The air was dense with humidity Wednesday evening as hundreds of Harford countians streamed into the Havre de Grace High School auditorium. But faster then you can say "Rachmaninoff" the heaviness was dispelled by the glorious sounds of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Jointly sponsored by Harford Community College and the Friends of Classical Music of Harford County, the BSO performance is a perennial sell-out, and this year was no exception.
If you're accustomed to hearing the BSO in its natural habitat -- the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall -- it takes a bit of adjustment to hear them at Havre de Grace High. Of course, no auditorium could compare with the widely acclaimed acoustics at the Meyerhoff. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the worst acoustical problem, at least from where I sat, was a muffled quality to the woodwind section.
On the plus side is the intimate atmosphere. It's a joy to watch conductor David Zinman work, and here you can get close enough to see every twitch of his eyebrow.
For truely, Zinman conducts more with his face than any other part of his anatomy. Expressions fly across his face like clouds across the sun on a windy day.
One moment he's coaxing the woodwinds with a smile, then scowling with a demand for more from the strings, then pleading for that pianissimo cello entrance with an outstretched arm. And always with a sly smile, as if he shares a secret with the composer he just might let slip.
First on the program was Mozart's Symphony No. 36 in C Major. The orchestra played with precision and grace, but it wasn't until the third movement, the lilting Menuetto, that the strings really poured out the melody, then generated excitement in the final Presto movement.
Of course, this was all merely a prelude to the appearance of the famous guest soloist, the musical prodigy Hilary Hahn.
At the tender age of 4, Baltimore-born Hilary began her violin career with lessons at the Peabody Conservatory. Now 12, she's already garnered many prestigious music awards and has appeared on nationally televised programs.
Hilary strode onstage in a shiny silver dress. She was the picture of the confident professional. But as the orchestra struck up the first movement of Vieuxtemps' Concerto No. 5 in A Minor, the professional gave way to the adolescent, who just couldn't stand still. Swaying happily, her ponytail bobbing, Hilary smiled up at Zinman for her entrance cue, and the audience fell in love.
But what emanated from this young lady's violin was not all sweetness and light. The solo violin demands of the Concerto No. 5 are formidable -- soaring scales, quick off-beat accents and delicate staccato effects. Hilary attacked each phrase with a startling passion, pausing only to share a smile with the first violinist, who was clearly enthralled with her performance. Technical wizardry aside, the beautiful tone and intelligent phrasing were remarkable in one so young.
At the concerto's end, the audience instantly jumped to its feet for a long standing ovation.
The program ended perfectly with Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 3 in A Minor. This lush, moody work presented a nice contrast to the flashy pyrotechnics of Vieuxtemps. Russian in flavor, its essence was darkly defiant, yet full of charming surprises. The strings would slowly swell to a vast crescendo, only to have the bottom drop out and resolve to a dissonant mystical chord.
Zinman intently conducted the strings in the final pizzicato passage, then everyone, orchestra and audience, held their breath until he lowered his baton.
C7 It was a thrilling finale for a drama-filled night.