A few years ago, I saw Ben Folds perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. It wasn’t the first time Folds has played with an orchestra—far from it: He’s been performing with orchestras around the world since 2002, using world-class classical musicians as backup on orchestrations of his hit pop songs like 'Zak and Sara' and 'Brick.' The concert in Pittsburgh was definitely meant more for Folds fans than classical-music fans: Folds' mic allowed his voice and piano to overpower the orchestra, and the orchestrations were often pretty simple. But Folds was charismatic and entertaining and the concert hall was packed. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is probably hoping for a similarly packed house on Thursday when it performs with Folds at the Meyerhoff. This particular concert will have an addition to his 12-year-old classical-pop routine: They’ll be performing excerpts of Folds’ new piano concerto, his first such composition. Folds described his concerto to Nashville Scene as “proudly and overtly derivative,” and that will certainly be apparent to any fans of Gershwin or Ravel that hear the concerto—but on the bright side, maybe it’ll inspire some Folds fans to check out other classical compositions. (If you're one such fan looking to get into classical music, start with Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' for another piano concerto with heavy jazz influences, or check out my favorite piano concerto, Edvard Grieg's marvelously dramatic Piano Concerto in A minor.)
For those craving a more conventionally classical orchestral experience, the BSO will perform Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture and Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 at noon this Saturday as part of Artscape. The arts festival will have plenty of other classical performances, too: At the MICA Brown Center on Friday, Operation: Opera will explore the themes of love and lust with scenes from four of Mozart’s operas (see "Sexy Opera"), proving that opera can often be pretty raunchy. And on Saturday, Lyric Opera Baltimore will put on two performances of “She Never Lost a Passenger,” a one-act opera by composer Susan Kander about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. "She Never Lost a Passenger" is only about 40 minutes long and was written to be accessible to children, so take your kids. For the rest of the classical performances happening at Artscape, visit artscape.org.
Cellist Amit Peled, a faculty member at the Peabody Institute, recently released an EP with pianist Noreen Polera on Centaur Records. The duo performs Bohemian composer David Popper’s 'Tarantella' Op. 33 and “Five Pieces on Folk Themes” by Sulkhan Tsitsadze (as it's spelled on the EP). More commonly translated as Tsintsadze, he was a Georgian composer in the 20th century who won numerous prizes and titles in the USSR, including the title of “People’s Artist of USSR” and the USSR State Prize. Tsintsazde's "Five Pieces" are rarely recorded, so it's worth listening to Peled and Polera’s expressive rendition (available on iTunes) to expand your knowledge of a composer that's less famous on this side of the Cold War.