Sergiu Comissiona, back in town, to lead musicians of his 'great love'

January 04, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

If you don't believe that absence makes the heart grow fond, ask the music director of any orchestra.

In the first years of David Zinman's tenure, whenever the name of Sergiu Comissiona, the Baltimore Symphony's conductor for the preceding 17 years, came up in conversation with BSO musicians, it was sometimes with a certain amount of derision.

Now it is Zinman that the players occasionally grumble about, while references to Comissiona -- who guest-conducts the BSO tomorrow, Friday and Saturday -- sometimes suggest that the BSO's Romanian-born conductor laureate now enjoys the status of a saint.

"This is the normal state of music directors," says Comissiona, his charmingly fractured English punctuated by laughter about the vicissitudes conductors must endure.

"There is always a honeymoon period in which everyone loves you because you're not your predecessor; then, after a few years, the players love him -- because he's not you!

"But make no mistake," continues Comissiona, now music director of the Vancouver Symphony and chief conductor of Madrid's Radio and Television Orchestra. "Anyone who can't appreciate how much David Zinman has improved this orchestra is not being reasonable.

"Ten minutes after I begin rehearsing with this orchestra," he says, "I hear the sound I used to strive for, but could not achieve even after 100 concerts."

He is much too modest. His 17-year tenure with the BSO -- in which he hired 65 players -- created the orchestra that Comissiona still calls "my great love."

Love and passion are words that turn up frequently in Comissiona's conversation when the subject is music and musicians.

About Louis Lortie, the superb young French-Canadian pianist he will accompany in Ravel's G Major Concerto, Comissiona says: "He is fantastic -- every time I make music with him, it's a joy."

About Rachmaninov's "Caprice Bohemian," which has never been performed by the BSO and with which this week's program will begin, Comissiona says: "It's filled with Gypsy passion and reminds me of my childhood in Romania when I fell in love with the Gypsies' music."

And he calls Prokofiev's ballet, "Romeo and Juliet," excerpts from which will form the conclusion of this week's concerts, "the most passionate ballet music ever written."

Comissiona is now in his fifth season as music director of the Vancouver Symphony, and he calls his relationship with that orchestra "still a joy."

"I will try to make the honeymoon last as long as possible," he says.

But will what he calls "my new love" ever replace his "great love"?

Comissiona's reply is suavely diplomatic.

"Every time I come to Baltimore," he says, "it's the highlight of my season."


What:Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

When: 8:15 p.m. tomorrow and Friday; 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Meyerhoff Hall

Tickets: $10-$48

Call: 783-8000

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