BWW Reviews: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 2012 Concert a Huge Success

I had an extra ticket to the recent Preview Concert given by Maestra Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  They were to present excerpts from some of the pieces of the upcoming season.

After I noticed the SRO sign by the box office, I wanted to give the ticket to a young student looking for a ticket and I found one. Boy, did I find one.

He is Yanbin Chen, a trumpet player from Shanghai China who attends the Peabody Conservatory of Music.  He's not just a trumpet player.  He plays First Trumpet in the Peabody Conservatory Orchestra and happens to take lessons from the First Trumpet player of the Baltimore Symphony, Andrew Balio.  (There's a huge poster of him right outside the front of the Meyerhoff.)  What a coincidence!

Maestra Alsop infused the evening with humor using a microphone to inform concert goers about each work she would be playing and thanking  the audience for their continued loyalty while enticing new patrons to subscribe to the 96 year old BSO.  The orchestra was in their white tie and tails.

When introducing  selections from the"Symphonic Dances from West Side Story" suite, she mentioned the theme this season of music in the cinema.  She mentioned the importance of music in films while discussing the gorgeous Bernard Hermann score for Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" and mentioned that his classic "The Birds" had none.  I highly recommend a visit to New York's Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, which has a lovely exhibit on film music.  One sees a scene from a film with three different film scores and what a difference they make.

Bernstein's only film score was for "On the Waterfront" and the BSO played the overture last week-end.  The BSO will accompany Charlie Chaplin's film "Modern Times" May 10-12 (with a score by Chaplin). There's even a new Broadway musical that just opened called CHAPLIN. Another film being shown is "Alexander Nevsky" with a score by Prokofiev.

But what may very well be one of the highlights of the season will be the BSO accompanying the film "West Side Story" June 14-16, 2013. As a prelude to this big event, the BSO played a suite from the score which was truly breathtaking.  Normally, one hears a Broadway orchestra (usually under 20 instruments) in the orchestra pit.  Here, there is NO pit.  Just an orchestra of about 90 musicians.  It was a great piece for the percussion section to shine. And the solo Oboe and French Horn were lovely.  During "There's a Place for Us" you could hear a pin drop in the hall. And what an ovation Alsop received.  I was surprised she never mentioned she studied conducting with Bernstein at Tanglewood.

Another film the orchestra will be playing along with is "Fantasia". One of the highlights of that film is Paul Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice". The audience really enjoyed it. Thanks to my new friend Yanbin, I can tell you there was a great solo by David P. Coombs on Contrabassoon.  I closed my eyes and could visualize  Mickey Mouse with his broom trying to get rid of the flood. While Alsop recalled she first saw the film when she was seven at Radio City Music Hall, I was reminiscing  many years ago watching Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops playing the music on the Esplanade by the Charles River.

Alsop believes that contemporary composer Christopher Rouse one of the great American composers along with Bernstein, Copeland and John Adams. She selected a modern piece which featured only the BSO percussion section, "Ku-ka-llimaku", which was outstanding. Kudos to Christopher Williams, John Locke, Brian Prechtl, Karen Haringa, and Jack Brennan.  Many in the audience stood following the short 10 minute composition.  I wish I was one of the few in the box seats overlooking the percussion section to get a bird's eye view.

An interesting series the BSO has instituted is the "Off the Cuff" series where on four  Saturday nights, starting early (7 p.m.) with no intermission, Alsop dissects one piece of music and then performs it in its entirety.  I tried it last season and really enjoyed it. She then proceeded to present a taste of the "Off the Cuff" series playing the first movement of Beethoven's 5th symphony.  How many of you are humming, da da da daaaaa?

During intermission, members of the BSO, including Maestra Alsop, filtered into the lobby to talk with patrons.  I got the opportunity to meet Yanbin's teacher, Andrew Balio who is just delightful.  We had a lovely conversation and I learned he is writing a Broadway musical.  Hope to have more on that later.

The second half began with another American composer, John Adams. His "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" was thoroughly enjoyable.  Alsop swayed back and forth to the time kept by a wooden block. It is clear that she loved the five minute piece.

A piece by composer Richard Wagner was next. The BSO played his Liebestud from "Tristen and Isolde".  It was truly beautiful, incredibly moving.  The strings never sounded better.

Next was a bit of Rachmaninoff. Alsop conducted "Cinq Etudes-tableaux" (orchestrated by Respighi), which was commissioned by the other BSO, the Boston Symphony.  This gorgeous piece will be part of all Rachmaninoff evening featuring Garrick Ohlsson on the piano playing what is known as the Rach 3 (remember the movie "Shine"?) to be performed in January.

It was fitting the concert ended with the fourth movement of Mahler's Symphony #1 in D Major, "The Titan".  This piece was recorded by the BSO in September of 2008 and the CD is just being released. The audience responded with a terrific ovation.  The Maestra signed copies of the new CD following the concert. I highly recommend it.

I also want to mention some theater-related concerts coming to the Meyerhoff. Coming February 22-24 will be "The Best of Broadway with Ashley Brown" with Jack Everly conducting. Brown is the original Broadway MARY POPPINS.

The highlight of the season will be "Hairspray in Concert" January 25 to January 27, 2013 also under the baton of Jack Everly.  Narrating the evening will be the one and only John Waters!!

Starring as soloists will be Micky Dolenz, yes, THAT Micky Dolenz  from "The Monkees", playing the role of Wilbur Turnblad. Tony winner for DROWSY CHAPERONE, Beth Level, will play Velma Von Tussle, they'll be two former members of the Broadway cast Paul Vogt (Edna) and Marissa Perry (Tracy), and straight from PORGY AND BESS on Broadway, NaTasha Yvette Williams, will play Motormouth Maybelle.  Get your tickets soon for this one.

For subscriptions, call 410-783-8000 or visit

A new restaurant has opened across the street from the Meyerhoff, "Aladdin Kabob" at 58 Biddle Street. It features a nice variety of items from Kabob specials, curry dishes, Indian items to pizza to chicken wings. Visit or call 443-708-1112.

             Maestra Alsop Discusses Bernstein's "Kaddish" at the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center

On September 19, 2012, the Maestra took time from her busy schedule to take part in a discussion of Leonard Bernstein's "Kaddish" with Chazzan Emanuel Perlman of Chizuk Amuno Congregation. Over two hundred attended an interesting discussion of the piece and learned a little about Alsop's relationship with the composer.

Part of the BSO's American Music Festival, the performances of "Kaddish" were intentionally scheduled to coincide with the Jewish High Holidays. Perlman mentioned that the prayer, used when one is in mourning, never mentions God or death, nor is it mentioned in the Bible.

Perlman had a list of questions for the Maestra. But before she gave him a chance to start, she related her love for Bernstein began when her parents took her when she was nine to Lincoln Center for one of his famous "Young People's Concerts" televised on CBS. She was so enamored that she told her father that she wanted to be a conductor.  She had two posters in the bedroom, one of the Beatles and one of Bernstein.  "He was my first crush", she added.

She continued that the first time she met him was when she was a Conducting Fellow with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood.  He gave her lessons just three years before he died.  She also traveled with him to Japan.

Alsop stated that music is the voice of the human soul.  She played excerpts of the work and one could see her imagining she was conducting. She finds it transformative. Bernstein she added finished the work after the assassination of President Kennedy and it was premiered at the Kennedy Center. 

When asked if "Kaddish" connected with other religions, she quickly said yes.  She commented, "All of his music has religious underpinnings.  "Chichester Psalms" was written for a Cathedral in England and sung in Hebrew. Even his "Mass" has many lyrics in Hebrew."

It was interesting to hear that Bernstein had thought of changing his name because of his experience with prejudice, but he refused.  She added, "He brought a humanity to his music."

She was pleased to announce that two of Bernstein's children, Jamie and Alex, will be in attendance for the concerts Sept. 28-30.  Also performing with the BSO will be the Washington Chorus, the Maryland State Boys Choir, soprano Kelley Massif, and narrator, actress Claire Bloom.

"Kaddish" will be performed Friday night Sept. 28 and Sunday afternoon Sept. 30 at the Meyerhoff and Saturday night, Sept. 29 at Strathmore Hall in Rockville,  MD.

Photos: Yanbin Chen with Andrew Balio
            Yanbin Chen with Balio poster

             Cantor Perlman with Maestra Alsop

             Grammy winner Tony Prendatt, Maestra Alsop, and Cantor Perlman

Photo Credit: Charles Shubow

               BSO Offers Open Rehearsal as part of Free Fall Baltimore 2012

Here's your chance to attend a free Open Rehearsal of the BSO to be held on Friday, October 19 at 10 a.m. at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.  Audience members can obseved the interaction between conductor Juanjo Mena, pianist Benedetto Lupo and the the BSO musicians as they perform Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3, and Dvorak's Selections from Slavonic Dances, Op. 72.

To reserve free passes, visit and complete the electronic form.

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From This Author Charles Shubow

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