Enjoying city's total immersion in Russian


Admit it. The tidal wave of Russian music over the past two and a half weeks during Vivat! St. Petersburg has actually been very enjoyable, hasn't it? Everywhere you turned, something Russian was being performed, and, more importantly, performed with expressive commitment. And it certainly was fun to see so many organizations getting into the act - and the spirit. Any time arts groups come together for a common cause, it's a good thing. Yuri Temirkanov, who initiated the citywide Vivat!, deserves not just credit, but thanks.

Last weekend marked the official end of Vivat!, though our Russian winter isn't over yet - two concerts tomorrow night keep the mood going.

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra presents a Vivat!-related event that had to be postponed because of the snow. Led by Anne Harrigan, the program includes Stravinsky's Pulcinella and Tchaikovsky's absurdly under-appreciated Mozartiana. The concert is at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium. For tickets, call 410-426-0157.

And the Peabody Institute offers an all-Russian chamber music concert at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow on the exact anniversary of Prokofiev's death 50 years ago. Assembled by Michael Kannen, the program features several notable chamber players in works by Tchaikovsky, Arensky, Shostakovich and, of course, Prokofiev. Admission is free. For more information, call 410-659-8100, Ext. 2.

As for last weekend's Vivat! finale, the Peabody Symphony Orchestra, its conductor and piano soloist were in potent form Saturday night; so was the St. Petersburg String Quartet, which, appropriately, had the last bow Sunday night.

Leon Fleisher brought a sense of authority and passion to the Peabody podium on Saturday at Friedberg Hall. As a superior keyboard artist himself, he was a model collaborator in Prokofiev's alternately brash and brooding Piano Concerto No. 1 with Alexander Shtarkman, the multiple-prizewinning pianist who joined the conservatory's faculty last fall. Despite having to contend with a key on the piano that got knocked out of commission during the first movement, Shtarkman's pianism was technically spectacular and interpretively incisive. Peabody is very lucky to have him.

There was poised, involved playing from the student musicians throughout the concerto and Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain, but their most remarkable showing came in Rachmaninoff's super-lyrical Symphony No. 2. The strings produced quite a warm, sturdy sound; the brass and woodwinds did colorful, mostly smooth work. (I've heard my share of supposedly professional orchestras that couldn't match the results heard here.) Fleisher's beautifully judged tempos and dynamic phrasing paid off handsomely, giving the performance a hypnotic sweep.

The St. Petersburg ensemble, which started out as the Leningrad String Quartet in 1985, ranks among the best chamber groups on the current scene. Sunday's performance for the Shriver Hall Concert Series demonstrated why. Tightly matched in tone and temperament, the players did not just delve into the notes of scores by Borodin, Shostakovich and Zurab Nadarejshvili, but into the poetic worlds lying behind each.

Borodin's Quartet No. 2, with its shimmering lyricism, received an exquisite account, relaxed in pace and imbued with rhythmic flexibility. There was plenty of tension in the performance of Shostakovich's compact Quartet No. 9, which packs just about all of his emotions, positive and negative, into a single, unbroken train of thought. The music seemed to fly by, each change of mood and coloring superbly delineated.

The Quartet No. 1 by Nadarejshvili, a contemporary composer from the Republic of Georgia, is largely in the mystical, time-slowing vein common to several others writing in Russia, Eastern Europe and England. This example is very personal and makes its greatest effects more through contemplation than outward gestures; even the device of rhythmic tapping on the instruments (in the second movement) is employed in an exceptionally subtle, internal manner. The St. Petersburg musicians gave the piece a mesmerizing performance.

Opera options

For those of you looking for a complete contrast from Russian music, especially those still in a state of shock after the Baltimore Opera Company's production of Lady Macbeth of Mtsesnk, you're in luck.

You couldn't get much more of a contrast than Monteverdi's Orfeo from 1607. This treatment of the Orpheus and Euridice myth is just about the earliest known opera - and one of the first great operas - that still gets performed. With one stylistic foot in the Renaissance, the other in the Baroque, it's an extraordinary creation.

Members of the Peabody Chamber Opera, including Ryan de Ryke in the title role, will be directed by Roger Brunyate and conducted by Web Wiggins (with an orchestra of original instruments). Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Baltimore Museum of Art. For tickets, call 410-659-8100, Ext. 2.

For another decidedly non-Russian opera, there's Mozart's La finta giardiniera, presented by Opera Vivente. A complicated plot of love, hatred and disguises, the early masterwork reveals the 19-year-old composer's already flowering genius for melody and orchestration.

The cast includes Vikki Ann Jones, Jennifer Blades and William Heim. John Bowen directs, Aaron Sherber conducts. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. March 21, 27 and 29, 2 p.m. March 23 at Emmanuel Episcopal Church. For tickets, call 410-547-7997.

And still in the non-Russian mode, there's Verdi's La Traviata, the tuneful, tragic tale of a golden-hearted courtesan. It will be presented by the Annapolis Opera. Ronald Gretz conducts a cast headed by Yali-Marie Williams and Eric Fennell at 8 p.m. March 21, 3 p.m. March 23 at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. Call 410-267-8135.


Last week, in my article about the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 2003-2004 season, I inadvertently switched conductors of two programs on the Symphony With a Twist series. Marin Alsop will lead the Adams/Daugherty/Barber program; David Alan Miller will lead the Torke/Gould/Levin/Thomson bill.

Also in that article, I quoted music director Yuri Temirkanov saying that a new violin concerto was being written for sensational Russian violinist Vadim Repin and tentatively slated for the 2004-2005 season. The concerto was erroneously attributed to Dave Brubeck; it will be written by American composer Daniel Brewbaker, whose Blue Fire was played by the BSO last fall. Sorry about the confusion.

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