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Festival Baltimore celebrates the County’s 'world-class' concert hall

Festival Baltimore celebrates the County’s 'world-class' concert hall
Pianist (and Festival Baltimore founder) Asiya Korepanova performing with Matthew Evan Taylor, Festival Baltimore’s composer-in-residence. (/ HANDOUT)

Pianist Asiya Korepanova doesn’t live in Baltimore County — she never has. But when the pianist came through the county in 2016 to perform in a chamber concert with cellist Gita Ladd, she knew she had to keep coming back.

The reason? Linehan Hall, a new theater on the campus of UMBC. The space had opened in the fall of 2014, meant to serve a variety of performing arts and humanities disciplines.

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The hall “blew me away,” Korepanova said. “It’s like a smaller copy of Strathmore [the music center in Bethesda where the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has a residency]. Four hundred seats, glorious acoustics, beautiful instruments. It’s a world-class hall surrounded by the forest.” (In fact, Linehan seats a maximum of 375 people.)

The resemblance to Strathmore is no accident: The architectural firm William Rawn Associates designed both.

Korepanova needed a reason to return. So she created Festival Baltimore, a two-week annual chamber music festival with Linehan Hall as its home base.

Now in its third year, the festival kicks off June 15 with a reenactment of the 1837 “duel” between pianist-composers Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg, both technical virtuosos of their day. Korepanova will take up the role of Liszt, while British pianist Mark Viner will represent Thalberg.

Viner, said Korepanova, “is a very niche performer. He’s well known for extensively recording music by 19th century composers such as Thalberg, [who] we think of as secondary in terms of compositional value, but primary in pianist brilliance.”

The rest of the program reflects Korepanova’s commitment to deep dives into particular bodies of work. Over two days, listeners will have the opportunity to hear Paul Hindemith’s viola sonatas in their entirety; another program offers more viola sonatas by Felix Mendelssohn, Darius Milhaud and Bohuslav Martinů.

Korepanova said she is “generally gluttonous about music. When I work on something by a particular composer, I like to investigate and know all the pieces of the same genre, all these things that can help form your interpretation.”

At the same time, her comprehensive programming is intended as pushback against short, easily digestible concerts. “I struggle because I notice concert programs shrinking. But if you tell people that you’re going to walk in and hear everything this composer wrote in his lifetime in this particular genre, this creates curiosity and willingness to commit for a longer period of time.”

Like Korepanova, many of the festival’s performers are internationally regarded musicians who are traveling to Baltimore to take advantage of Linehan’s space. However, Baltimore’s own musicians will be represented, notably by bass-baritone Carl DuPont, who is slated to join the faculty of the Peabody Institute in the fall.

DuPont will present a recital of art songs, spirituals and gospels by both female and male black composers on June 26. DuPont recently released this program on Albany Records under the title “The Reaction”; the title piece was written by Matthew Evan Taylor, who also serves as Festival Baltimore’s composer-in-residence.

Festival Baltimore is a partnership with another organization of Korepanova’s, Music for Minds, Inc., whose mission is to present classical music of the highest level to children. In that spirit, all of Festival Baltimore’s concerts are free to attendees 18 years old and under, and Korepanova mentioned that free passes are available to adults who bring several children.

Korepanova believes that first-time listeners will become repeat attendees — not just for the music, but the space itself. “I really believe in this destination,” she said. “People need to know about [Linehan Hall] as one of the main destinations in Baltimore.”

Elizabeth Nonemaker covers classical music for the Baltimore Sun as a freelance writer. Classical music coverage at The Sun is supported in part by a grant from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The Sun makes all editorial decisions.

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