BSO hits highest notes Review: In their fourth concert on their Japanese tour, symphony and music director David Zinman give one of their finest performances ever.

November 24, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

TOKYO -- Four concerts into their six-city, nine-concert tour of Japan, the Baltimore Symphony and music director David Zinman can be judged a success. Saturday night they gave a performance in Tokyo's Bunka Khaikan concert hall that was not only their best performance so far but also among the best this conductor and orchestra have ever given.

Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony was more relaxed than it has been at any time since the tour began; it was also more energetic and accurate. The Bunka Khaikan performance was the first time the orchestra's first violin section seemed completely comfortable with the symphony's treacherously high passages.

In the orchestra's performances of Debussy's "La Mer" and Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique," the former showed a more precise ensemble and the latter, especially in the first movement, a greater sense of fantasy.

At least part of that quality came, paradoxically enough, from the fact that everyone on this trip -- Zinman included -- is tired.

Backstage before Saturday's concert, Zinman asked Daniel Hege, not entirely in jest, "Are you ready to go on?"

"Sure," said Hege, looking concerned. "Don't you feel OK?" Hege, the orchestra's assistant conductor, is the understudy for both of the orchestra's programs, one of which includes the Bruch G Minor Violin Concerto (with Isaac Stern as soloist) and the other the Prokofiev, Debussy and Berlioz program.

"I guess, but I'm so tired," Zinman said. "I don't know what to do tonight and there's no soloist to fall back on."

"Then you should do just whatever you feel like doing," said the younger man.

That's exactly what Zinman did -- and the results were terrific.

If Zinman and the orchestra are being artistically successful, they are also proving successful with Japanese audiences. Bunka Khaikan, built in the 1960s, was the first theater in this city specifically designed for symphonic music. It has a seating capacity of slightly more than 3,000, making it one of the world's largest.

Although the BSO had competition over the weekend from concerts by three other symphonies -- including the Berlin State Orchestra with Daniel Barenboim conducting, as well as Japan's own Tokyo Philharmonic and the Shinsei Nippon Symphony -- nearly all of Bunka Khaikan's seats were filled.

"If only we got audiences that large at home," said BSO clarinetist Gordon Miller, 72, whose more than 40 years in the orchestra conclude with the current tour.

Reviews of the orchestra's performances are not likely to be printed in Japan's newspapers until the tour is about to end. That is because Japanese critics usually take at least a week to write their reviews, said Hiro Tojo, who is himself a well-known music commentator on one of Tokyo's classical music radio shows and who was reviewing the BSO's concert for the magazine Music Today.

Tojo had attended the orchestra's performance Thursday evening in Suntory Hall, the nation's premier concert hall.

However, if Tojo's responses to that concert are typical, those reviews should be warm.

Tojo said the Suntory performance confirmed the impression, created three years ago during the orchestra's previous tour here, that the BSO "is one of the standouts among American orchestras."

Tojo was particularly impressed by the BSO's strings and woodwinds which, he said, had "a passionate, expressive quality rarely found in an American orchestra." He added that the Japanese audience seemed to be responding especially positively to the orchestra's performances because the orchestra itself appeared to be enjoying the music so much.

Saturday night, the audience seemed even more warmly disposed toward the orchestra. This was all the more remarkable because this time Zinman and the orchestra were performing without Isaac Stern -- the superstar violinist, whose appearance at four of the orchestra's nine concerts made the tour possible.

Music critic Tojo said word had gotten around very quickly three years ago that the "Baltimore orchestra was outstanding."

By the time the orchestra gave its final concert in Tokyo, he added, "everyone was there."

Pub Date: 11/24/97

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