Baltimore Symphony's summer season to include music of Zappa, Glass, Gershwin

For years, the Baltimore Symphony has struggled to find a lasting formula for its summer season. How much classical or light classical? How much pop or rock? Some summers tilt decidedly in on direction, others bend back and forth. The 2010 lineup suggests a fairly even compromise, with a real surprise or two in the mix.

How's this for starters: Marin Alsop conducting the BSO in a program that celebrates two Baltimore-born music legends, Philip Glass and Frank Zappa, and features Baltimore's super-cool beatboxer Shodekeh in what promises to be a unique collaboration with orchestra.

This event, July 23 at the Meyerhoff, will include performances of Glass' "Heroes" Symphony (inspired by a David Bowie album) and Zappa's "Be-Bop Tango," "Dupreeā€™s Paradise" and "Dog Breath Variations." Now that's my kind of summer entertainment. Heck, I'd take it any time of the year.

Alsop will also be on the podium July 22 at Meyerhoff in a welcome make-up date for the sold-out, all-Gershwin program that got canceled in February by the Snow That Ate Baltimore.

Although some adjustments had to be made for the "Porgy and Bess" selections -- the Heritage Signature

Chorale from Washington will step in for the Morgan State Choir -- we'll still get to hear sopranos Indira Mahajan and Alison Buchanan and bass-baritone Derrick Parker, who were among the originally scheduled soloists. This concert ought to take the mind off the humidity.

Another crowd-pleaser is likely to be

a concert version of the BBC/Discovery Channel documentary, "Planet Earth Live." Presented July 8 at Strathmore and July 9 at Meyerhoff, the concert, conducted by composer George Fenton, will include hi-def projections of nature in all its glory.

For the more traditional classical fans, there's an all-Tchaikovsky program led by Christian Colberg, the BSO's assistant principal violist, who has been doing more and more conducting lately. The soloists will be two 15-year-olds making their BSO debuts (hey, you've got to save a little money where you can -- and audiences love promising young talent): Sirena Huang for the Violin Concerto and Conrad Tao for the Piano Concerto No. 1. The dates are July 10 at Meyerhoff, July 17 at Strathmore.

Back on the pop side, Brent Havens conducts a Michael Jackson tribute July 15 at Meyerhoff with some vocalists being described as "Jackson-esque." Havens will also lead the BSO July 16 at Pier Six in tribute to The Eagles, complete with a rock band. And there will be a few events at Oregon Ridge to round off the summer package -- a July Fourth celebration (on the 3rd and 4th) with Baltimore Orioles veteran Rick Dempsey as host and conducted by Donald Pippin; and a Broadway program July 24 conducted by Randall Craig Fleischer.

It's intresting to see that the BSO has scaled back Strathmore this summer to just two performances. Apparently, getting the right off-season mix there has been even trickier than in Baltimore. 

As for the 2010 programming, the cool stuff easily stands out, but so does the lack of an overall theme or philosophy. Personally, I still wish there could be room for something, well, classier during the summer -- maybe a series celebrating the kinds of pieces that first draw people to classical music, but usually are heard now only on the radio; a fresh approach to the  "Mostly Some Composer or Other" format that allows for fun as well as focus; even a daring dash of new music, a la Alsop's Cabrillo Festival. It could also help to have a regular, audience-friendly summer season conductor, as was tried in years past.

Still, all things considered, the BSO's 2010 lineup certainly has its attractions, and it's especially encouraging to see Alsop being a part of it -- this will mark her first summer appearances as music director of the orchestra (she led an Oregon Ridge program in 2007 as music driector designate). The more she gets to experience the July scene here, the more likely she'll help find a really hot approach to a BSO summer season.    


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