BWW Reviews: Baltimore Symphony's 'Off the Cuff': Dvorak's New World Symphony
What an evening it was with Maestra Marin Alsop conducting the Baltimore Symphony's rendition of Dvorak's popular New World Symphony, his 9th, as part of her "Off the Cuff" series. What is "Off the Cuff". Four times a season, the BSO starts one hour early, at 7 p.m. (to allow dinner after the concert). Prior to the performance of one piece of music in its entirety, Alsop takes a microphone and addresses the audience about the music with hints of coming attractions, using the BSO's musicians to give a sneek peak of what's to come and explaining what a composer has in mind. It is thoroughly enjoyable.
Accompanying the BSO was the incredible Morgan State University Choir under Dr. Eric Conway, Director.
Part of the beauty of the work's second movement, "Largo" is a goreous theme played by Jane Marvine on the English Horn. Alsop mentioned it's beauty and simplicity celebrated an American tradition. The theme later became the spiritual "Goin' Home". The Choir sang beautifully. Prior to this, they sang the American Spiritual "Steal Away". Both received great ovations. One problem I noticed was the Choir's conductor was placed in the rear of the orchestra and deserved a spot light.
Alsop mentioned that Dvorak was one of six children with a modest background. He was born in Prague in 1841. His father was a butcher, innkeeper and played the zither. At the age of thirteen, he was sent to live with a music teacher and learned the organ and viola. At the age of 30, he was conducting the Bohemia Theatre Orchestra playing a lot of Wagner. He was always composing and he entered a competition with 15 works he submitted which included two symphonies, an overture, and song cycles. He won first prize and Brahms became his biggest fan. He shared a love of folk music with Brahms. Dvorak's works have included folk dances that were Czech, Polish, Moravian, and Slavonic.
Before Dvorak published his 9th Symphony, he had Brahms proof read it. He had success in London and Russia. He refused to Germanize his name and was shunned by the Vienna Philharmonic. Alsop then mentioned, this orchestra todau is still not that tolerant since they only have five females.
Dvorak came to America at the invitation of Jeanette Thurber to head a music conservatory in New York which later became the Julliard School. She wanted a conservatory for everyone. Alsop discussed how she envisioned Dvorak on the ship to America when the French Horns were playing.