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Concert Roundup Likes to be in America

  • This week the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra goes old school cinematic with Leonard Bernstein‘s West Side Story – literally. They’re playing the music live in accompaniment to a screening of the film. To sweeten the deal, some of the original Sharks and Jets will be at the June 14 performance, plus – wait for it – MARNI NIXON! Yay Marni Nixon! June 13 at Strathmore; June 14 – 16 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • Maybe you don’t like to be in America – maybe you’d rather be in Europe. If so, the National Symphony Orchestra has you covered with a program of Ravel‘s Tombeau de Couperin, some Dutilleux, and Vaughan Williams‘ second symphony, also known as “A London Symphony.” June 13 – 15. [ See it! ]
  • This week at Strathmore: CityDance performances. [ See the calendar! ]

If you’d like your concert included in next week’s roundup, leave a comment or drop me a line.


A Concert Roundup In Which I Sing a Bunch of Unrelated Songs

If you’d like your concert included in next week’s roundup, leave a comment or drop me a line.

All Concert Roundups Go to Heaven

  • Want to know what music sounds like in heaven? Then join the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for Elgar‘s cello concerto as performed by Sol Gabetta, and Liszt‘s – get ready for a shot of irony – Mephisto Waltz. Also Franck, who by inference is in hell with the rest of them. November 29 at Strathmore; November 30 and December 1 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • And! If you’re into interior decorating and holiday gift shopping, the BSO presents their “Symphony Homes for the Holidays,” where you can shop through several fully decorated and stuff-filled historic homes with a portion of the proceeds to benefit the orchestra. November 29 – December 1. [ See it! ]
  • Meanwhile, over in National Symphony Orchestra land, the NSO confused me with Syzmanowski, tries my patience with a Mozart piano concerto, and then soothes my fevered brow with Ravel‘s Mother Goose Suite and Debussy‘s La Mer. November 29 – December 1. [ See it! ]
  • This week at Strathmore: Retro-modern lounge music, retro-retro pop, and (BLEH! … I mean, what?) smooth jazz. [ See the calendar! ]

If you’d like your concert included in next week’s roundup, leave a comment or drop me a line.

I just want you to be prepared

Hey, remember a month or two ago how I picked out some Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts that tickled my particular fancy? Let’s do the same thing for Strathmore, which offers such a dizzying array of concerts over the course of the season that I’m sure attempting to process it all can be daunting. Never fear – I’ve picked out all the classical concerts that have so far been announced, so you’ll know what not to miss in advance. You’re quite welcome.

  • Duo Amaral, Oct 12 – Classical guitar featuring composers like Rodrigo and Albeniz.
  • Guido’s Ear, Oct 18 – Pre- and early Baroque – think Monteverdi, Zanetti, Merula.
  • Dali Quartet, Oct 28 – Spice things up with some Latin American chamber music.
  • Jennifer Koh’s Bach and Beyond, Part 1 (Nov 14) and Part 2 (Feb 28) – Bach violin partitas and sonatas mixed with newer works influenced by the great composer.
  • George Li, Jan 12 – A prodigal pianist, playing Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin.
  • China National Symphony, Feb 1 – A bunch of new works by Chinese composers plus BEETHOVEN’S SEVENTH SYMPHONY.
  • Mattias Jacobsson, Mar 21 – The classical guitarist plays the Bach Lute Suites.
  • Kristin Lee, April 4 – Gershwin’s Three Preludes on the violin! Fun!
  • Cameron Carpenter, April 12 – Well. I dare say I’ll never look at the organ quite the same way again.
  • Maurizio Pollini, April 14 – As if I needed to introduce this one. Not sure what he’s playing, but my money’s on some Chopin.
  • Marian Anderson String Quartet, April 25 – Prize-winning and Dvorak-playing. Nice.
  • Mak Grgic, May 9 – Another classical guitarist, this one has put together a bunch of neato transcriptions of works written by Ravel, Debussy, Brahms, and more, plus traditional guitar pieces.

So there you have it – all the straight-up classical music programs in the Strathmore season. SO FAR. Don’t worry; I’ll keep you apprised of these and other concerts as the year goes by. Good heavens, is it almost autumn already?

Composer Cagematch!: THE WINNER

Oh, guys. It’s been such a fun journey. Thirty-two composers (edited to add: +2 play-ins) stepped into the ring, and over the year we have slowly whittled it down to two. Before we crown our winner, let’s take a look back over composers past, shall we?

* denotes the winner of the match


  1. Prokofiev vs. Stravinsky*
  2. Debussy* vs. Ravel
  3. Dvorak vs. Copland*
  4. Britten* vs. Holst
  5. Rimsky-Korsakov* vs. Mussourgsky
  6. Grieg* vs. Sibelius
  7. Schumann vs. Brahms*
  8. Tchaikovsky* vs. Rachmaninoff
  9. Mahler* vs. Wagner
  10. Monteverdi vs. Verdi*
  11. Schoenberg* vs. Berg
  12. Bernstein vs. Gershwin*
  13. Handel* vs. Haydn
  14. Chopin* vs. Liszt
  15. Bartok* vs. Shostakovich
  16. Saint-Saens* vs. Khachaturian


  1. Stravinsky* vs. Debussy
  2. Copland* vs. Britten
  3. Tchaikovsky* vs. Rimsky-Korsakov
  4. Bartok* vs. Schoenberg
  5. Saint-Saens vs. Grieg*
  6. Brahms* vs. Mahler
  7. Verdi* vs. Handel
  8. Gershwin* vs. Chopin


  1. Stravinsky* vs. Bartok
  2. Copland vs. Tchaikovsky*
  3. Verdi vs. Gershwin*
  4. Grieg vs. Brahms*


  1. Brahms* vs. Stravinsky
  2. Gershwin vs. Tchaikovsky*


  1. Tchaikovsky vs. Mozart*
  2. Beethoven* vs. Brahms


Mozart vs. Beethoven

And so we arrive here, at the end. I think we all know whose t-shirt I was wearing, but it wasn’t a question of my sartorial decisions; it all came down to the best man taking the Composer Cagematch! crown. Are you ready? And the winner is…

Continue reading

The Legend of the Concert Roundup

No, seriously… what’s going on?

  • The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is making it short but very sweet this week: the Ravel Piano Concerto for Left Hand and Shostakovich‘s seventh symphony (that’s “Leningrad” to you, bub). Oh, hey, guess who’s dropping in to play the Ravel? Oh, some guy named Leon Fleisher. No biggie. May 3 & 6 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • Or if you prefer, the BSO offers its Off the Cuff version of the Shostakovich; in addition to playing the symphony, Marin Alsop will explain its musical form and cultural context. May 4 at Strathmore; May 5 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • I said hey-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah! The National Symphony Orchestra‘s NSO Pops take on a Marvin Gaye program, because why the hell not? With John Legend, no less. Now that’s some competitive booking. May 3 & 4. [ See it! ]
  • The NSO also offers a children’s concert this week, focusing on brass instruments with Brass of Peace. Is that a pun? None of the ones I’m coming up with are appropriate for children. May 5. [ See it! ]
  • The University of Maryland is performing Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, but for the life of me I can’t find the info. UMD, if you’re out there, ping me the details and I’ll update this post.
  • This week at Strathmore, we’ve got jazz singers John Pizzarelli and Kurt Elling, an all-Debussy piano program, country-rock singer Owen Danoff, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. [ See the calendar! ]

The Best

Two weeks ago I made a list of composers I considered to be the greatest, in terms of talent, innovation, and output. I tried to make this as objective as possible while still noting that my own preferences and the limits of my knowledge base must unavoidably come into play.

This week? IT’S SUBJECTIVE TIME. Which, indeed, is kind of like Miller Time — alcohol free, yes, but with just as much opportunity to shout your opinions while gesticulating wildly and possibly falling out of your chair.

All of this is just to say that here I would like to present my list not of the greatest composers of all time but the ones I like BEST. Basically the idea here is a collection of the composers that, when the radio deejay says, “next is a piece by ________”, make me say “YAY!!!” Here goes:

  1. BEETHOVEN (duh)
  2. Bach
  3. Khachaturian (and I stand by my decision)
  4. Stravinsky
  5. Schubert
  6. Holst
  7. Prokofiev
  8. Shostakovich
  9. Ravel
  10. Tchaikovsky

There is of course a fair amount of overlap, but I bet some of them surprise you. Before you pull out your extra-sharp pitchfork, rest assured — I’m not suggesting Khachaturian ranks above Stravinsky in… well, in ANY category, really. Stravinsky is definitely the better composer. But Khachaturian makes me super happy! So high up the list he stays. Ya get me?

The nice thing about this list is, it’s even more changeable than a best-of list, undulating and evolving with your changing moods and interests; I expect Handel could sneak on to mine any moment now.

Now about you — who are you feeling right now?

The pits

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent my Saturday in New York City with some fellow ballerinas. We did the requisite NYC wandering, but our main objective was to see the New York City Ballet perform a series of short works, including The Steadfast Tin Soldier (which I didn’t like because NO ONE MELTED), Le Tombeau de Couperin (which I loved, at least in part because RAVEL!), a Tchaikovsky pas de deux (more on that Friday, kinda), and The Concert (hilarious at the beginning, WTF at the end).

But this is not a post about ballet. This is a post about the pit.

The New York City Ballet performs with a pit orchestra, an increasingly rare luxury in these hard economic times. I’ve never played in a pit, myself, but I can only imagine it’s a very different experience from playing in a regular concert — and not just because no one can see you. Even if your work has been recorded to CD, when someone plays that CD it’s all about you and your music. In the pit, you become secondary, do you not? Important, yes, but not the focus. The conductor doesn’t even get to fully control the nuances of the piece, constantly adjusting to suit the dancers/actors/what have you.

I thought of this particularly because of the Tchaikovsky, the lost pas de deux from Swan Lake. It featured a violin solo, and I wondered — what’s it like soloing in the pit? Of course you still don’t want to make a mistake, but the eyes aren’t on you; hell, most of the audience can’t even see you. Are you still nervous? Do you play it your way, or are you more inclined to play traditionally, to keep things consistent for the dancer? Does it even matter if you snag a solo or not?

And conductors, how do you feel answering to dancers? Does it add an extra layer of difficulty, dividing your attention between the musicians and the performers on stage? Have you ever had a dancer ask for a truly ridiculous adjustment? Have the music and the dancing ever separated, and if so, how did you get it back? Did you get it back?

In short, does playing in the pit take the pressure off, or is it the pit of despair?*

* Don’t even think about trying to escape.

Also Sprach Concert Roundup

The people be sprachin’ all over the place.

  • Ooh! Ooh! This week at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra it’s Tchaikovsky‘s first piano concerto! Haters gonna hate (HI MOM!), but this piece nestled into my heart like a worm into an eight-year-old apple the moment it opened Tchaikovsky Discovers America. And! Ravel‘s Bolero (won’t he be thrilled?) and Strauss‘s Also Sprach Zarathustra. He certainly did. January 19 & 22 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • Did I say Also Sprach Zarathustra? I meant also sprach conductor Marin Alsop, who has much to say on the subject of what is arguably Strauss‘s most famous piece. The BSO presents another concert in the popular Off the Cuff series, which intersperses the music with fun facts from Alsop herself. January 20 at Strathmore and January 21 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • Meanwhile, over in National Symphony Orchestraland (which is kind of like Never Neverland only Metro-accessible), Jim Gaffigan conducts. No, wait, that’s not right — James Gaffigan conducts, and as far as I’m aware he’s not a stand-up comic on the side (although that would be AWESOME). Who is he conducting? Why, Ingrid Fliter on the piano, in such works as Mozart‘s Divertimento in D major, Schumann‘s Piano Concerto in a minor, a piece by Glanert I can’t spell, and — wait for it — Mozart‘s symphony no. 41, the “Jupiter” symphony! Holy guacamole, guys, even I like the “Jupiter”! January 19 – 21. [ See it! ]

Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only with instruments

I mean, they all just pop up out of nowhere and start advancing. Except, of course, the guy who was percussing on the railing; he was kind of stuck where he was, I assume.