David Zinman has hit upon an idea that seemed last night to score a big hit in Meyerhoff Hall. With James Galway, the superstar flutist, he imported the laid-back, off-the-wall atmosphere of his Saturday morning Casual Concerts to the evening ones.
This meant that Zinman used a format a little like that of the "Tonight Show" and "Late Night with David Letterman." There were a lot of jokes -- when Galway was asked whether he kept in shape, he said, "I buy a whole lot of beer and watch girls do aerobics on TV" -- and there was a lot of talking to the audience. Most important of all, there was a lot of music that was well-played and (in this opinion) that was not condescended to.
Galway was able to give a much livelier description of what the Carl Nielsen Flute Concerto is all about than the ones usually found in program notes. When he described the way this piece searches for the right key in terms of the drunken meanderings of the bass trombone, the clarinet and the timpanist, he was right on the mark. And he and Zinman were quite eloquent about the beauties and the difficulties of Robert Beaser's remarkable "Song of the Bells," a wonderful, impressionistic fantasy that received its first Baltimore performance last night.
All in all, the concert -- which was using a format that the BSO hoped would be more user-friendly than the customary formal one and would be more attractive to younger listeners -- seemed a success. Certainly, audience members, both young and old, seemed to like it.
"We go to a lot of concerts and I've never been to one like this," said Molly Kanarek, 78. "It was a relief not to have all that formality, not to have to worry about not clapping between movements and just to be able to relax."
"At every other concert I've ever been to I've had to worry about memorizing the program notes in order to understand what I'm listening to," said Toya McWilliams, 32. "But the tone here was friendly, accessible and [the musicians] let your imagination go wild."
The performances were brilliant. Galway did a terrific job with the Nielsen Concerto and the Beaser piece and he played the flute solos in Ravel's Suite No. 2 from "Daphnis and Chloe" brilliantly (though not better than BSO principal flute Emily Controulis did a few weeks back under Sergiu Comissiona). Zinman's performance was an interesting contrast to Comissiona's: much faster, more brilliant and perhaps more exciting if less sensuous.
There were a few things I didn't particularly like -- such as the Henry Mancini pieces that seemed a waste of the talents of Galway, Zinman and the orchestra. But the concert succeeded admirably at letting the audience have what they're usually denied at classical concerts: a relationship with the musicians.
"You always wonder what's going on in a musician's head," said Norma
Kanarek, Molly Kanarek's daughter. "A concert like this goes a way toward answering that question."
The concert will be repeated tonight and Saturday at 8:15 p.m. Tickets are still available for the Saturday performance.