Brian Stokes Mitchell Headlines Free Baltimore Symphony Concert
As many of you are aware, musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are being locked out while the BSO is referring to the work stoppage as a "strike".
As a way of gaining support, the musicians planned a free concert for September 14, 2019 along with Maestra Marin Alsop with the theme "Celebrate Baltimore, Community, And the Power of Music" at Baltimore's New Shiloh Baptist Church.
This special performance also included Tony-Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, acclaimed soparano Janice Chandler-Eteme (Baltimore's own), members of the Baltimore Choral Community, the Carter Legacy Singers, and the New Shiloh Gospel Rhythm Section.
Mitchell is best known for his award-winning performances on Broadway including KISS ME KATE, MAN OF LA MANCHA, RAGTIME, and KING HEDLEY II.
Chandler-Eteme remains among the most in-demand sopranos for Gershwin's PORGY AND BESS.
The setting in the church made the event both emotional and spiritual. The Church was filled to the brim with a diverse audience with both young and old. It was special to sit three rows and about five feet from the violin section which is so unusual.
Because we were so close to the orchestra, when the bass drum hit the first notes of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man", it resonated with me.
Dr. Harold A. Carter, Jr. gave greetings from the congregation and welcomed the audience to his modern house of worship which features four big television screens showing the musicians and the soloists and even boasts a lovely waterfall.
Alsop then presented the brilliant "Scherzo" from Beethoven's 9th Symphony. The orchestra was in fine shape.
City Council President Brandon Scott (who just announced his candidacy for Mayor of Baltimore) spoke of the importance of the BSO to the greater Baltimore community.
I was so pleased the first number sung my Mitchell was from THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT, THE SMELL OF THE CROWD by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. It opened on Broadway in 1965 and was the first Broadway show I ever saw. I loved it. Mitchell sang the strong ballad "Feeling Good" originally sung by the great Gilbert Price. He was just plain amazing!
The BSO then performed "I Dream A World" (based on the poem by Langston Hughes) using a great arrangement by BSO bassist Jonathan Jensen.
Chandler-Eterme sang her signature anthem "Summertime" from PORGY AND BESS by George Gershwin. It was gorgeous!
She was then joined on stage with Mitchell to sing 'Wheels of a Dream" from Ahrens and Flaherty's wonderful RAGTIME. The audience rose in unison to a tumultuous applause. I literally had tears.
The BSO then gave a wonderful rendition of John Williams' "Summon the Heroes" written for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Congressman Elijah E. Cummings gave a heart-warming video greeting.
Another Jonathan Jensen arrangement was the spiritual "Deep River".
Maestra Alsop then addressed the audience with a powerful talk about the importance of the BSO to the community and discussed her successful "Orch Kids" program for young Baltimore City school children.
Mitchell then sang another song from RAGTIME, the moving and poignant "Make Them Hear You". It was goose-bump city.
What is considered as the Black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was next. The audience rose to sing along.
BSO percussionist Brian Prechtl, co-chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians Playing Committee, then gave a short summary of the on-going negotiations and was optimistic a resolution would be forthcoming soon.
Alsop chose a moving finale, CANDIDE's "Make Our Garden Grow" by Leonard Bernstein. featuring a wonderful duet by Mitchell and Chandler-Eteme. The orchestra shined playing this powerful number and the audience showed its appreciation standing in unison.
The applause then led to a moving and rousing "HALLELUJAH" encore featuring the New Shiloh Gospel Rhythm Section with the BSO.
This was certainly one of the best concerts I have ever attended. I must mention every musician and Maestra Alsop performed for free. Both soloists came down from New York City for this event and they seemed so pleased they did. They were surrounded after the concert for photos and autographs. Alsop was mobbed after the concert and she posed for photographs.
At the moment, there is a free BSO concert scheduled for Saturday night September 21 at 8 p.m. at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in which the orchestra will preview the upcoming season. Here is hoping there will be one.
Photo: L. to R. Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Alsop, and Janice Chandler-Eteme.
Photo Credit: Charles Shubow