Musically speaking, the new year is off to a good news/bad news start.
The bad news first. A most promising addition to the calendar was to have been a presentation of all 16 Beethoven string quartets over the course of six concerts performed by the top-drawer Takacs Quartet. The cycle, which was to have started next week at the Beth El Congregation and would have wrapped up there on Feb. 1, was canceled yesterday because of poor ticket sales.
"It's frustrating - very frustrating," said Bill Nerenberg, who organized the concerts. "Here we are offering the very best music, and we can't get the public to purchase tickets."
Nerenberg, director of Peabody Presents and the biennial New Chamber Festival Baltimore and former director of the Shriver Hall Concert Series, said there was only a "glimmer" of hope for rescheduling the event in the future.
On Sunday, the Takacs Quartet started a Beethoven cycle before a sold-out house at Alice Tully Hall in New York's Lincoln Center. The ensemble had planned to travel to Baltimore in between the New York dates to perform the same programs. Sluggish response to brochure mailings and other marketing efforts made the venture financially untenable, Nerenberg said.
For those who did buy tickets, call 410-783-8570 for refunds.
The cancellation is just one more reminder that Baltimore's classical-music-loving population is not a sure bet for any presenter. From the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Baltimore Opera Company to the many smaller-scale organizations on the scene, stories of lagging ticket sales can be heard. It's a discouraging refrain.
Meanwhile, for a taste of what we'll be missing at Beth El, check out the final installment, released today, of the Takacs Quartet's recording of all the Beethoven quartets. This three-disc set from Decca is devoted to the late quartets, Op. 95, 127, 130-133 and 135.
The technical polish and totally cohesive inter-communication would alone make the recordings worth owning, as with the earlier releases in the set. But this is not merely a case of superior playing. These artists have lived with Beethoven's world-opening music for a long time, an intimacy reflected every step of the way in their penetrating interpretations.
Although there are other notable recordings of the quartets, those by the Takacs foursome deserve to be ranked among the very best. Too bad we couldn't have had a live encounter with all that insight.
On to some good news.
Pro Musica Rara, which has sung its share of the poor-ticket-sales blues in recent years, continues to put up a good fight for the valuable art of performing music on period instruments. Some folks wait anxiously for Super Bowl Sunday every year; Pro Musica fans look forward to the organization's annual SuperBach Sunday.
This year's lineup will focus on baroque giants Bach and Handel. The former will be represented by his Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 and cantata Ich habe genug. The Handel selections include arias and a concerto grosso.
Guest artists joining Pro Musica director/cellist Allen Whear and the ensemble include soprano Ann Monoyios, a frequent collaborator with John Eliot Gardiner and other leading period-instrument specialists.
SuperBach Sunday will be presented at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Towson Presbyterian Church, 400 W. Chesapeake Ave. Tickets are $25. Call 410-728-2820.
An die Musik, the classical and jazz CD retailer, continues to develop its sideline of concert presentation (ups and downs at the box office haven't dented the operation). In association with the French Embassy in Washington, a French baroque concert series begun last season will move to the elegant ballroom of the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion (Engineers Club) on Mount Vernon Place.
The first concert features the Le Trio Hantai - brothers Jerome (viola da gamba), Marc (flute) and Pierre (harpsichord) - and violinist Ryo Terakado in an all-Rameau program at 2 p.m. Jan. 23. Le Poeme Harmonique will perform March 13, the Limoges Baroque Ensemble on April 24.
An optional brunch is available. For ticket information, call 410-385-2638.
The Chamber Chorus of the Baltimore Choral Society, led by Tom Hall, will give a concert at Catonsville Presbyterian Church dedicated to the memory of Ed Roberts, the late, longtime organist there and founding member of the church's concert series. The performance will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at the church, 1400 Frederick Road. For more information, call 410-747-6180.
Anyone who has heard tenor David Smith's stylish solos with the Concert Artists of Baltimore in recent seasons will not be surprised to learn that he is making waves in the wider music world.
Smith, a voice teacher and head of choral activities at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, won the $5,000 top prize in the Liederkranz Foundation's competition for emerging Wagner singers last Saturday in New York. As part of the prize, he will sing at Carnegie Hall's recital room April 30. "I only switched to heroic tenor repertoire last year," Smith said yesterday. "I try to sing it as lyrically as I can."