Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Walk in the Park

Dear readers,

I'm writing this from a bus (yes, it's the bus again, saves time in these busy times) on the way back from a brief and very successful weekend the BSO had in the great New York City, performing Honegger's Joanne of Arc at the Stake with our Music Director, Marin Alsop and a big cast of singers, actors and no less than three choirs.

The ride there was blissfully uneventful, and, after dropping stuff backstage at Carnegie Hall, I took a short, but very sweet, walk to Central Park. It was one of those perfect Fall days, with warm sunshine shining down from deep blue skies threaded with contrails upon throngs of people that had come out to enjoy it in every way possible. The active ones, ranging from pick-up soccer games, Frisbee throwers, joggers, rollerbladers, kids frolicking in piles of fallen leaves and on playgrounds, to the passive ones, strolling along and occasionally stopping to watch one of the many performance artists, taking in the sun on the grass at Sheep Meadow, sitting on one of the walls and just observing the people passing by (and speaking many of the world's languages), or enjoying a ride on a horse drawn carriage, feeling and looking romantic all the while trying to ignore the fact that they are, indeed, only feet away from a big animal whose bathroom habits are as controlled and mannered as those of a baby.

And, speaking of performance artists, that's where Central Park really stands out. Not only are they as varied here as anywhere, they also are the cream of the crop. If you can attract the crowds here, where they always have a choice of walking a hundred yards further to hear and see something that is more interesting, or moving, or just plain crazy, then you can make it anywhere! From the always-present caricature artists, to oversize bubble makers, and bicycle and rollerblade tricksters, to the many musicians of all kinds, there's definitely something for everyone.

One particular musician caught my ear as I was descending the steps towards the Mall and the beautiful pond.

He was seated on the wall that surrounds the now dry fountain, playing movements of solo suites by Johann Sebastian Bach. His sound was beautiful, his intonation impeccable, his style just right. Yet there he was, in not so ideal conditions (were the cool temperatures a reason he was holding his bow the way a lot of bass players do-German style?), surrounded by masses of people speaking many languages all at once, with competition from other musicians nearby, minding his own business of making beautiful music. His open cello case, lying by his feet, the top leaning on the wall of the fountain, was full, and getting fuller by the minute, of one dollar bills. An elderly Grandmother, a young German couple, a little girl clenching the doll she took for a walk in the park, were all moved and felt like they had to contribute something to this classiest of street artists. As a colleague, I contributed more, and started walking briskly back to Carnegie Hall, so I could make it back in time for my rehearsal. But, there was another wonderful distraction waiting for me. A couple had stopped on a path and was quietly looking up at something. On a low branch on one of the golden-yellow linden trees, near the children's carousel, stood a large peregrine falcon. His head moved left and right, as his small but sharp eyes, separated by his razor-sharp beak, surveyed the park, probably looking for a snack. After a couple of minutes, his body stiffened, his head perked up, and he lifted his large wings to get what had caught his attention.

At that point, pressed for time, I had concluded that I'd had enough inspiration for one day, and it was time to go make some beautiful music.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Monday, November 7, 2011

Opera Update

So, here we are in the pit of the Lyric, ready for the three hours of overt emotions, death, unexpressed love, and great music that Verdi's Traviata offers. And then, the unthinkable happens: the computer that controls the lighting crashes, and the many hundreds of Baltimore's finest patrons, that have been waiting way too long for the Grand Opera to show its presence in this fine city, have to wait another thirty minutes for the show to start.

But all is forgiven and quickly forgotten when the first notes of violins start playing a melody that is heart-wrenchingly beautiful and yet hints at the tragic things to come, and the glorious curtain rises to reveal a party scene that starts the story...

Grand Opera is back in Baltimore!

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Ides of October"

So Mother Nature decided to poke fun at us last Saturday (and didn't even have to use Facebook’s poke button for it). Just a couple of weeks after relishing in how the aforementioned "Mother" was right on the dot in sending flocks of Canada Geese due North, I was flying due South on I-83 early one Saturday morning to start my teaching day at Peabody, when she sent a full-fledged winter storm into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast before October even had a chance to have a last word. People were sent scrambling to find car brushes and shovels; cities had to re-equip their trucks in order to push snow off of highways; all this just a few days after our sand boxes got delivered to hilly street corners (ours was still empty)! Also, I must say that hibiscus trees, butterfly bush flowers and marigolds look oh so wrong with a snowy white background behind them.

The BSO's trip to Strathmore was, fortunately, accident-free as we traveled to play an energy-filled concert with Barry Douglas as a soloist and Vasily Petrenko as guest conductor, featuring Rachmaninov's Symphony #3. Mr. Douglas used to play with us fairly often when David Zinman was our Music Director, and we recorded the #3 , together with #2, many years ago in my first few years in the orchestra.

It's funny how a brain plays games and tricks with musicians. Many times in my career, while playing a rehearsal or a concert, a very quick image of something or somebody from the past would appear in, and just as quickly disappear from, my mind (you'd be surprised how, despite the hundreds of bytes of information we are required to keep track of while performing, our brains sometimes venture off to mundane things like what we need to get at the grocery store!). After this happened one too many times, apparently at random, I started to come to a conclusion that I must have been playing that very same music when the given event happened. Now I don’t really have time to keep a diary of all our weekly programs and events from that week, but it would be interesting.

Speaking of interesting (and new), this Friday evening will be the very first time I’ve played a performance of a genuine opera in a pit, as the BSO brings the opera back to Baltimore in concerts in two performances of Verdi’s dramatic La Traviata. It’s been an amazing experience, with a great cast of singers, beautiful sets, and an extremely capable conductor who holds it all together. It has also been great listening to my colleagues that have been in the BSO just slightly (and a few, a lot) longer than me (coming up to my 21st year!) tell the many stories and memories from their days at the Lyric (before the Meyerhoff was built).

This will be a truly memorable weekend for the city and its music lovers. If there are any tickets left, it’ll be the place to see and be seen this weekend, so hurry and get some! We promise at least a few tears and many laughs, accompanied by some of the most beautiful music ever written. I also suggest a visit to Little Italy before and after-you’ll surely be craving some great Italian food after this!

(Little Italy, Baltimore)

-Ivan Stefanovic

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Beautiful Days"

The way Beethoven expresses his feelings: "I love you"
The way Debussy expresses the same feeling: "It's a beautiful day"

This is how this weekend’s guest conductor, Louis Langrée, explained the way Impressionist composers convey their feelings to audiences. His audience was one drawn by Free Fall Baltimore, which allowed many to attend a working rehearsal of two masterpieces each of Mozart and Debussy that are part of a beautiful program that also features a masterful violin soloist James Ehnes. There are two concerts remaining, Friday and Saturday evening. Don't miss this treat for the ears!

Bolt for the BSO Update

Last Saturday, Bolt for the BSO came to a rousing end in the form of the Baltimore Running Festival, which we all lovingly call the Baltimore Marathon. Many musicians, administrators and Board members, as well as our Music Director, Marin Alsop (together with her son), ran an array of races from 5K's to the full marathon. Some ran as veterans of these events, many more ran for the very fist time.

It turned out to be a glorious day, with full sunshine backed by azure-blue skies and just enough of a breeze to make sweating a negligible side-effect. Some 25,000 runners from all states of the Union and 24 different countries participated in this incredible display of humans working together for the common cause: to exercise, to lose weight, to achieve and surpass personal records, and, primarily (for most of us, one can hope), to have fun.

BSO's "Bolters" had an additional goal - to, in a way, justify and thank all of the generous donors who helped us get, as of today, very close to our goal of raising at least $50,000 for our beloved orchestra. The good news is that there's still time, until November 1, for you to pick and sponsor a runner and therefore contribute in this inspired and oh-so-well run and organized effort by Cynthia Renn, our Governing Member Extraordinaire (and many others) to help this incredible arts organization continue contributing its talents to the city and state it's in, at the highest level of excellence. You can do so by going to this link:, or, if you really like my blog, here's my personal Bolt fundraising page:

Here are a few of my impressions from the race:

-Favorite moment (other than the obvious one of crossing the finish line): The start of the race, after a heart-felt rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, with thousands cheering and confetti flying.

-Favorite sign alongside the race: "WORST PARADE EVER". Made me laugh so hard that I lost my pace for a few seconds.

-Favorite scene: Coming down the hill from Harford Rd. and seeing the first few hundred racers already circling the deep-blue waters of picturesque Lake Montebello, leading a long snake of runners that stretched for miles.

-Favorite not-so-legal, yet so Baltimore-like scene: A couple, set up with a small table in front one of the colorful row-houses in Charles Village, handing out beer in open cups to runners, as a Baltimore Policeman stands, ignoring them, a few feet away

-Favorite revelation: That the waters of the above lake were such a deep blue color because of the wind which, as we circled the lake and noticed whitecaps forming, hit us dead-on and followed us to the finish line, probably slowing down each runner's time by a few precious seconds.

-Favorite way to take advantage of a captive audience: Several musicians (bands) set up along the way, of which the one somewhere on Howard St. takes the cake for the least inspiring singing/playing. Made me run faster, just when I was starting to loose energy!

-Favorite effort at getting their sign noticed: A guy from Occupy Baltimore, near Patterson Park, running on the side of the course in the opposite direction of hundreds of participants , holding a 99% sign.

-Favorite side-effect of the race: The many policeman manning the intersections in the impoverished parts of town, allowing some of our fellow citizens to feel safe enough this one time in a year to come out on their stoops, many in their pajamas, and heartily cheer on (and for some, sing and dance) the strangers that would otherwise be too scared to even drive through their neighborhoods. Touching and inspiring.

And now, I think I bought myself some bragging rights:

  • Half-Marathon time 1:51:59 (about 8.5 minute miles), significantly better than last year's 1:57:something, which was my first ever race, after I had just started running that summer.
  • 120th in my age category
  • 1,200 overall (of about 11,000 half-marathon runners).

Not too bad for a second violinist :)

Friday, October 14, 2011


(This is the first response to the BOLT donation challenge I wrote about below.)

–an amount of teaching given at one time
–a period of learning or teaching
–a passage from the Bible read aloud during a church service
–to learn one's lesson
–to teach someone a lesson

So many meanings, yet they all really mean one thing. I especially like the last one. Even with its oh-so-obvious meaning in the music world, it still carries that admonishing connotation that I never want to convey when I am, indeed, “teaching someone a lesson.”

So, the word itself essentially means that there is some kind of learning process happening during a usually pre-assigned period of time (hey, maybe I should send that meaning to Webster's, I think it's pretty good?). If one looks at it that way, the implication is that there's a teacher (coach, trainer, etc.) doing the teaching, and a student (apprentice, sports player, etc.) doing the learning. However, anyone that's devoted any time to teaching (in my case, over 20 years) knows that it is much more of a two-way street.
In music, this couldn't be more accentuated (excuse the pun). A musician (student) spends countless hours being instructed (taught) on so many different levels: holding the instrument properly, having the correct body posture, specific (and countless) technical exercises; but all that work ties into the “product” they are creating: the glorious music that's supposed to come out of their instrument. And therein lies the catch.

It's hard enough for a teacher to put into words what he/she knows at that point in their career (hopefully) so well, especially with regards to purely technical aspects of playing: the tricks to playing with a straight bow, control of a good spiccato (a bouncing stroke), the various widths and speeds of an expressive vibrato. Even those concepts require a lot of “translating” from what comes so naturally and what our teachers so capably put into words for us so many years ago. The real challenge comes when a teacher is confronted, whether with a new student or for the first time altogether, with having to convey a meaning of a musical phrase, a direction of a certain musical idea, or a style of music from many centuries ago. That's the real challenge in teaching.

Even after so many years in the profession, I still find it stimulating to exchange ideas with my students about what all those symbols on the page are trying to convey, to get them to discover for themselves how to use all those techniques we worked so hard on in order to make sounds that move and, yes, entertain, the listener. And that's a lesson that teaches both the student and the teacher.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bolt for the BSO Challenge

Dear blog readers,

Now that the BSO's season (and other ensemble's seasons that I am involved in) is in full swing, and my kids are all settled in their schools, and, after I spent many hours on the phone with a not-to-be-named company whose name starts with the letter V and finally got my phone and Internet service troubles squared away, I promise to write more often, like I did last season. To help me with that, I propose to you a unique challenge: if you donate $25 or more (and do feel free to be more generous:) to Bolt for the BSO (see more on that in a recent entry below) in my name, you will buy yourself a right to ask me to write a blog (not just 2-3 sentences, I promise) on any topic that you choose, music-related or not. I know, I'm really putting myself on a limb, but wonderful people that organized this effort are working so hard on this, and I feel like this is a great opportunity to help from my end in this unusual way. As soon as I see your donation (I get a notice of it right away), I will write to you and ask you to post your topic of interest on the blog (as an answer to this post), or send me an e-mail with a topic, and I'll write a response within a few days.

And speaking of the season being in full swing, don't miss this weekend's performances with Yan Pascal Tortelier, one of our favorite guest conductors, as he leads us in Sibelius' atmospheric Fifth Symphony (with a most dramatic ending) and Elgar's powerful Concert-Overture named In the South (as in Italy, which is the South to Britons). Cuban pianist Horacio Gutiérrez, who is an old friend of the BSO (we have produced several recordings with him under the baton of David Zinman), will play Mozart's opera-induced Piano Concerto No. 19 (make sure to listen for quotes from his operatic opus in the last movement!).

Check out this YouTube video of Tortelier, whose father was the eminent cellist Paul Tortelier, as a young and virtuosic violinist in a performance of the difficult La Tzigane by Maurice Ravel:

-Ivan Stefanovic

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bolting In Montenegro

Hi, Ivan here.

I just wanted to clarify why I started this blog with "Dear fellow Bolters". Bolters, as I named ourselves, are members of the orchestra, administration and friends of the BSO who are running in the 2011 Baltimore Running Festival in October. We are members of Bolt for the BSO (hence "Bolters"), an organization that was started last year by a BSO Governing Board member in order to raise money for the organization.

We were very successful last year, and plan to be even more so this year. The fun aspect of this (other than running) is that you can sponsor me by going to this page:, or any of us on the home page:

Thank you all for being our supporters in so many ways!


Dear fellow Bolters, I have spent the last couple of weeks in beautiful Montenegro (part of former Yugoslavia), where my sisters and I used to spend our summers in our parents' house, built some 50 years ago. I'm here now with my family of five (my wife Jennifer and our three boys), and also my older sister and her two children.

After recuperating from an overnight train trip from Belgrade to the Adriatic Coast which took much longer than anticipated due to some technical problems, and taking a few days off from training, I started running again.

My parents' place is located on the beach of a beautiful town called Sveti (Saint) Stefan, whose crown jewel is a unique city-hotel situated on a rocky island (now connected by a small bridge to land) that originally housed fishermen, starting around the 15th century, and now houses the rich and famous that can afford it. To get to that spectacular view and the beginning of my running path, there's a good warm-up in the form of a few stairs between the beach buildings. Then I am greeted by this view:

Next comes a downhill, with views of spectacular mountains just being touched by the sun, through these tall pines:

Further down, ok the side of the road, I take note of the newly ripe wild blackberries, which I consume on the way back:

The same fate awaits these figs:

In the middle of my path, I come upon two gates like the one below, which used to be stationed by guards watching over the royal grounds.

Montenegro used to be a kingdom, and the king's palace is still standing on a beautiful stretch of beach, now also turned into a luxury hotel:

Next is the tiny and precious Queen's beach, where one can imagine she could escape from her husband's ramblings about his prowess:

At the end of a longish uphill, the rays of Adriatic sun haven't yet reached the cozy fisherman's village of Pržno, where the catch of the day means literally just that in the beach-side restaurants, as the seafood is brought right to them and then presented to patrons on big circular platters for their perusal, in place of a menu:

Upon my return, I usually get right into my inflatable kayak that I travel with, and meander over to some isolated beach in the stillness of the early morning for a refreshing swim, as I await the sun to reach over the mountains into the blue-green water:

Then it's time for a jog up many stairs to the village for some fresh bread, eggs and oatmeal, and a hearty breakfast. A great way to start a day, get exercise, and then continue the "cross-training" with spear fishing, and more swimming, kayaking, climbing over rocky islands, and general beach fun with my wife and our three boys.

My batteries will, I trust, be fully charged and ready to go for both the Bolt for the BSO Half-Marathon in October, as well as the next great season of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday Muse

Good morning!

This week the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performs our last concert of the 2010-11 Season, Verdi's Messa de Requiem on June 9-12.

But don't worry! You can still join the BSO at any of our summer concerts!


"I adore art...when I am alone with my notes, my heart pounds and the tears stream from my eyes, and my emotion and my joys are too much to bear."
-Giuseppe Verdi

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Monday Muse

Good morning!

We hope that everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

This week the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra welcomes piano great Emanuel Ax on June 2-5.


"It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table."
-Johannes Brahms

Thursday, May 26, 2011

One Note at a Time

Last weekend, as I was putting together some raised vegetable and herb beds in my garden, I had my two younger sons as my helpers. They really enjoyed themselves when I asked for their help with drilling holes in the wood, and then fastening the screws, as much as any boy enjoys using power tools. We also make our own compost and we find that it's such a pleasure to not only recycle paper and plastic, but to also reuse our leftover food to grow more food. That task, of getting it out of the compost bin and mixing it with the soil before planting, I left for myself, knowing what kind of "yuck" reaction I'd get from them (I, for one, think it smells slightly sweet, a testament to how much fruit we all eat).

Then there was some clean up to do, left over from the winter and spring, around the new garden beds-leaves, twigs, general yard refuse. My middle son started raking it, but it was a relatively big area, and he got tired and discouraged after a while. When I saw how he was doing it, I walked over to him, marked several smaller square-shaped parcels, and told him to do them one at a time. His face brightened, and, like any parent would, I saw a teachable moment. I reminded him how I have, in some of our cello practice sessions, told him to never look at any big problem straight in the eye, and to instead divide it into many more manageable problems, ones that can be solved without him feeling overwhelmed. Then I took a step further, and said that he can use that tool in any life situation that requires problem solving. That was of course a step too many, because at that point he rolled his eyes in the "there goes Dad lecturing me on life again" and proceeded to do as advised, but still, he got the point.

I had a couple of opportunities lately to practice what I preach. First, I realized that I use just such a way of thinking when I, in my typical fashion, made myself go up the steep Falls Rd. to Roland Ave. hill for the second time in a run, as I get myself ready for the Bolt for the BSO-in my case, Half-Marathon in October. Instead of looking up to the top of the hill, I usually look at the beautiful houses on the side of the road, one by one, and then it seems so much easier. The next opportunity came when i was facing hundreds of seemingly unrelated, fast (REALLY FAST) sixteenth notes in a really cool William Walton Symphony #1 that I had to get ready for the first rehearsal on Tuesday, for this weekend's concerts. It seemed a daunting, almost impossible task to look at the endless black circles with stems on the page and think, "I am going to have to play this in front of thousands of people in a concert soon." But, when approached slowly, one measure, one phrase, one furiously paced page at a time, it became, well, possible that I might survive. Not to mention that I was encouraged by the fact that dozens of my colleagues were using the same practice method at that very same time.

Come this weekend and see how well it worked! As I said, the Symphony, which we have not played in decades (if ever), is quite a power house of emotion. The rest of the program, led by the very methodical and very musical guest conductor Carlos Kalmar with Karen Gomyo on violin, is Mahler, Sibelius and Walton on Friday, May 27 at the Meyerhoff and Saturday, May 28 at Strathmore.

P.S. Check out this beautiful rainbow I caught on a walk last week, between a rehearsal and a concert, as it was trying to imitate the graceful architecture of Strathmore Hall.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday Muse

Good morning!

This week we are preparing for our Classical Concert of Mahler, Sibelius and Walton with Carlos Kalmar, conductor and Karen Gomyo, violin. Our Monday Muse celebrates the composer Gustav Mahler.


"A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything."
~Gustav Mahler

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Muse

Here is your second Monday Muse quote to get your creativity started for the week!

Our BSO SuperPops concert this week features Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Movies and some of their most well known movie musical favorites such as Oklahoma!, The King and I and Carousel.


"After the Rodgers and Hammerstein revolution, songs became part of the story, as opposed to just entertainments in between comedy scenes."
~ Stephen Sondheim

Friday, May 13, 2011

Memories of Schumann

A boy is lying in a hospital room bed in the Swiss Alps, listening to a beautiful orchestral piece on a radio that is sitting next to his unfinished meal that most Moms, including his, would not call a meal for their son. The son in question is 14 years old, and he just underwent a minor, yet for him, frightening, surgery on his big toe. He's now enjoying the ebb and flow of the piece, almost as much as the view out of his hospital room window, through which he is following hang gliders as they gracefully descend from the snow-capped mountain peaks, circling ever so slowly, until they finally land on a grassy field. This nirvana is only occasionally interrupted by cheers coming from a few rooms down the hallway, the common room, where the patients that are able and allowed to move are watching the Los Angeles Olympic Games on a TV set.

That boy is me, many years ago, and the setting is a city hospital belonging to a small town of Samedan, just up the valley from Interlaken (my colleagues reading this will get a kick out of this, since I am one of only a few that didn't go to the well-known American summer camp, Michigan's Interlochen). I was a representative of my native country, then called Yugoslavia, in this camp where the Youth Orchestra of European Countries was rehearsing for a 10-day long Tour of Europe. Great experience for a budding musician except for the fact that, after having gone through a week of rehearsals, I got an ingrown toenail after a strenuous hike (and wearing some ill-fitting shoes) in the Alps just at the end of that week, and landed in the hospital with blood poisoning that could have ended something a lot more important to me and my loved one than that Tour.

The piece that I was listening to from my hospital bed was Schumann's darkly dramatic Manfred Overture, one of three Schumann pieces we are playing in this week's concerts, and one that we had rehearsed so diligently in the week prior, while enjoying the gorgeous vistas through the oversize windows of the orchestra room. That's why this piece always stirs up some strong memories in me, and why I look forward to playing it every time it's on the program. Robert Schumann had a very interesting life, and it shows in his works, so what better way to grasp it but through the BSO Robert Schumann - A Romantic Original concert this week on Thursday and Sunday in Baltimore. And on Friday at Strathmore and Saturday at Baltimore Marin Alsop, in her usual casual, yet informative style, will unravel Schumann's life in front of your eyes (and ears, of course) for the Off the Cuff performance of Schumann's Beautiful Mind. Not to be missed!

And during the Overture, if you look carefully, you might see small figures flying through thin mountain air in my eyes.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The BSO & The Economy

Imagine that you are in charge of a company during these hard economic times, and you are told by your financial advisers and colleagues that you have to make some tough cuts in order to keep it floating. Your responsibility is to bring down a 1.5 trillion dollar deficit, a bit over one-hundredth of one percent of your budget. And imagine knowing that such a cut would basically shut down what most people consider not a luxury, but a necessity, especially in hard times. Would you say, "Yeah, go ahead, do it"?

Well, that's what has recently been the talk of the town among our legislators, who make decisions for a "company" called USA, in regard to cutting down the National Endowment for the Arts. Now, you may say that the NEA sometimes uses its funds to support things you, or I, or just about nobody considers art and many other more concrete things in our life (like sports scores for example) is in the eye of the beholder. But, even if you say you don't care for art at all, you have no use for it in your life, and we need to make sure our cities survive these crises. So, if you don't care to feed not just the mouths but also the souls of our fellow citizens, let's just talk sheer numbers: the Arts are responsible for bringing hundreds of millions of dollars to cities in which they thrive, and lead to over $5.7 jobs annually. In the Baltimore area alone, all things put together, BSO's contribution to the region's coffers is estimated about $18 million!

On Wednesday, we had about 20 very special people on the Meyerhoff stage with us during our rehearsal of Brahms' Second Symphony. What makes them special is that they commit to the BSO not only financially (and very generously), but also in so many other ways. They are BSO's Governing Members, and they go out of their way and organize fun gatherings in order to meet us, get to know us personally, and help us stay afloat. They spread the word about what we do, bring people to concerts, and organize fun and lucrative fund raising events (see Bolt for the BSO, coming up this fall). They are the ones that really care about the music, many of them know it well, and also know that without them we wouldn't be here.

Dear Legislators, please don't let people like that be the alone in keeping our cities in the black. We all deserve better.

And now, let's forget the numbers and talk music: this week's concerts are sure to move your soul, with some great masterpieces led by a conductor new to the BSO, Cornelius Meister, who is bringing the best in us. The program includes Bruch's rarely heard Violin Concerto #2, with our great Concertmaster, Jonathan Carney. See you there.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Muse

Hello fans! We thought this would be a nice addition to our blog to include every Monday a quote from a Classical artist or about music. We hope this gets those creative juices flowing for the week! Please tell us what you think and share your responses to the quote.

Our concert this week features Brahms' Second Symphony who, besides being one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period, was a man of simple lifestyle who generous supported the causes of others. Learn more>>


"What would become of all historical biography if it was written only with consideration for other people's feelings?"
~ Johannes Brahms

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cathy McClelland: My First 5K

Beginning today, we will be welcoming some Guest Bloggers who will be sharing their experience from Bolt for the BSO 2010. Bolt for the BSO is to raise money and awareness of the BSO's mission to provide programs that educate, engage and entertain music lovers of all ages. To learn more about Bolt for the BSO, click here.

Our first guest blogger is Cathy McClelland. This is what she had to say about her experience:

In 2010 I did my first 5K and had the time of my life! Not only did I finish better than I could ever have imagined in the race, I had the best time raising money for the BSO. I not only walked/ran a race for the BSO but I ran a competition with other participants to see who could get the most donors and the most money. Our challenge was who could get the most contributions and from how many countries and states where involved. Everyday I would check to see where I stood in the totals. I hope that this year others will have the same great experience. Wouldn't it be great if we had donations from all 50 states? Staff from the BSO cheered us on and met us at the finish line. I know all of us who participated had a GREAT time. Please join us this year.

Want to help Cathy reach her goal this year? Support her here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Tale of Three Captains

Symphony Orchestras are, in so many ways, like ships. They sail many seas, endure numerous storms, enjoy colorful and calm sunrises and sunsets, and drop anchors in many different inlets-all under many different helmsmen turning the wheel and pulling the halyards. I have been privileged to enjoy the guidance of three such helmsmen (of which one happens to be a helms-woman). The latest one is, of course, the current one, Marin Alsop. David Zinman became the first one when he hired me a bit over twenty years ago. The one in the middle, Yuri Temirkanov, I had the pleasure of hearing and seeing at Strathmore Center on Tuesday night, as he steered and navigated the mighty ship named St. Petersburg Philharmonic, on their tour of the United States.

As I settled into an unfamiliar seat (the only ones whose feel I know were about to be occupied on stage by the orchestra members), realizing that I have never taken in a concert at Strathmore from that vantage point, I was pondering how many of my fellow audience members were wondering if the musicians' bus was running late. The stage was strangely empty, and it was about time for a downbeat. But this orchestra, like many orchestras outside of the U.S., makes a collective entrance that is as dramatic as it is, well, musically sensitive. There is something special about hearing the first piece of music in a concert emerge from a void of musical sound, rather than hearing most of the tunes from the program before the concert actually starts. As they quickly took their seats, that familiar figure of almost aristocratic poise but relatively quick pace emerged from the left, a slight but distinctive smile on his face as he greeted the audience.

The first sounds of Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter's Overture washed over the hall (all right, I'll now try to stop the maritime references) and reminded me and many of the BSO colleagues that traveled south for this concert of the type of sound Maestro Temirkanov drew from us when he was in town. Being of Russian origin, where choral tradition is strong and those deep, sonorous Slavic men's voices dominate the landscape of music, he always build his string sound from the ground up, that ground being thick and very firm underfoot (see, we're back on dry land). The basses in St. Petersburg Philharmonic are situated right behind the first violins, on the left side of the stage, and also behind the cellos, where are in the place familiar to us as reserved for second violins. The effect of this seating is startling and very, well, effective. The orchestra also seemed to sit more closely together, giving them a very cohesive sound that embraced the audience like honey hangs on a spoon. This was especially true in the Brahms' Fourth Symphony, which reminded me of a concert of, I think, his Second Symphony that Temirkanov conducted with the BSO years ago.

The great violinist Pamela Frank was a soloist in that concert, and, she chose, like only very few of her colleagues in the soloist circles, to join us in the second half, playing from the back stand of the Second Violins. As a very inspired and heart-felt reading drew to a close, Temirkanov bowed to the audience, then looked a Pam, in order to acknowledge her once more. I watched his face turn from a smile, to a display of puzzlement, then to maybe a smirk of self-satisfaction, as he seemed to manage to move her to tears. (Another explanation of her reaction is, I think, that as soloists, these incredible musicians sometimes miss out on the many joys of making and creating great music together with so many people on stage).

But I digress, though I really don't want to turn this into a review of the concert-that's better left for the professionals. The soloist in Tuesday's concert was a great cellist Alicia Weilerstein, who played a very deeply felt and energetic, virtuoso performance of Shostakovich's Cello Concerto. Right after, during intermission, Maestro Temirkanov was clearly pleased and touched to see so many of us there. Orchestras and conductors form a bond in every concert, at home and abroad, on tours, and that stays with us a memories never to be forgotten.

There are many such wonderful memories we share with David Zinman and there surely will be those that we'll recall once Marin Alsop leaves town. In the meantime, the ship sails on.

P.S. I understand there are only a few selected tickets left for our performances of Charlie Chaplin's movie The Gold Rush on Saturday night, and maybe a few more for Sunday afternoon. The music is absolutely beautiful and witty, and the movie is, well, Chaplin-definition of a genius. I strongly urge you to come and bring everyone you know. It's a rare movie that everyone in the family can enjoy, and, yes, it is very special when it is accompanied by a live orchestra.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Kids : Our Future

A couple of Saturdays ago I had an unusual break in my usual day-long teaching schedule at the Peabody Preparatory, where I teach violin and coach chamber music and the strings of the Peabody Youth Orchestra. My youngest son, who takes cello lessons and group cello class there, also had a break in his schedule, and, since he has been talking about his desire to repeat our summer trip on Baltimore's free downtown bus, the Circulator, I decided it was time for a fun ride. We walked a few blocks south on St. Paul, toward the Inner Harbor, turned east on Baltimore Street, then sat on a bench on Charles to wait for the Purple Bus to take us back to Mt. Vernon Square. He kept updating me on the bus stop display, alternately looking in the other direction to check on the street how accurate the sign is ("2 minutes away, 1 minute away, arriving"). It finally arrived (I had gotten a bit tired of the updates), and we boarded it. Even though he has been in many different modes of public transportation in his short life, including his favorite electric tramways in my native Belgrade, he still gets pretty excited when he gets the chance to use one. He looked around, wide-eyed, at his fellow passengers and the streets-cape that was passing us by, then, with great aplomb, pressed the "stop requested" button as we started climbing the small hill by Peabody. A half hour later he was all concentration, tongue slightly sticking out of a corner of his mouth, busily trying to match the speed of his teacher's bow in the group class, playing several pieces by memory, even advising his fellow students on proper technique.

Kids his age, some younger and some older, were also on the Meyerhoff stage on Thursday night and Sunday afternoon, playing their debut with the BSO in front of adoring Moms, Dads and siblings, as well as out regular audience. They come from areas of the city where even the free Circulator bus is not an option for a bit of fun because, simply, there may not be anyone available to take them downtown, as both parents might be working most of the day (and some at night). But that didn't stop them from attending the classes of the Bucket Brigade, a beginner percussion program, or later switching to cello, violin or flute, after their regular Elementary school classes, as part of BSO OrchKids program. For those of you that don't know, it's based on an extremely successful program in Venezuela, called El Sistema, which has by now created thousands of kids that play in hundreds of youth orchestras across that underdeveloped country. There are only a couple more such programs in the United States so far. And I say so far, in spite of the recent calls for cutting of public funding for arts in schools, non-profit organizations, and such. The fact is that arts bring millions of dollars to our cities' economies, and without them they could not survive. But, even if not a single of the OrchKids children ends up in the music field as part of their lives, or takes up an instrument to play it again, or even becomes one of our patrons, they will have developed life-long skills of team play, discipline, long-term work that pays off in small increments, patience, and too many more to mention here that they can't get any other way. Their brains will also develop in such way that will increase their success in other fields (and we don't need studies to prove that, OrchKids have the stats if you want to see them).

So let's stop and think where our efforts and money should go. More arenas and stadiums, so that we can subsidize multi-million dollar contracts that our sports teams demand, or concert halls and opera houses where orchestras are falling one by one with minimal support from our government.

Thank you all who have contributed to the BSO over the last almost 100 years of its existence, and let's help it reach its centennial with the musicians and staff on solid financial ground, so we can continue to entertain, and, yes, educate our children.

They are truly our future.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Friday, March 25, 2011

Enough is Enough!

"Possibility of some accumulating snow this weekend."
Normally I would react to words like these the way any 5 year old does, even though I'm far from being that young anymore: with great joy and anticipation. I am an avid skier, and one of those people that just can't get enough snow. I always find it magical the way snow transforms any landscape into something so clean and pure (at least for a short while, here in the city). But it's almost April in Baltimore people! I have already had a run or two outside, in shorts and short sleeve shirts, and have reluctantly given up any dreams of doing just a few more runs in a neighborhood ski resort. Enough is enough! Daffodils need to come up unhindered, tulips don't need to fight through the the white stuff to display their rainbow colors, and forsythia won't be happy to have its sunny flowers weighted down by a blanket of white.

Whether it happens or not, the BSO is playing some sunny pieces on the first half of its concerts this weekend. Another of our favorite guest conductors, Yan Pascal Tortelier, is leading us in the elegant Valses Nobles and Sentimentales by Ravel as well as Grieg's melodious and very romantic Piano Concerto with my fellow alumnus from the Cleveland Institute of Music, Orion Weiss as a soloist. The second half displays the orchestra in Lutoslawski's powerful and very unique-sounding Concerto for Orchestra. Don't miss it!

-Ivan Stefanovic

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Swiss Mr. Bean

"To vibrate this note would be inappropriate," says the conductor, managing to very effectively convey to the orchestra musicians his desire to have us do away with most of our ingrained Romantic traditions when playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, written before the title "Romantic music" was even uttered, and in an era when the technique of vibrato was used very sparingly.

"Violas can be more expressive, I know that, because I am married to a violist," he says, making a viola joke on the spot.

"Count like you count your money," he quips, displaying his true Swiss roots (with a German accent and an Italian name) after some wind players miscounted the measure he wanted to restart with.

These are quotes from the BSO's Tuesday morning rehearsal with one of our most beloved guest conductors, the immensely funny and likable Mario Venzago. They may portray an almost childish personality, full of humor and joy of life, but may also sound a bit insincere. However, while Mario has the entertainment capability of a stand-up comic (and one with a very charming accent), he is anything but insincere. He is a very serious musician, one that dives very deep into every note, phrase and movement of every piece he rehearses and performs, and emerges with a net-full of the richest musical expression that is backed up by years of exploring music at the highest level. And he manages to do it all with an unending smile and flair that always puts the orchestra in the best of moods. When someone is that much into music, one can't help but get involved with them, and go to great lengths to please them, even if one doesn't necessarily agree with every musical idea.

"This sounds like acne," he says of some unwanted accents in a lyrical phrase that the cello section just played.

"You now go to sleep, true artists need sleep," he tells the winds as he is about to spend time rehearsing some bumpy passages in the strings.

"Trumpets are 40, no, 42% too loud, he specifies, again drawing on the background of his native country, where I remember the Alpine trains having a timetable that looked just like that (13:34, 13:59, 14:07), and actually managed to adhere to it!

"If you play it like this, I have to go to court," he mocks, with gratitude, when the brass manages a sound he asked for that is nowadays rarely produced in Beethoven's Fifth outside of the so-called Performance Practice ensembles, the ones that include as much of the techniques from the composers' era as possible.

I have known Mario since I was 14, as a young violinist representing my native country of Yugoslavia on two successive European Youth Orchestra Summer Tours, which were both based in Switzerland, and during which he was our Assistant Conductor. He hasn't changed one bit, and that's a good thing.

Come and enjoy his musical artistry in concert this week, with Schubert's Fifth and Berg's beautiful Violin Concerto with Baiba Skride as a soloist.

P.S. Oh, and if you don't know who Mr. Bean (a.k.a. actor Rowan Atkinson) is, check him out as he conducts a band playing holiday carols.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Celestial Events

I happened upon a bit of news that the International Space Station (ISS) was, once again, visible in the evening sky over Baltimore. I have seen it many times, and it is an amazing sight, to look up at the night and see an object brighter than any other one can see (other than the Moon), moving as fast as a plane, directly overhead. If no one told you that it wasn't a plane, you'd immediately know it, it's that different. And then think of the several men and women from different countries up there, looking down through their little porthole-like windows, sleeping upright, or drifting outside of the Station, connected by a tether, it makes it that much more magical. Last night was even more special, since the Space Shuttle Discovery was visible on the same trajectory just before the passage of the ISS, on its way to a last-ever landing on Earth about noon today (photo below copyright NASA).

For those of you interested in finding out about the fly overs (and if you have kids, you should be-they find these really special, as my three boys do), read the weather blog by Frank Roylance in the Baltimore Sun, or find his blog on the Web (right after you read mine of course (: ).

Now you're asking yourselves what this has to do with music or the BSO. Well, absolutely nothing. But it sure is nice to look up at the sky every once in a while, with a purpose or without. We spend too much time looking down at our important (we think) every day happenings, forgetting that we're part of something much larger.

Check out our Pops concerts this week on Thursday (Strathmore), Friday and Saturday (Meyerhoff) at 8pm and Sunday (Meyerhoff) at 3pm. They're entitled a Celtic Celebration: Music of the Emerald Isle, conducted by the ever-entertaining Jack Everly, and are sure to send you dancing on your way home (or at least up to the garage). You might even want to look at the night sky while you're at it.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Dangers of Play

Dear blog readers, I took a break last week, as I was on a break. I took my yearly trip with the family to Killington, Vermont, for five days of intensive skiing. Skiing is one of my life passions, and is something I am good at, other than playing violin. Many people ask me if it may be too risky and dangerous for a professional violinist to careen down intermediate slopes at highway speeds or double-black diamond ones with icy moguls. Well, it could be, but when one has a passion, one pursues it. Or at least that's how I look at life.

It is so dangerous playing Mozart's Magic Flute. I am writing this at 11:40 p.m. on a bus on the way back from Strathmore after our first performance of this incredible piece of music, and we're no where near half way home. My back is hurting a lot more than it was after skiing Ovation with my two older sons twice, a double-black diamond slope in Killington with a 45% pitch at the top, laced with a combination of moguls, ice, patches of fresh snow, and a few rocks thrown in for good measure. At least then I could stop and stretch whenever I wanted to. Tonight, after another endless yet out-of-this-world beauty of a slow movement, one in which especially Second Violins end up suffering as our bow arms are constantly hovering over the lower strings, all I could do was put my arms down for a few seconds before it was time to continue. There were times when pain was so unbearable that I thought I'd let out a sound that Mozart didn't call for in his score. But all that was worth the pain (at least that's what I'm saying now that I'm somewhat supported by a semi-comfortable bus seat, and able to move when I want).

The music and the story this week don't, of course, need to be advertised, but what makes this production special is that the singers, every one of them, are of such high quality, with both their singing and acting. I strongly encourage every one of your to hurry and get yourselves and your loved ones some tickets for our leftover performances in Baltimore for this Saturday or Sunday. You'll laugh, cry, cheer, and be very entertained, and we can this prove ourselves that we actually don't need special effects (though there is a bit of fake thunder and a few cool lights (: ) to enjoy a very special evening.

It's almost midnight, and the bus trip is almost over. Time to drive home and stretch a taut back before hitting the sack.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Reaction to Bruckner

As reactions to Bruckner's music go, there are two main camps: those that love him and those that hate him. I am in a third camp.

Bruckner was a troubled man. He struggled with life in general and relationships in particular. Those with his fellow human beings and those with God. And it shows—his music consists of seemingly unrelated sections: a listener will be subject to an almost John Adams-like series of chord professions that don't seem to go anywhere or serve any purpose other than to progress chords, just to have that halted, somewhat abruptly. What often follows is a gorgeous, Mahler-like section of beautiful heart-felt melodies, just to return to the wondering music of almost minimalist qualities.

The second, slow movement of the Sixth Symphony, which we are playing with Maestro Juanjo Mena tonight and Sunday at the Meyerhoff as well as Friday in Wye Mills, is particularly bursting with gorgeous melodies. But the last couple of minutes of the Symphony are, again, searching chord progressions that, well, don't seem to end in any tangible result of that search. It doesn't seem that he ever answers many of the questions he poses in his music. Come and join us, and see if you can find the answers for him.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Four Seasons

Last week, during the snow, I saw enormous flocks of Canada (aren't you so proud of me not incorrectly calling them "Canadian"?) Geese, flying mostly South. It made me wonder if the little creature, that would otherwise never see even a second of fame judging from its looks, came out of the ground last week and didn't see its shadow because of the many TV cameras and people blocking the sun's rays from reaching him. Now I am thinking (and so is one of the long-term meteorologists that I follow-yes, I am a weather enthusiast!) that he was right, the back of the winter will be broken before we know it!

I absolutely love all four seasons for what they are (and not just Vivaldi's or Piazzola's which we are playing later in the year :) and really love a good snowstorm, so I am a bit upset that we may not get any more, though the last one, despite its measly foot or so, was rather impressive. As you can imagine, I was extremely happy with last year's prolific winter, so I guess I shouldn't complain. The saving grace may be that I am lucky enough to get a week off next month and head north, to Vermont, for a family ski trip, where they have been buried for weeks. However, when I return after five days of hardcore skiing (I've been skiing as long as I've been playing violin, it's a big passion of mine), if it has to be spring, let it be. That means the bike and the electric scooter come out of the garage (I use them for commuting), and a return of jogging outside without having to dodge black ice. That's my newly discovered passion, ever since BSO decided to do a fundraiser called BOLT for BSO and I ran in the Baltimore Half-Marathon as a result. And it won't be long before we runners start complaining about the humidity. As I said, I love all seasons!

Long Live the Spring!

Like "Bolt for the BSO" on Facebook

-Ivan Stefanovic

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Three BSO Orchestras! How can this be?

Dear readers, BSO is giving you several options for entertainment this week. We have split not only into two, but three orchestras with three separate programs. Crazy huh? I am participating in two of them. Beethoven: A Musical Hero, concerts for kids of different ages on Saturday at 11:00 am and Appalachian Spring, featuring our very own Madeline Adkins as soloist in the Bruch Violin Concerto, in Frederick on Friday at 8:00. There's also a part of the orchestra that's playing in a SuperPops program with Jack Everly and the Capitol Quartet titled Big Band Hit Parade at Strathmore on Thursday at 8:00 pm and at the Meyerhoff on Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm.

I haven't heard the Pops program, but I can still vouch for the quality and entertainment value, as our standards are always high...but you knew that already:) The Beethoven program, which we already may have played for some of your children (they came in their yellow school buses on Wednesday and will again Friday), is a great overview of Beethoven's life, with him being presented by a great local actor Toni Tsendaes, as adult Beethoven, as well as two pianists from different stages of his life. It's a great and entertaining story, narrated as always by the eloquent Rheda Becker, and featuring excerpts from some of Beethoven's best music. So, bring your favorite kids (they don't have to be your own;) and treat them to something special (something that doesn't take 30 seconds in the microwave or features all manners of weapons) that will stay with them and make them think.

The Frederick concert, as I mentioned, features our fantastic Associate Concertmaster Madeline Adkins in Bruch's romantic Violin Concerto, as well as beautiful Mozart's 40th Symphony, one of the first pieces I ever played with the BSO (20 years ago), as well as Copland's oh-so-American-sounding Appalachian Spring, in a 13-player version, all conducted by the energetic Carolyn Kuan. And don't forget to arrive early and have a meal at one of Frederick's many tasty establishments all just steps from the hall.

Hope to see you at any or all of these, you won't regret you came! And if you do make it out, I would love to hear what you thought.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mena Madness

Dear readers, after two successful weeks with our Music Director Marin Alsop (read Tim Smith's review here), we return to one of our very favorite guest conductors Juanjo Mena (pictured), who started rehearsals with us on Tuesday. I was too busy with practicing and with many other non-BSO related things (helping my oldest son get ready for his audition for Baltimore School for the Arts among them) to write last week, but I'd be curious to hear what everyone thought of the now-not-so unusual format of lots of verbal as well as musical communication from the podium. Marin is hands down better at it than most, and judging from the reception from the hall and Q&A period on Saturday (that was about as long as Shostakovich's Symphony itself), you like it. It'd be great to hear some comments from you, our readers and audience.

There are no plans for any words coming at you from the stage this week, and that may be a pity, since Juanjo has that quintessential soft latino accent that makes him sound even more charming than he is. However, he should have no trouble getting that charm across through the music. And Haydn's Symphony No. 85 exudes with typical humor and charm. On the program is Brahms' gorgeous Violin Concerto featuring 26-year-old Augustin Hadelich, who makes his BSO debut this week, as well as a local premiere of Puerto-Rican born Roberto Sinfonia's No. 4. We just started rehearsing it Tuesday morning, and it has many moments where one can imagine a great movie, yet to be made, that the score could accompany. Any producers among us?

-Ivan Stefanovic

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Happy New Year and Welcome Back!

Dear readers, after a much-deserved break for you and me both, we're back in the swing of things. Welcome back!

I spent my days off with family, and, as luck would have it this winter of difficult travel, had some family members visiting me for a change. It was nice to decorate the house, then just sit back, relax, and let them worry about how they'll get here! My kids had a good time with the visiting cousins, and everyone took a few days off to recharge their batteries. During the short breaks like that, I don't touch my instrument unless I need to (and I give the kids a break from theirs), knowing that, even if it takes a bit longer to get back in shape, there'll be more hunger and enthusiasm for it once we're back.

I did, however, play a couple of New Year's concerts in Meyerhoff and Strathmore with the Strauss Orchestra of America, which reproduces, on this side of the Big Pond, those wonderful concerts that have started the new year for decades for many Europeans. I grew up with that tradition as well, and for me the calendar doesn't truly turn until I see the broadcast. And this year I got to play it, which was even better! I remember being in Vienna with my wife Jennifer many years ago and convincing the guard at the famed Musikverein Hall to let us just peek in, as they were getting it ready for the concert with hundreds of flowers. He told us to run and that we had to be back in two minutes. Who knew that I'd be back there many years later with the official backstage pass issued to me as a musician in the BSO, which was there on a European Tour!

Speaking of the orchestra, I celebrated 20 years since I started my job in it on January 3, 1991. Even I can't believe it when people ask me, time flew by so quickly. I was 21 years old, just out of college (I know, I just dated myself (: ), and now I own a house and have 3 wonderful sons. Funny how things sometimes just work out!

Please check out the link for this week's concerts: Music from Star Wars plus Icarus at the Edge of Time, as our Music Director Marin Alsop returns with an exciting program, then do yourself and some friends a favor and buy some tickets.

Hope to see you there!

-Ivan Stefanovic