A little New Year's wish for Baltimore's performing arts scene

No matter how many good, even great, things we have going on in dear old Baltimore, there is always room for improvement or expansion -- well, always room for hoping, at least.

So, this being the start of a new year when we are all supposed to focus on fresh ideas, I thought I would offer a suggestion that might give the local arts scene a boost: A city-wide festival.


It has been a little more than a decade since Baltimore witnessed a multi-genre, multi-organization festival. Maybe folks don't remember it, but I sure do -- Vivat! St. Petersburg, celebrating the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Russian city.

The venture, inspired by the Baltimore Symphony's music director at the time, Yuri Temirkanov, generated a terrific exploration of Russian music, art, film and more. Without that festival, Baltimore would never have experienced "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk," for example. That alone proved Vivat's value.


Significantly, this was the first time arts groups, large and small, had collaborated here. Nothing like it has been tried since. It's high time someone tried again.

Too late, I'm afraid, for the most obvious and potentially rewarding theme -- the 2014 centennial of World War I. Imagine how much fascinating music, theater, art and more could fill Baltimore for weeks, maybe months, to explore issues and responses to the War to End All Wars.

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"Silent Night," the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera by Peabody Conservatory faculty member Kevin Puts about the famous Christmas truce, would have been a great start.

The BSO could have built all sorts of programs around music written just before, during and right after the conflict -- not to mention present a showing of the stunning 1925 silent film "The Big Parade" while performing the great symphonic score composed for it by Carl Davis.

Theater companies could have presented relevant plays; maybe the touring production of "War Horse" heading to the Hippodrome this winter could have been worked into a festival instead.

There could have been art exhibits of the period, along with contemporary works that address similar ideas and emotions. Also easy to envision a Baltimore-centric display of historical artifacts reflecting how this city was affected during and after the war (a soldier from Baltimore was, according to news accounts of the day, the last casualty on the battlefield).

You get the point. An arts festival with a strong theme can lead to all sorts of cool, valuable activities that could attract the public's attention in fresh ways.

Baltimore already has a lot of festival-ready resources in terms of organizations and venues. We just need a bold leader to jump up with a magnetic idea, get the conversation going, and persuade a lot of people to rally around a common cause.


I'm not suggesting it would be easy. But it sure would be worth trying, don't you think?