more time to hit decent strokes. And it is easier on our bodies than hard courts, too.

Anyway, I thought both Schiavone and Stosur were amazing. I was rooting for Schiavone, I guess, because I love the variety of her game and the joy with which she plays. Fun!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Strange, Frightening, and Often Very Beautiful World of Bartok

This week we are rehearsing, performing and recording Bartok's Music for Percussion, Strings and Celeste. I have never performed this music before, and being a huge Bartok fan, I am really looking forward to it.

Yesterday was our first rehearsal, and it is quite a learning process. In Bartok's melodies, he often uses intervals based on Hungarian folk music which are somewhat foreign to our ears. There is a lot of chromaticism, changing pitches moving in close range. For that reason, we spent much of yesterday playing sections of the piece under tempo.

First hearings of Bartok can be daunting; I remember going to a concert in college and hearing one of the more dissonant Bartok string quartets. I thought it was noise. Just a year or so later, when I learned one of the quartets, I began to appreciate Bartok's musical language. Now I believe that his quartets are right up there with Beethoven's.

Despite the strangeness of his melody and harmony, there is always a tonal center, a note or a chord around which Bartok builds. And with repetition, the listener begins to understand and wants the music to return to that center. For my taste, of all of the early 20th century composers who used non-traditional harmonies/intervals (like Stravinsky or Hindemith), Bartok is the one who speaks to me most vividly.

It is a strange, frightening, often very beautiful world to which he takes us. I am told that some of this music was used in the movie The Shining with Jack Nicholson. You can always count on Bartok for something scary.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Don Juan with Maestro Mena

Funny story about Strauss's Don Juan, which we performed this past week with Juanjo Mena conducting. When I was in college at Eastman School of Music, our excellent and funny conductor, David Effron, told the violinists that when playing Don Juan, "Be glad you are a violinist!" I wrote this at the top of my personal copy of the first violin part of Don Juan, and I always smile and take that message to heart when we perform it.

Incidentally, Don Juan is on almost every audition list when violinists audition for American orchestras. There is lots of quick shifting, difficult arpeggios, fast scales, etc. Often for an audition the orchestra will ask for the first page only, which is plenty hard. Almost as often, though, the entire piece will be required to be learned for the audition. Of course you wouldn't play the whole piece in an audition, but you have to be ready to do it.

I liked Maestro Mena's Don Juan very much this week. It was a musical roller coaster ride, though with a strange and serious end.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Musicians Around Town

One of the interesting things about being a BSO musician is the opportunity to meet other musicians who work around the area for other musical groups and/or as faculty members for institutions like Peabody and Towson University. It is always refreshing to get to know musicians who may have other interests, talents and concerns from BSO musicians. Many of our "extra" and substitute musicians are incredibly talented; in many cases they play instruments like piano or saxophone, for which there are no permanent positions in the BSO. We BSO musicians often wind up performing chamber music and other gigs with them outside the BSO. (A current favorite among many of us is Lura Johnson, pianist extraordinaire.)

A few years ago a woman named Eva Mengelkoch called me: she was setting up a new chamber music series at the Cylburn Mansion, located in Cylburn Arboretum near Sinai Hospital in North Baltimore. After many phone calls, we were able to put together an inaugural concert for this new series, lining up Ken Goldstein and Karin Brown from the BSO, along with Karin's husband, Dan Levitov. Eva performed as the pianist in that concert.

Since then (this was approximately 5 or so years ago, I think) Eva's series has established itself. My quartet, the Atlantic String Quartet, has performed there many times. This coming week, on the evening of May 12, Rebecca Nichols, Karin Brown and Bo Li will join Eva for another concert. We will be playing the Franck Piano Quintet with Eva and Beethoven's String Quartet Opus 59, #1.

Eva is a versatile musician. Just a week and a half ago, she was the soloist in a Pro Musica Rara concert at Towson University's Fine Arts Center on the fortepiano for a Mozart Piano Concerto. She is a pleasure to work with; we are rehearsing again with her this week at Towson, where she is on the faculty.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What it Takes to Step Up to the Podium

Every BSO musician has his/her own ideas about what makes a good conductor. Here's what I think is needed, both personally and for the BSO, having been a part of so many concerts over the years:

Anyone auditioning the other day had to 1) show she/he understands the music being conducted, and 2) show that she/he can communicate that understanding to us BSO musicians. Neither of those criteria is as easy as it sounds. And in the case of the BSO, I have noticed that we respond well in general to rather extroverted conductors, the ones who can really "put it out there" for us to see and respond to, so to speak.

When a conductor "understands" the music, they know which tempos actually work, both from technical and from musical perspectives. They must show (sometimes in anticipation) changes of dynamics (loud and soft, decreasing and increasing) and changes of tempo very clearly so that all musicians execute those changes in the same way. They understand when their job is to be "traffic cop" and keep us together, and when to go slightly off the beaten musical track to provide an interesting detail we hadn't considered before.

Communicating the music might be the toughest part. I am amazed sometimes at how much conductor's facial expressions influence how we perform music, and how we sense that conductors are communicating with us. It is important to show that you are involved with the music, that you don't meet every different section of the music with the same poker face, smile, or grimace. On the other hand, too much emoting and even smiling can be off-putting. Dirty looks, even for an obvious mistake, are an absolute no-no.

I also like conductors who use their whole bodies to conduct, as opposed to standing very still and mostly using their arms. When you are a musician toward the back of the stage, it helps so much to see the conductor's movements peripherally. You frequently can't take your eyes of the printed music, or even your instrument at times, to look directly at the conductor, so her/his movements need to be big enough to see, and of course, they have to convey the appropriate musical signals.

I'm curious. As an audience, what do you look for in a conductor?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

BSO Assistant Conductor Auditions

This afternoon BSO musicians and Marin will perform an interesting task: we have invited 5 conductors to an audition to be the BSO's Assistant Conductor next season. The Artistic Advisory Committee, on which I have served for the past 4 years, will poll BSO musicians on their preferences after seeing each candidate for about 20 minutes of conducting. In many cases 20 minutes is hardly enough to make absolute decisions, but you can often tell quite a bit in that length of time.

Should be interesting...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Music with Mena

The orchestra really enjoyed our concert last week with Juanjo Mena, one of our favorite guest conductors. We played an unfamiliar piece, the Fourth Symphony of Carl Nielsen, along with a violin concerto by Rodrigo (Jon Carney was the soloist) and Ancient Airs and Dances by Respighi.

Being a really good conductor requires so many talents; maybe it is like being the president. The conductor has to know the music as well as anyone else on stage, and then translate that knowledge into body motions and facial expressions that convey to the musicians just how to perform it. He/she has to know when to exert strong leadership, and when to let the orchestra go a bit on its own. In rehearsal, she/he needs to be showing/teaching us the piece and listening carefully at the same time to know where to stop and rehearse. (This is where some conductors fall short; they may have good ears, but it seems they almost forget that we still need them in rehearsal for difficult entrances, tempos, for the character of the music, etc.)

The nice thing is, if you missed Mena last week, you get another chance to hear us with him in mid May. We will be performing Brahms 3rd Symphony and Strauss' Don Juan along with the Schumann Piano Concerto on May 13, 14 and 15. Come see a really great program with one of our favorite guests!

Funny story about Don Juan: when I was in college, learning the piece with the Eastman Philharmonic for the first time, our conductor, David Effron, said about the attitude needed at the beginning of the very virtuosic piece "be glad you're a violinist!" I always think of that whenever we play this exciting, difficult piece, and it makes me smile.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

AAC in Action

I bet most patrons are not aware of the AAC and it's function. One of the committees that musicians voluntarily serve on, through the election by BSO musicians, is the Artistic Advisory Committee. We discuss many aspects of BSO operations with our CEO, Paul Meecham, our General Manager, Kendra Whitlock Ingram and other artistic staff. They listen to our requests and recommendations for guest conductors and for repertoire, and we discuss other topics such as acoustics and stage set up, too.

This week we are focusing on selecting finalists for an assistant conductor audition scheduled to take place in April. Over one hundred and twenty applicants sent DVDs of themselves conducting various orchestras. We are in the process of whittling down the list to ten or so DVDs that Marin Alsop will then watch, and ultimately an invitation will go out to about five conductors to come to the audition. At the audition, they will each have about 20-25 minutes to show their stuff to us.

It is fascinating to watch conductors: each has her/his own style. Some seem more "technically" oriented; that is, they convey the tempos and rhythms of the music, and things such as dynamics (how loudly we play) with accurate signals to us, using their arms, faces and bodies. Some "dance" on the podium while others convey almost everything from the waist up. And a rare few seem to describe with their entire bodies, in addition to accurate tempos and dynamics, moods, subtle turns of phrases, emotions, etc. When we see candidates who can "do it all," so to speak, then we get excited and put them on the "Yes" list for Marin.

It will be interesting to see the candidates in a few weeks.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It's March!

My favorite month of the baseball season! Well, one of my favorite months anyway. Since I was a little kid, I probably have loved baseball best of all sports. Besides playing with friends after school, I played organized baseball every year from when I was 10 to the summer between freshman and sophomore years in college. Until around then, I wanted to be a major league baseball player. Then I realized that serious baseball players don't attend the University of Rochester, but that aspiring musicians do. (I transferred that fall to the Eastman School of Music, part of the U. of Rochester.)

I started out as a shortstop, and when I was 10 our team won the city championship (my first and last.) Unfortunately the following spring at a practice fielding a ground ball, the ball struck a rock and bounced up into my eye. It knocked me out and put me in the hospital for 10 days because of the internal bleeding. Needless to say, I moved to the outfield for the rest of my career! I think my batting style was of the "swing hard in care you hit it" philosophy. I could hit it pretty far on occasion, but I missed it entirely sometimes too.

I love the O's. I am a die hard fan, usually losing interest only in late August and September, when the losing seems to accelerate. I watch and/or listen on the radio to parts of many games, and follow the players with interest. I'm excited this year because in addition to the young pitchers and position players, the O's seem to have added a few crucial veterans, like Tejada and Millwood. I know we are in a tough division with the (stupid) Yankees and the Red Sox, but who knows? Could this be our surprise year?

By the way, BSO musicians are very appreciative of the support of Peter and Georgia Angelos, who have given generously to the BSO over the years.

In March, all the teams have the same record, so anything is still possible. ;-)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Snow. I love it. Shoveling. Don't love that so much. In normal winters it doesn't bother me at all. It's almost a nice challenge, a small workout since our driveway is only about 30 feet long or so, and the sidewalk/steps to our front door are short too.

But since this winder is far from normal, I'M TIRED OF SHOVELING!!! And chipping. And walking around the house, which isn't easy in thigh high snow, to try to remove ice from areas that need to drain away from, and not into, our house.

Without help from my wife Jeanne and my wonderful neighbor Scott and his snow blower, things would be really bad.

Of course most of us in Baltimore have been doing some amount of snow/ice removal in recent days/weeks. What has been hard for me is trying, and sometimes failing, not to do so much as to affect my violin playing. Those forearms get pretty tight after hours of shoveling. I have to be careful since I need my arms and hands for playing violin even more than I need them for shoveling.

Yesterday was the first day in over a week that I didn't shovel or remove ice. And last night, I finally slept through the night without my numb hands waking me up at 5 am or so! Guess I might be better off with an icy driveway and a little water in my basement, huh? At least I would still be able to play the violin. Actually, I can still play...I just worry sometimes that, being a "musical athlete," I could injure myself.

Playing violin should be fun this week, with Itzhak Perlman coming! It's been quite awhile since he has been here. It will be interesting to see him conduct, as we haven't experienced that here in Baltimore before. And he is playing a great Bach Concerto with Katherine Needleman so we won't miss his amazingly beautiful violin sound. If there are any tickets left, don't miss him!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Symphonic music and the Olympics? Yes, there is a connection.

Those who know me would not find this surprising, but while I am sitting here watching the 2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in Vancouver tonight on my telly, I cannot help but ask, who composed this fabulous score?
After more digging than I thought it would take, the answer is Howard Shore. Famed composer of movie scores such as Lord of the Rings, and most recently, Doubt, Canadian native, Shore, recorded the opening ceremony music with the Montreal Symphony. While you're paying attention to the great special effects and visuals, don't forget to let your ears enjoy it too!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mission Accomplished

I wanted to post this entry sooner, but with all the snow, I spend the weekend digging myself out! I hope everyone out there stayed safe and warm.

I enjoyed my time with all the Rusty Musicians on Tuesday and Thursday. They were all there to play their best, and I just hope that they enjoyed the experience as much as you did, Dianne! Sorry about those day long butterflies. I know other "Rustys" were nervous also, from what they told me. That can come with the territory even for us professionals at times. Sometimes they days that I am the most nervous about a performance are the days I play the best! (Sometimes not.)

Marin is very personable, isn't she? I agree that it was classy for her to come around and shake everyone's hand after each segment, but I'm not surprised. She absolutely believes in connecting with everyone who comes into the BSO's orbit, so to speak. You probably already know that Rusty Musicians, at least for the BSO, is her idea.

I'm glad to hear that you were so excited that you almost floated away! That's the kind of excitement we hope we generate whenever we make music.

By the way, Lorie (my Tuesday 6 pm stand partner,) if you read this: thanks for your generous comments you wrote for B Magazine about sitting with me on Tuesday evening. I strive to let the music "speak through me," so to speak. I'm glad that it seemed that way to you. Because while we pros might have more experience doing this than you "Rustys," we often have the same concerns and fears that you might. "Will I be able to play this difficult passage fast enough? Can I keep a beautiful sound at all times? Can I hit that high note that I have to shift to?" That's life as a musician: the goals are very lofty, and the real life issues are pretty commonplace. Usually when the final note of a concert is played, you can let go of those concerns for a while, but they always return with the next concert or rehearsal.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rusty in Review!

Tuesday evening the BSO held its first Rusty Musician event at Strathmore Hall. Thankfully I had had my annual physical the day before and my doctor told me that I was due for a tetanus shot :)

Rusty Musicians was fun! The format was a 40 minute chunk of time devoted first to rehearsing, then a short performance of "Nimrod" from Elgar's Enigma Variations and then the 4th movement of Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony. (We did this 4 times in the course of the evening, with each BSO musician scheduled to play either the first 2 or the last 2.)

My two stand partners were charming. The first, Lori, does research at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She told me that she had played consistently through her sophomore year of high school, so it has been a few years for her since she played with an orchestra, I think. Nevertheless, she was able to hand in there and contribute!

My second partner, Jay from Columbia, was clearly very well prepared. After rehearsing the first few bars of the Tchaikovsky, I said to him "you've played this before, haven't you?" He was getting every note! He nodded yes. As it turns out, Jay plays with the Annapolis Symphony, Concert Artists, and other local orchestras. I wasn't expecting that I would be sitting beside a violinist with as much ability and experience as Jay has. It was a treat!

Overall, the combination of BSO musicians and "Rustys" sounded pretty good. Tonight we do it again; I wonder who I will meet?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Feeling Rusty?

Today we begin our Rusty Musicians rehearsals/concerts. This is new to me in an orchestral setting, though I do something similar a couple of times each year with my family. My two sisters both teach music, but my dad was a pension fund manager and my brother is an architect. The chamber music we play at family get-togethers is sort of a min Rusty Musicians, I guess.

It's easy as a performer to focus on getting the right notes and rhythms, making sure that the quality of the sound is just so, and whether or not you are perfectly in tune. I occasionally have to remind myself that while those efforts are important, it is the expression of music to the audience which is most important. Over the years, I can remember concerts that were technically imperfect but musically extraordinary. A bond of sorts is formed when the music leaps from the stage out into the hall and moves through, bounces off, is absorbed by everyone in the hall hearing and performing the music at the same moment.

I guess that is what should happen tonight with Rusty Musicians, though on a more intimate scale. Having done our "Side by Side" rehearsals and concerts with Baltimore, Anne Arundel, and Harford county high school students over the years, I know that it is gratifying not only for the students, but also for us BSO musicians, to make musical connections by sitting next to each other and by experiencing great music together. So I guess I have done a version of Rusty Musicians with the BSO after all, only with Developing, not Rusty Musicians.

I bet some of the Rusty Musicians will be nervous tonight, not knowing whether or not they will play "well enough," so to speak, to be on stage with us. Don't worry, Rusty Musicians! We'll have fun, probably laugh a little at all the missed notes (ours as well as yours,) and enjoy the camaraderie. (Sometimes, being somewhat perfectionist, we wonder if we are good enough, too!)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Spring Arts Preview in Washington Post

The Washington Post published their Spring Arts Preview yesterday in the Style Section. Although you have to cipher through the other music sections to find the Classical Music list, there's a better view of everything in the hard-copy version (the luxury of paying for print). Anne Midgette's Classical Music and Opera Picks completely excluded the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Spring Season, but then again, I'm inclined to think she favors the aura of The Kennedy Center since over half of the events listed occur there. The BSO is listed in the general calendar for

Feb. 11- Dave and Chris Brubeck

April 29- Alsop conducts world premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff's "Starburst";

June 10- Alsop conducts Barber's "Knoxville" and Brahms Requiem,

all at the Music Center at Strathmore (and the Meyerhoff, but that's just too far for the Post to include, of course).

I was pleased to see Midgette finally included the UMD School of Music on her list with the world premiere of Shadowboxer: An Opera Based On the Life of Joe Louis in April, as well as the Kronos Quartet on Feb. 12 at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

On another note, it was disheartening that the BSO did not receive the Grammy for their Bernstein Mass recording, but it was nice to see Marin Alsop win for the Higdon Percussion Concerto recording with the London Philharmonic, and the Mass' Producer, Steven Epstein, won as well for Producer of the Year, Classical. See all the Grammy winners Here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle. That's how last week felt to me. Not only did we play a Side-by-Side concert with Baltimore County high school students and a very nice baroque concert with Madeline Adkins leading a slimmed down BSO, my quartet had a performance at one of our very favorite venues, Second Presbyterian, last Saturday evening.

Violinist Rebecca Nichols, violist Christian Colberg and I have performed together in the Atlantic String Quartet since our first concert a Second Presbyterian back in September 1995. Bo Li, our cellist, joined us in 2002. Sometimes the ASQ feels like my 2nd family. There is an intimacy in chamber music that can be remarkable. Thankfully, we are all friends and we thrive on the intimacy and on the great repertoire written over the centuries for string quartets.

After our performance of Schumann's 3rd String Quartet Sunday evening, a very enthusiastic fan came backstage to greet us. He mentioned that we performed the piece "with gusto," and that this was Schumann's 200th birthday year. Schumann is this man's favorite composer, so it was very satisfying to me that we provided him with an experience that he savored so much.

This must be Schumann week here in Baltimore as well. Gunther Herbig, one of our favorite guest conductors over the years, is on the podium to conduct Schumann's 4th Symphony, along with the Corialan Overture and the Third Piano Concerto of Beethoven. Garrick Ohlsson is our soloist for the concerto.

I'm excited about the week!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Holiday Tidings

Both my boys (young men, I suppose) made it home for the winter break, although Stephen had quite a time getting out of New York on December 20 because of the snow storm. I finally was able to pick him up after 6 pm from a bus stop at a Best Western in East Baltimore that I didn't know existed.

After the December 23 - 2 pm Holiday Spectacular show, my wife Jeanne and I celebrated our 25th anniversary the way we have celebrated almost all of the others: by driving to Alexandria, VA, dropping our kids off with my parents there, then heading into Washington, D.C., always pretty deserted around that time of year. You can get great rates on hotels there because the city is so empty on December 22, so we have tried many different hotels over the years. We have a favorite though, the Willard. Normally we wouldn't be able to afford it, but on December 23 we could! We had dinner in the round bar there; the bar and the hotel itself are quite historic.

The next day we headed down to Charlottesville to visit my sister Laura and her family, just as we have for the last twenty-some years. It was a beautiful drive; the snow from the storm on December 19 was on the ground the whole way. Christmas was great, then on December 26 before heading home we played string quartets for awhile. Laura is the cellist, her daughter Emily and I played violin, and Stephen (though he is really a violinist) read the viola part with a viola borrowed from Laura's school. She is the director of the Charlottesville High School Orchestra, an award winning and well traveled group of young musicians. Last year they were invited to be a part of the summer program at Loren Maazel's estate in rural Virginia, learning and performing repertoire with older students and professionals. We read through a couple of short pieces by Glazunov, but also more popular fare, including a fun Star Trek arrangement.

My son Eric is still here for another week so he and I will check out the skiing at Whitetail today and catch a Washington Capitals' game Thursday. Eric is a big hockey fan. We don't have BSO rehearsals and concerts until next week, but I am practicing every day as a good violinist should.