Wednesday, July 9, 2008

So many seasons: Vivaldi and Piazzolla at Strathmore

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Grant Leighton
Well seasoned: Violinist Jonathan Carney will be the Concertmaster for Thursday’s BSO performance in the Music Center at Strathmore.
Rarified as classical music may be, everyone knows Vivaldi’s ‘‘Four Seasons.” But when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra trots the beloved classic out in the Music Center at Strathmore on Thursday, they’ll add an unexpected twist that turns four seasons into eight.

‘‘A few years ago, the famous violinist Gidon Kremer commissioned one of his colleagues (Leonid Desyatnikov) to orchestrate four tangos by Piazzolla,” says BSO Concertmaster Jonathan Carney. ‘‘He put them together with Vivaldi.”

And so the classic Italian composer and the Argentinean master of the tango bring the hemispheres together in a musical way.

‘‘We intersperse them,” says Carney. ‘‘So you get to hear one of each alternating.

‘‘The South American seasons are the opposite of ours — so it’s very interesting, very different with Piazzolla.”

Bringing the threads together, though, makes for a program that’s familiar and exotic at the same time. Venice-born Antonio Vivaldi composed his Opus 8 — ‘‘Le quattro stagioni” — in 1723; Astor Piazzolla was born two centuries later to Italian parents in Argentina. But just as Vivaldi was an innovator among Baroque composers, Piazzolla created Nuevo Tango — the ‘‘new tango” style. It was a controversial fusion that brought elements of jazz to traditional tango music.

In fact, Piazzolla’s ‘‘Cuatro estaciones poteñas” was inspired not by Vivaldi’s work, but by the tango he loved.

Still, by juxtaposing the works, Carney says, Kremer and Desyatnikov created a richly nuanced classical music experience that compares and contrasts. It’s an evening of music that won’t ‘‘go over some heads — that’s not what we want.

‘‘Vivaldi needs no explanation,” he adds, ‘‘and the Piazzolla is not avant-garde by any means.

‘‘The program notes are great. I won’t do any talking at all!”

He’ll do minimal conducting, too. ‘‘With the Chamber Orchestra, you just don’t need a conductor, someone waving a baton,” Carney, BSO Concertmaster since 2001, points out. ‘‘There’s just one more cog in the works.”

He’s happy to be performing in the Music Center, not only because ‘‘it’s a world-class hall, so beautiful,” but also because it’s the home to Montgomery Classic Youth Orchestra (MCYO). Carney has been named the elite musical group’s artistic advisor, a role he’s eager to embrace fully.

‘‘I want the BSO and the MCYO to have more of a connection,” he says. ‘‘The most important thing is MCYO and the educational work the BSO does — that’s why we’re here.”

For Carney, music is a generational thing. He comes from a musical family — like him, his parents and three siblings are Juilliard graduates — and two of his own three children are musicians.

‘‘I want to be in the trenches with the kids, getting my fingernails dirty,” he says. ‘‘I love the nitty gritty, and I want to teach them the importance of goals.”

To that end, he’ll be bringing a handful of MCYO musicians to the Vivaldi-Piazzolla concert.

‘‘I want them to see what they’d be in for if they didn’t have a conductor,” he says. ‘‘There are moments when, all of a sudden, you have to drive.

‘‘And you had better know how to drive!”

The Summer Nights Series at Strathmore continues with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performing ‘‘The Four Seasons” at 8 p.m. Thursday in The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Tickets range from $25 to $60. A pre-concert ‘‘Party on the Patio” starts at 6 p.m., with dinner, snacks and beverages available for purchase. Call 877-BSO-1444 or visit