A warm and appreciative audience was treated to a pleasing night of Americana at Strathmore on Friday as Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, along with baritone William Sharp, presented an “Off the Cuff” performance of Copland favorites, including Appalachian Spring and Old American Songs.
Marin Alsop has the perfect skill sets and personality for an “Off the Cuff” concert format. While many conductors are not comfortable speaking to or taking questions from an audience, she is, but perhaps more importantly, she genuinely enjoys sharing her insights and discoveries about music, musicians, and music history in a way that never comes off as condescending. Although she is without question a world class conductor and certainly knows her stuff, she is perfectly willing to participate in the experience of these concerts as a favorite sister, friend, aunt, or dinner guest who simply knows and shares a great story for all to enjoy, regardless of personal musical abilities or knowledge.
The concert opened with a humorous and interesting introduction to Aaron Copland, as well as a musical overview and discussion of the eight movement work Appalachian Spring. The audience laughed as it was shared that Copland actually attempted to learn composition via a correspondence course before heading off to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and found it amusing to discover that the composer appreciated for his ability to communicate and express the simple values of everyday people living life in the vastness that is America was in fact very much a city boy who had virtually no first-hand knowledge of the America that existed west of NYC.
Despite being frequently heard, the Baltimore Symphony performance of “Appalachian Spring” was pleasantly fresh, in part because it was being heard with a new and deeper understanding of its composer, and in part because the musical scenes unfolded particularly well phrased and led with clear direction by Alsop.
Baritone William Sharp’s rendition of “Simple Gifts” was quite simply beautiful, with his personality and delivery well suited to the fun and engagingly folksy Old American Songs that comprised the second half of the program. The BSO and Alsop are to be commended for balancing their sound with Sharp’s voice, especially in a venue the size of Strathmore. The audience particularly enjoyed singing along with Sharp and the orchestra on “I Bought Me a Cat” and energetically took their cues from Alsop when called upon to participate as ducks, cows, goats, and pigs, a task that required much more enthusiasm of them than musical talent.
The evening concluded with Alsop and Sharp returning to the stage for an open-ended Q&A, and the majority of the near full-house audience stayed to take advantage of the opportunity. As is often the case, a number of individuals expressed concern having to do with growing young audiences. Children have birthdays every year, and the holidays are upon us. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to share live music and precious time with the special children in our lives.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Check out upcoming Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Concerts at Strathmore and the Meyehoff using this handy Season at a Glance Calendar. Tickets may be purchased online at BSO.org, by calling the BSO Box Office at (410) 783-8000, or by calling the Strathmore Box Office ( 301) 581-5100
The Music Center at Strathmore
5301 Tuckerman Lane
North Bethesda, MD 20852 Baltimore, MD 21201
Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
1212 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Watch a sneak preview of BSO’s 2011-2012 season.
Listen to William Sharp, baritone, in the title role, with Opera Lafayette Orchestra, Ryan Brown, conductor (NAXOS MONSIGNY: Le Déserteur 8.660263-64).
Marin Alsop’s website.