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Gala review (a conversation piece)

Note: The below post has been slightly modified from the text as it was originally published. If you’d like to see the full version, email me.

Last Saturday my dear friend Rebekah and I hiked over to the Meyerhoff to take in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s season-opening gala. I could just straight tell you what I thought, but I figured why not switch it up a bit? So here’s Rebekah and I indulging in a little post-concert discussion. Rebekah is a cello teacher and Peabody musicology grad student, so she’s more than qualified to weigh in. Two opinions for the price of one — how can you resist?

Jenn: First of all, I want to say that the absolute best part of the concert was when David Little almost knocked out Hilary Hahn by accident.

Rebekah: The surprise on her face was the best part because it was so genuine and she seems so nice.

J: Like a little elf!

R: I think she looks adorable!

J: The concert opened with Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, which is of course a seminal work, and it always kinda gets me. I’m a documented sucker for horns. Alsop took the opening a little fast for my liking, but those horns were gold.

R: I actually… well, when you say fast, you mean she took it fast or she started the concert fast?

J: I mean she took the Copland fast at the beginning. I like it when the conductor doesn’t say too much.

R: I didn’t think it was fast. I think if anything, Alsop just kinda came onto the stage and went right into it. I thought the tempo was good. That piece has a tendency to drone if it’s too slow. I thought it was a great opening; I really liked it.

J: Okay, how about Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman? I’ve never been a huge fan of the piece, but maybe you can offer a more balanced opinion?

R: Um, in the sense of its place in the program, it’s fair for it to be where it is, right after Copland, because she did kind of write it as… I’m not sure if it’s a rebellion as much as a response. I’m not a huge fan of the work, but I do respect it for what it is. It was performed really nicely.

J: I can agree with that. I can also move away from it! Okay, now let’s talk about the BSO-commissioned David T. Little work, Charm, a Baltimore tribute. I liked it.

R: I liked it too!

J: It wasn’t particularly deep, but I thought it had a very dark luster to it, like unraveling a spool of black velvet. The melody at the end in the strings was lovely, and the glissandos made me smile.

R: I liked the melodic motif in the first half of the piece, in the minor key. It really has a… I’m not sure how to articulate this, but I’m sure anyone from Baltimore will understand — it has a Baltimore-esque sound to it. You can imagine walking down the streets of Baltimore wondering if someone is following you or what little animal just ran over your foot and why does that cop on the corner look shady?

J: You’re making Baltimore sound really awesome.

R: Yeah. The second half of the piece, where the strings come in more heavily and the other sections step back a bit, that was really nice. It made it feel like home — whatever happened in the first half, it’s really coming together now. I really liked that.

J: That was my favorite part of the concert, I think.

R: Definitely that, and Copland. I just really like that piece. You hear it on the radio and it just makes you happy. You know it’s not the best song but you just really like it.

J: Right then. Moving on to Hilary Hahn performing the Mendelssohn violin concerto. It goes without saying that she’s an amazing performer, and I love how seemingly… not effortless, that’s not the word I want, but there’s a natural quality to her playing, like the notes just fall into place when she asks. I will say, however, that I think she’s a bit too polite. I wish she had more attack. The first movements were pleasing, but she dug into the last movement harder and that was the best part of her performance.

R: I do agree. That last movement was great. But it also makes me wonder — I know she has the ability to have more attack, but she picked a really safe concerto to play, if you know what I mean?

J: Yeah!

R: The Mendelssohn is like everyone violinist’s first big concerto. And Mendelssohn wasn’t really progressive at his time, and the piece is a pretty cut-and-dry violin concerto of the Romantic period. It’s not driving, there are no crazy harmonies… if she had played something from the 21st century… Her playing is very clean and clear, and you can tell she knows what she’s doing, but she’s not really crazy and showy about it.

J: Not a diva.

R: Yeah.

J: What did you think of the OrchKids coming out and performing? I mean, besides being incredibly jealous because you didn’t have the opportunity to play with Hilary Hahn on the Meyerhoff stage when you were in elementary school.

R: I was a little jealous of that. I thought for the gala concert it was kinda nice seeing them. I remember at last year’s gala they had the OrchKids video, and I really enjoyed seeing that. I remember thinking, I wonder if that’s still going? I wonder why I never see them anywhere? And now I know. It wasn’t a great musical work or anything, but it was a great way to bring the community together. And they were cute.

J: They were children. How could they possibly be cute?

R: Oh dear…

J: The concert closed with Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from Too Hot to Handel, which is the gospel Messiah, pretty much. I thought it was interesting.

R: There wasn’t much to that piece… it didn’t really do anything for me. It was fun… it got a LOT of applause.

J: The vocal soloists were pretty awesome.

R: Oh, definitely. I mean, they were good. I think with the last two things they were trying more for community instead of showing off that they’re the BSO. I didn’t care for it too much but it was definitely fun to watch. I don’t know; what did you think?

J: I think they should have really gone for it. It might be the way the piece is arranged, but I think if you’re going to do a Gospel Messiah, you better swing it as hard as you can swing it. I thought they swung it a bit. They could have swung harder.

R: I know what you mean.

J: Anything you want to add?

R: Do you have anything?

J: I can’t wait for the season-closing concert, with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and the Tchaikovsky violin concerto.

R: Well, we went to the first concert, so we can go again to the last one.

J: Rite of Spring, Bekah.


J: That’s the closer!

R: That’s why I really want to see it! I’ll go for Rite of Spring.

[Disclaimer: Baltimore isn’t as bad as Rebekah makes it sound. Honest. Just hang around the Inner Harbor and you’ll be fine.]

About Jenn

Despite being the former digital marketing intern at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Jenn German does not like Mozart. Beethoven could've totally beaten him up. Also she has an arts management graduate degree from American University, but this changes nothing.


5 thoughts on “Gala review (a conversation piece)

  1. Thanks for writing this, Jenn! Glad you went and glad you could give us this report!
    A few things:
    I was in Baltimore to see Hilary Hahn play the Higdon concerto when they were premiering it in 2009 (before the CD release a year later), and I got lost trying to find the Meyerhoff, so when a cab finally showed up to shuttle me over there, I already missed the 1st movement, and I was bummed! But it was cool to see this piece being played for one of its first times. Baltimore is a good city, but I wish that I had more time to check out the finer things about it as I was only there for 2 days.
    The Mendelssohn is one of the best concertos and lucky for you you got to see Hilary do it live.
    Liszt wrote a lost violin concerto, and one wonders what that would sound like in the hands of a Hilary Hahn.
    Question: When the OrchKids came out, they PLAYED with Hahn? Was it a separate piece on the program?

    Posted by Chris McGovern | September 15, 2011, 8:36 am
    • The OrchKids played a little piece and Hahn joined in. I don’t remember the name of the piece even being on the program; it was VERY simple, but I mean, hey, they’re elementary school kids.

      Posted by Jenn | September 15, 2011, 9:51 am
    • Im stumped Ive sharceed on the net about where to find the orgin of the singing cookbook is there a transcript of this show ,,written down where julia child is talking about the singing cookbook,,I want to learn more about this,,what was the first singing cook book and what year did it all start,,can any one help me,,

      Posted by Silverio | May 27, 2012, 8:11 pm


  1. Pingback: Gala review (a conversation piece) (via If it ain’t Baroque…) « The Glass - September 15, 2011

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