A Pre-Valentine Concert Treat at the Strathmore Music Center

As the covid pandemic persists, our usual rhythm of periodic ventures out to cultural events has slowed considerably. We bucked the trend last Saturday night, attending an inspiring concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) at the nearby Strathmore music center.

Andrea had the idea for it in the morning, and I promptly got online to order tickets. We’ve been fans of the BSO almost since moving to the Rockville area two decades ago. The Strathmore opened in 2005. It has an aesthetically magnificent concert hall, visually and acoustically. When the BSO began having regular concerts there, we started going often, especially after Maestra Marin Alsop became its Music Director and Chief Conductor in 2007.

Andrea and I are both ardent fans of classical music. I got hooked by listening to recordings of Beethoven symphonies in my Catholic boys’ high school’s music education class. I later became a regular at Buffalo Philharmonic concerts at the stately Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo. NY. Andrea’s Italian American family participated in a rich culture of live music in New Castle, PA, where learning to play an instrument was an important part of public education. Her Dad, a hard-working machinist, also sang professionally in local churches, and harbored aspirations of becoming an opera singer. Her brother was a first-rate trumpeter who went on to teach and play music as his career. Andrea played clarinet and oboe in high school and also became a talented keyboard musician in her days at Oberlin College. I also had picked up clarinet and alto sax as an adult. Andrea’s wedding gift to me was a new alto sax, and we had many fun times together playing arrangements for piano and sax.

A shared love for good music was an important ingredient in the glue that has held us together for 35 years. Attending concerts together has been a mainstay of our marriage for all of those years. So we both jumped at the opportunity to hear a live symphony orchestra last night — happy to comply with the required masking and showing of vaccination credentials.

The program last night was a lesser-known Beethoven symphony (#8) and a selection from Act 3 of Wagner’s opera “Die Walkure”. We arrived early after enjoying a delicious supper from the food bar at a Rockville Whole Foods. I’d splurged on orchestra seats, as much as to hear well as to support the BSO in the midst of the economic challenges of the pandemic. Being early, we had time to read the extensive program notes for the pieces being played.

James Conlon was the conductor and he did a masterful job bringing out the complex rhythmic and melodic spirit of Beethoven’s Eighth. His forte, however, is as an opera conductor and his rendition of the Wagner was positively thrilling. The seasoned professionals Christine Goerke and Greer Grimsley were the soprano and bass soloists. They entered into the psychological space of their characters before either had sung a note. Surtitles were projected so we could follow along exactly on their sonorous German arias. They brought the tension between the Norse god Wotan and his daughter Brunhilde to a stirring dramatic pitch, bolstered by the sheer volume and lyricism of the orchestra, including an especially large wind and brass section.

The concert was well attended by an enthusiastic audience that gave the soloists, conductor, and orchestra three curtain calls replete with enthusiastic “bravos”. We felt privileged to be in their number and drove home happy and satisfied with our rare night out. It was a pre-Valentine gift for both of us, a validation of our shared love of music that has helped keep our marriage harmonious for decades.

John Bayerl, 2-14-2022

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