Economy season still promises plenty of excitement


If last year was a musical party -- four major Baltimore musical institutions celebrated major anniversaries -- this season is the morning after.

No one is suffering from a hangover -- there are no severe financial problems -- but the economy is down, expenses are up and things seem a little gray. The Baltimore Opera Company has cut back from four productions to three; the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra doesn't have soloists quite as glittering as in previous years; and the Shriver Hall series also seems a bit less ambitious.

But if it's going to be a beer rather than a champagne year, the musical brew still promises to be a fairly lively one.

The BSO and music director David Zinman's recording plans for the Argo label mean that audiences will be hearing a good deal of Samuel Barber -- a little more than 70 minutes' worth, or exactly the amount that fits on a single compact disc. The season's opening concerts (Sept. 12-14) will serve up the composer's Second Essay for Orchestra and the Music for a Scene from Shelley; Sept. 26 and 27 will bring his First Essay for Orchestra and Symphony No. 1; and the concerts of Sept. 20-22 will program the Overture to "The School for Scandal" and the Adagio for Strings.

Zinman has always championed new music and this season will be no exception. Among the new pieces on Zinman's programs is Baltimore-born composer Christopher Rouse's "Karolju," which will receive its world premiere Nov. 7-8. New to Baltimore and almost unheard in the United States will be the Viola Concerto of Alfred Schnittke (Feb. 13-14), who is the most important Russian composer since Shostakovich and whose music combines adventurousness with down-to-the-bone feeling.

Other interesting living composers on BSO programs are Robert Beaser (whose "Song of the Bells" for Flute and Orchestra will be performed with soloist James Galway April 15-16), Jacob Druckman (whose "Brangle" will be performed June 4-5) and Roberto Sierra (whose "Sasima" will be played Jan. 9-11).

No longer living but certainly one of the most important American composers of the century was Leonard Bernstein, to whose music Zinman will devote an entire program (April 23-26) in his debut in the BSO's pop series.

Aside from Galway, the most famous soloist on BSO classical programs will be pianist Andre Watts, who plays the Brahms B-flat Concerto Oct. 17-18. But piano aficionados will particularly anticipate the Mozart performances (Feb. 27-28) of Mitsuko Uchida, whose interpretations of that composer are so pure and so passionate, and the performances of the Rachmaninov Third Concerto (Jan. 9-11) by Russian emigre Alexander Toradze, whose playing is all fire and ice.

One of the guest conductors to listen for is Mariss Jansons (March 26-27), a Russian in his early 40s; some of his recordings -- particularly his Tchaikovsky cycle on the Chandos label -- have been mightily impressive. Others are Peter Maag (Jan. 17-19), an important Swiss conductor now in his 60s who has long been undervalued; and Gunther Herbig, the German-born music director of the Toronto Symphony who is a particular favorite of the BSO musicians (May 29-31).

Last year the Baltimore Opera Company was saved from the brink of extinction -- partly by generous donors but mostly by loyal audiences who responded in record numbers to the company's traditional fare in its hour of need. This season will be little different: Verdi's "Don Carlo," (Oct. 19, 23, 25, 27); Donizetti's "Daughter of the Regiment" (March 21, 25, 27, 29); and Mozart's "The Magic Flute" (April 25, 29, May 1, 3).

Expect the "Don Carlo" to be noteworthy: It will be designed and directed by the same Argentine team (Roberto Oswald and Anibal Lapis) responsible two seasons back for the BOC's sensational "Salome," and it will star the great Baltimore-born baritone James Morris in the role of King Philip of Spain.

Passing from opera -- music's grandest genre -- to recitals and chamber music -- its most intimate form -- the Shriver Hall Series opens this year with the popular Beaux Arts Trio (Oct. 5); other interesting concerts include recitals by the great American soprano Dawn Upshaw (Nov. 9); the young violinist Maria Bachman (Feb. 8); and the Emerson String Quartet (April 12).

Even more great chamber music can be heard at Howard County's Candlelight Concerts, which is easily among the finest chamber music series in the entire country. Several terrific quartets (the Arditti on Nov. 8, the Emerson on Jan. 25 and the Ridge on May 2), the wonderful pianist Richard Goode (Nov. 23) and the distinguished early-music group the Consort of Musicke, with the great British early-music soprano Emma Kirkby (Feb. 29), are just a few of the offerings.

And the Chamber Music Society has scheduled what looks like a most promising season at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Highlights are a Dec. 16 piano recital by Ursula Oppens that celebrates the birthdays of Beethoven and Elliot Carter and an April 5 concert by the Manhattan Quartet of music by Shostakovich and Beethoven.

But one of the most interesting concerts of the year will be the Nov. 17 piano recital at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation by Shura Cherkassky, the 80-year-old Russian musician who may be the last great representative of the pre-revolutionary style of Russian playing.

Choral music is never in short supply in this city, and this will be the season that the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and its music director Tom Hall complete their cycle of the six great Haydn Masses in Kraushaar Auditorium with a performance of the "Creation Mass" (Nov. 3). Other interesting concerts include a collaboration with the Annapolis Brass Quintet (March 14) and an April 12 performance of Handel's "Messiah" in the original 1742 version.

The Handel Choir of Baltimore and its music director, Herbert Dimmock, will perform Bach's St. John Passion April 5 in Kraushaar and a program of Bernstein, Copland and Elam Ray Sprenkle on May 17 at the Second Presbyterian Church on St. Paul Street in Baltimore.

One can usually expect fine choral performances from the Concert Artists of Baltimore and their music director, Edward Polochick. In Peabody's Friedberg Hall they will perform a Mozart program, which includes the Requiem, on Oct. 12 and music of Schubert and Rachmaninov on May 9.

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and conductor Anne Harrigan have become an ever more important part of the city's music community in recent years. Their concert on Oct. 16 in Kraushaar features the pianist Santiago Rodriguez -- who, though still relatively unknown, can be counted among this country's undisputed national keyboard treasures -- in what should be a scintillating performance of Franck's Symphonic Variations.

Devotees of early music rarely miss the concerts of Pro Musica Rara. One of its best concerts this year will take place Nov. 10 at the Cathedral Church of the Incarnation when Stephen Hammer, perhaps the world's finest practitioner on the Baroque oboe, joins PMR for a concert.

Last but not least, there's the Peabody Conservatory of Music, which will present no fewer than 63 public concerts this year. One of the most anticipated will be the debut of Hajime Teri Murai, the new music director of the Peabody Symphony, in a Sept. 28 program that includes Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 and Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer" with baritone Gordon Hawkins.

Other Peabody highlights include the Friedheim Memorial Concert on April 7, in which Leon Fleisher will conduct for his prize-winning piano student Brian Ganz. And no one interested in opera will want to miss Roger Brunyate's Peabody Opera Theatre productions of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" (Nov. 21-24) and of Henry Mollicone's new opera, "Hotel Eden" (March 12-14).

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