David Zinman calls tonight's "Discovery Concert" at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, "attractive for all kinds of listeners."
He may be forgiven for being prejudiced. The "Discovery Concerts," which Zinman founded several years ago, may be the Baltimore Symphony music director's favorite event. He not only gets to perform 20th-century music in an informal, intimate setting (the audience sits casually in the hall's lobby), but gets to work with a small number of players and perform for unusually young audiences (tickets are only $6). He also has the opportunity to do two things he loves -- try out new jokes and talk about music to interested people.
Tonight's program features "Chantefleurs et Chantefables" ("Songs of Flowers and Songs of Fables") by Witold Lutoslawski, considered Poland's greatest living composer; "Boston Fancies" by Steven Stucky, a young American whose "Son et Lumiere" was a big hit at one of the BSO's regular subscription concerts a few seasons back; the Chamber Symphony of John Adams, whose "Nixon in China" and "Klinghoffer" have made him the major American voice of post-minimalism; and "The Perfect Stranger" by Frank Zappa, who died last week of cancer at the age of 52.
Zappa was best known as a rock musician who took his doo-wop and rhythm and blues influences to zany extremes in such albums as "Freak Out," "Burnt Weenie Sandwich," "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" and "Hot Rats."
"Just his titles and his wigged-out program notes entitle him to a place in the anarchists' hall of fame," Zinman says.
"But he was also a serious composer, whose music is interesting and challenging to play."
Zappa was a great admirer of Edgard Varese (1883-1965), the French-born avant-gardist whose experiments with new instruments, timbres and percussive motifs influenced his work in "The Perfect Stranger."
"It's his homage to Varese," Zinman says.
"It features three percussion players with mallet instruments and musicians placed far enough apart so that there's a kind of stereophonic effect from the winds and strings."
On the program's second half tonight with the Zappa piece is Adams'"Chamber Symphony," also conceived as an homage to a work by one of the century's avant-garde giants -- the "Chamber Symphony" of Arnold Schoenberg. The Zappa and the Adams share an off-the-wall quality, Zinman says.
"Adams was studying the Schoenberg on Saturday mornings when his son, Sam, was watching Warner Bros. cartoons on TV," he says. "As Schoenberg's ideas were in his head, the music of 'Road Runner' cartoons was in his ears. The music bops along like crazy."
The conductor describes the Lutoslawski song cycle, which will be sung by soprano Valdine Anderson, as "children's poems about flowers and animals that are beautiful and subtle."
Stucky's "Boston Fancies" Zinman describes as alternating fast and slow sections in which the latter cast an almost hallucinatory spell.
"It should be a beautiful concert," the conductor says, "with a jazzy second half and a very lyrical and beautiful first half."
What: David Zinman conducts Zappa, Lutoslawski, Adams and Stucky
Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.
When: 8:15 tonight
Call: (410) 783-8000 or (800) 442-1198