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West Side Story

This tag is associated with 4 posts

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.

Phoning it in

First, let me start out with a story that makes me out to be a bit of a pretentious twit, so that I can later make the mild accusation that others are pretentious twits without sounding like I’m speaking from a particularly high horse.

My family went to visit my grandmother in NJ for Mother’s Day, and as part of our activities we went to a local library to see an outreach performance by members of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. The program consisted of Broadway music, and the finale was a big ol’ Sound of Music medley. About a quarter of the way in, I was horrified when the audience started to sing along. Gauche! Unsophisticated! Mortifying! I cringed in my seat and later, once the dreadful experience was over, I inquired to my parents what they thought of this impromptu sing-along. “Well,” my dad said, “they invited us to sing along if we wanted.” Oh. I completely missed that bit. So I guess that was all right…

Now that I’ve pointed out my own folly, let’s talk about the concert itself. It was… pretty good. The musicians, members of a highly respected orchestra, were of course talented and played well. I commend them for volunteering to perform outreach such as this, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear if they don’t receive any additional compensation for doing it. However, I wish to register some complaints, not to lambast the NJSO or these musicians in particular, but as a means of pointing out what I understand to be a common phenomenon: the phoned-in concert.

Item 1. The highlight was a snippet of Isaac Stern’s fancy violin solos from Fiddler on the Roof; the rest of the programming was very safe, gentle, and of the love song persuasion. Take the three selections from West Side Story: “I Feel Pretty,” “Maria,” and “One Hand, One Heart” (I think; I tend to mentally wander off whenever love songs happen). All extremely unchallenging, you know? How about a fiery rendition of “America”? How about the tense, jazzy “Cool”? An even keel can get boring, guys. Change it up a little.

Item 2. The group was a trifle unprepared. On two separate occasions, the cellist – who, it should be pointed out, was the best of the bunch – could not find his music and once had to run backstage to get it. The violinist forgot to turn off his cell phone. They both played these things off charmingly and it made for some laughs, but this sort of thing wouldn’t go down in a concert hall.

Item 3. Riffing off the unprepared thing, there were some intonation problems, especially in the violinist, as well as some general group issues. The aforementioned “I Feel Pretty” was particularly sloppy.

I discussed this with my mother, who is the Fount of Classical Knowledge in all things, and she noted that this was not an isolated incident. She then recounted seeing a well-regarded cellist perform a Shostakovich piece at a small, outreach-style concert, and commenting to a music teacher friend that she was surprised how unpolished his performance was. “Oh, no,” replied the music teacher. “That’s normal. He probably barely practiced for it. They tend to phone that kind of thing in.”

Interesting. So. Here’s the big question: Why? Where’s the cut off? Not to rag on the NJSO, but let’s break it down with their example. Was it because they were performing simple little Broadway tunes, and pfffft, who cares about Broadway? Was it because they were performing in a library in central NJ, and pfffft, who cares about the hicks in central NJ?* Was it because it was free, and/or they performed for free? Did they not make the program themselves, recognize it as a bit boring, and therefore not feel the need to put in the practice time? Or maybe it was because they only found out about their performance yesterday and didn’t have time to sufficiently prepare even if they wanted to?

I’m sorry, NJSO. You guys were really good. I’m just saying: it was clear that you could have been much, much better. Not that it’s just you, anyway. And I’m wondering why. Anybody have thoughts on that, either as an audience member or a performer? When does one phone it in?

* Not to suggest that central NJ is full of hicks. I have lots of family in NJ! I’ll defend it! Except the jughandles, which are STUPID. What’s up with the jughandles, Jersey?

The Great White Concert Roundup

They won’t stop ’til they’re all stars on Broadway, apparently.

  • No Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert this week.
  • The National Symphony Orchestra, however, offers two, both of the Broadway musical persuasion, and once again both at Wolf Trap. On August 3, the lauded Idina Menzel takes the mic to sing her favorite Broadway songs. Alternatively, on August 4, the orchestra will play the soundtrack live along to the full film of Bernstein‘s West Side Story.  [ See Idina! ] [ See West Side Story! ]
  • This week at Strathmore: a free outdoor concert tonight, a West African percussion and dance troupe for kids tomorrow. [ See the calendar! ]

Whose opinion is more valued than mine?

RHETORICAL QUESTION. But as a loyal reader, you totally want to know all about my picks from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming season, right? Especially since I, personally, found that you have to wade through an unexciting beginning. Don’t be put off – there’s a gold streak running all the way from January to June!

  • Alexander Nevsky (January 11 – 13) – Um, full Prokofiev score live, set to the film? Yes please.
  • Hairspray (January 24 – 27) GOOD MORNING BALTIMORE! A concert opera version narrated by – wait for it – none other than John Waters himself.
  • Pictures at an Exhibition (January 31 – February 2) – I said PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION. Why aren’t you buying your tickets right now?
  • Mozart’s Requiem (February 28; March 2 & 3) – Everyone knows I’m not Mozart’s greatest fan, but no one can deny theRequiem.
  • Mahler’s Titan (March 7 – 9) – Oh, Mahler, I love your “Titan” so. Nothing can take that away from us.
  • Saint-Saen’s Thundering Organ Symphony (March 14 & 17) – A friend recently informed me that this was the theme from Babe. My understanding of pop culture is weak; my love for this piece is strong.
  • Wagner: A Composer Fit for a King (April 19 & 20) – Neuschwannstein! Mad King Ludwig! Obsession! Insanity! Fun!
  • Time for Three (May 2 & 4) – I saw them premiere Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto Four-Three, and it was awesome. Let’s do it again.
  • Romeo and Juliet (May 23 – 25) – PROKOFIEV version. Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, I’m terribly sorry, but you’re going to have to clear out.
  • West Side Story (June 13 – 16) – Um, full Bernstein score live, set to the film? Yes please.

So those are my picks. Check out the concert calendar – anything striking your fancy?