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BSO's second New Music Festival to offer another colorful mix of works by living composers

BSO's second New Music Festival to offer another colorful mix of works by living composers
Kevin Puts (David White)

With warm weather, many an orchestra slips into a mode of super-popular classics (Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” is a given) and other lighter fare. Although the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra certainly offers its share of this kind of programming — it will perform the soundtrack to a Harry Potter movie next month — there’s something meatier and more ambitious on tap, too.

For the second year in a row, the BSO New Music Festival will offer audiences an opportunity to dig into a rich assortment of works by living composers. The brain child of BSO music director Marin Alsop, the festival includes intimate-scaled events and a full orchestra concert.

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“The programs bring together composers from different cultures and backgrounds,” says BSO senior artistic planning manager Izabel Zambrzycki,“and music with stories to tell.”

Some of the “stories” being told, in one way or another, at the 2018 festival include:

— Osvaldo Golijov’s “Mariel,” a reflection on a friend’s death.

— James MacMillan’s “The Exorcism of Rio Sumpul,” composed in response to a frightening event in an El Salvador village; and “Woman of the Apocalypse,” inspired by art works related to the woman depicted in the Book of Revelation “clothed with the sun.”

— Dan Visconti’s “Low Country Haze,” an evocation of the sensory excitement of Hernando de Soto’s 1540 expedition to parts of what is now the American South.

Also on the festival lineup is the world premiere of the Oboe Concerto by Pulitzer Prize-winner and Peabody Institute faculty member Kevin Puts, written for BSO principal oboist Katherine Needleman.

This piece may not tell a story, but it has a very specific, polemical back story — the concerto represents what the composer describes as his “profound disillusionment” after the election of Donald Trump, which, Puts says, “revealed … a festering ugliness and fear-based hate across much of the country.”

As was the case with the inaugural New Music Festival in 2017, this year’s schedule features a full orchestra concert at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (pay what you wish) and a relatively small-scale program at Peabody ($15).

Once again there will also be a free “chamber jam” of musicians. The roster includes Shodekeh, OK Miss (a band formed by composer Du Yun, whose music will be featured at the other concerts), and the Baltimore new music ensemble Mind on Fire. This event will be held at Motor House.

Starting off the festival will be a free composer talk with Visconti at Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse. There’s a free, interactive children’s concert, too, featuring new percussion music.

The 2017 festival drew sizable, enthusiastic audiences, with about 1,700 turning up for the closing BSO concert, an impressive number for a new music program, even allowing for the free admission. Given the substance and variety of the 2018 festival, another strong response may result.

Will the BSO New Music Festival become an annual fixture?

“We will evaluate everything after this one,” says Tonya McBride Robles, the orchestra’s vice president and general manager. “But I can assure you our music director has plans for the future.”

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