If there was any doubt, the difference a conductor can make was shown last night at Friedberg Concert Hall. David Zinman, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's maestro, brought out the best in a Peabody Symphony Orchestra that has sometimes been groping under uninspired guest leadership while awaiting a permanent boss.
Not so last night, especially in a roof-rattling "Symphony No. 5" by Serge Prokofiev and the world premiere of an adventurous "Voyager for Cello and Orchestra" written by the Peabody's Jean Eichelberger Ivey. The BSO's Mihaly Virizlay took his cello on a swift ride with wild mid-course corrections through her beeping and buzzing solar system.
Zinman inspired the student musicians to recreate Prokofiev's 1944 vision of Nazi invasion and Russian feelings in the massive percussion of war, the frantic agitation it evokes, the pain and the victory of spirit. Except for a few loose ends, the Peabody ensemble was up to the big assignment, in fact relished it.
Ivey's spacey music was prompted by the two American Voyager spacecraft that head for eternity after passing the Pluto and Neptune orbits. They actually contain gold-plated copper discs with such recordings as Mozart's "The Magic Flute," Bach's "Second Brandenburg Concerto" and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode."
The idea is that in a few million years they might reach intelligent life and show what was back here musically. Too bad they couldn't have sent Ivey's stuff -- not that it deserved terrestrial ejection but because it proved worthy of 20th Century Classical.
The woodwinds, strings, brass surrounded Virizlay's great bow strokes, frantic sawing and tender plucking for a 20-minute adventure recalling Ivey's kinship with electronic music. She shook hands with cellist and conductor and took a bow from her seat next to Peabody Director Robert O. Pierce.
George T. Walker's placid "Lyric for Strings," about 55 of them, was given a calm reading to open the program. Walker is a 68-year-old American composer, teacher and pianist who taught at the Peabody Conservatory from 1975 to 1978 and more recently at Rutgers University.