If you crave the opportunity to delve into the Classical Hit Parade, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is ready to oblige.
The BSO's annual Summer MusicFest will be devoted to extremely popular pieces, from Pachelbel's ubiquitous Canon and Mozart's endearing Eine kleine Nachtmusik to Tchaikovsky's evergreen Piano Concerto No. 1 and Beethoven's ever-monumental Symphony No. 9. The lineup suggests the playlist of many classical radio stations -- not an ear-challenge in the lot.
Given the up-and-down fortunes of this off-season enterprise, especially since the BSO inexplicably severed its ties to the energetic, imaginative and crowd-pleasing MusicFest artistic director Mario Venzago a few years ago, an attempt at box office-proof programming is hardly surprising. It should outdo the uneven music-and-wine packaging of the past two festivals.
The top-of-the-charts grazing starts with a baroque program July 6 at the Music Center at Strathmore -- July 7 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall -- led by the BSO's talented, personable, British-born associate conductor Andrew Constantine. Complementing that Pachelbel favorite will be Handel's Royal Fireworks Music and orchestrations by Leopold Stokowski and Edward Elgar of familiar Bach pieces, including Sheep May Safely Graze.
There's room, too, on the program for some Telemann, his Concerto for Two Violas, with BSO members Peter Minkler and Christian Colberg as soloists.
Giancarlo Guerrero, the Nicaraguan-born music director of the Eugene (Ore.) Symphony, will be on the podium July 13 (Strathmore) and 14 (Meyerhoff) for an all-Tchaikovsky bash that includes the Symphony No. 4. The Piano Concerto No. 1 will feature 18-year-old Russian pianist Natasha Paremski, winner of the 2006 Gilmore Young Artist Award.
A Mozart feast will be served up by the San Francisco Symphony's resident conductor, Edwin Outwater, on July 20 (Strathmore) and 21 (Meyerhoff). In addition to Eine kleine Nachtmusik, the BSO will play the Magic Flute Overture and Jupiter Symphony, as well as the Violin Concerto No. 3 with soloist Soovin Kim, winner of the Paganini International Violin Competition in 1996.
Summer MusicFest will close, as it did last season, with Beethoven's Ninth. The performances July 27 (Strathmore) and 28 (Meyerhoff) will be guided by British conductor Edward Gardner, music director designate of the English National Opera. The BSO will be joined by the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and vocal soloists yet to be announced.
Tickets for all concerts are $25 ($45 for box seats at Meyerhoff). For more information, call 410-783-8000, 877-276-1444 or visit baltimoresymphony.org.
BSO's operatic twist
The BSO's Symphony With a Twist series took an effective operatic turn last week. The variety of repertoire was unusually satisfying -- any program that includes the glorious Mira, o Norma duet from Bellini's Norma and love duet from Puccini's underrated La fanciulla del West automatically gets my vote -- and so was the caliber of the music-making.
Friday night's performance at Strathmore found David Alan Miller, music director of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, consistently effective, with one exception. His metronomic tempos took some magic out of the Norma duet; in days gone by, this music would be approached with considerable rhythmic elasticity.
Otherwise, Miller's conducting was full of character, sensitive to details large and small, and he had the BSO sounding as if it played opera all the time.
Some very responsive singers added to the event's success.
Soprano Emily Pulley made up for any occasional technical unevenness with vivid phrasing in arias from Cosi fan tutte and Tosca. Mezzo Lucille Beer, who went on despite illness, produced a velvety tone in "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Samson et Dalila. She and Pulley blended smoothly, for the most part, in the Norma excerpt.
Roger Honeywell's virile tenor rode the crests of the final scene from Bizet's Carmen impressively. He and Pulley tapped into the heart of the atmospheric Fanciulla duet, creating real characters without benefit of costumes or scenery. The two singers also did stylish work in the balcony scene from the Bernstein musical West Side Story, which, in this context, sounded like the great American opera.
Miller also drew from the BSO a flavorful account of the Dance of the Seven Veils from Strauss' Salome, but a chaste bit of choreography executed by Alice Wylie added zilch to the experience.
Ten short pieces by contemporary composers, including John Cage and Lou Harrison, will be matched to paintings by Peter Bruun as part of the Anonymous Requiem II exhibit of memorial works at the Creative Alliance.
The performance, featuring percussionist Tom Goldstein, the UMBC Percussion Ensemble and other musicians, is at 5 p.m. today at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave. For more information, call 410-276-1651 or visit creativealliance.org.