Adler excels in concert Review: Virtuoso, 84, performing with the BSO, shows how he elevated the harmonica to concert status.

October 02, 1998|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Larry Adler is one of those peculiar, almost impossible-to-classify figures who crop up in the music world every few decades or so.

The Baltimore-born Adler, 84, ranks among the important American musicians of this century. But his position -- at least in his native country -- has always been marginalized by two factors. They are his instrument, the lowly harmonica or mouth organ and his politically incorrect social views, which (in the late 1940s) led to his being placed on a blacklist that made it impossible for him to earn a living in the United States when he was at the height of his fame.

That must have seemed like a long time ago yesterday afternoon Meyerhoff Symphony Hall when Adler was the soloist for Marvin Hamlisch's first Baltimore Symphony Pops concert of the season. Adler is now an honored native son. He has managed to outlive most of the cowardly and vicious troglodytes who hounded him from this country and to outlast the unconstitutional hysteria that made it necessary for him to transplant himself and his family to Great Britain 50 years ago.

Adler walked on stage in a manner that made it easy to believe that he is 84. But his playing -- with Hamlisch and the orchestra, with Hamlisch accompanying him at the piano, and solo -- conceded little to age. In an all-Gershwin program that honored the composer's 100th birthday, Adler demonstrated the sort of musicality and virtuosity that enabled him to elevate his instrument to concert status and that convinced some of this century's great composers -- Darius Milhaud, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Joaquin Rodrigo among them -- to write works for him.

In Gershwin songs such as "Summertime" and "That Certain Feeling," Adler's playing was able to fool the ear into believing that it was listening to a great vocalist who was making up the music on the spot. And in an extended excerpt from "Rhapsody in Blue" -- in which Adler accompanied Gershwin's own fast-as-the-speed-of-light piano roll -- he actually made the work's orchestral part sound as if it had been specifically written for the harmonica.

This was a lovely concert that featured pianist Bryan Ganz joining Hamlisch and the orchestra in a stylish and sensitive performance of the final two movements of Gershwin's Concerto in F and Hamlisch's own exuberant conducting of "An American in Paris."

The latter included a sequence for two dancers, choreographed by Robert La Fosse and Damian Woetzel. It was danced by La Fosse himself and by Leslie Brown -- whose dancing and youthful beauty seem to have remained untouched by the years that have passed since she was one of Mikhail Baryshnikov's favorite partners and interpreters in the American Ballet Theatre.

BSO and Adler

What: Salute to George Gershwin

Who: Conductor Marvin Hamlisch and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler.

When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

Tickets: $24 - $57

Call: (410) 783 - 8000

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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