BSO embarks on its Temirkanov evolution

The orchestra's 1999-2000 season, the first for Yuri Temirkanov as music director, promises to be noteworthy, but don't look for any major changes.

February 21, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

The arrival of Wednesday's mail will announce the details of the beginning of a new era for the Baltimore Symphony. BSO subscribers will receive a brochure containing the schedule for the 1999-2000 season, Yuri Temirkanov's first as the 11th music director in the orchestra's 83-year history.

But while a few of the programs and soloists in the schedule point to what may be some significant changes in direction, anyone who expects a radical redrafting of the orchestra's activities will be disappointed.

"An orchestra with superb musicians, devoted audiences, a first-rate concert hall and an outstanding staff does not need to change anything," Temirkanov said last week in a telephone interview from Bremen, Germany, where he was performing a concert on his current European tour with his "other" orchestra, Russia's St. Petersburg Philharmonic.

Temirkanov, who will guest- conduct the BSO in four performances late next month, was careful to point out that he will only be able to make five appearances next season and that the first of them will not occur until January 2000.

"While some of the programs are my ideas, just as many result from the decisions of John [Gidwitz, the BSO's president] and Miryam [Yardumian, BSO artistic adviser]," Temirkanov said.

Nevertheless, as Temirkanov himself admits, his appearances next Jan. 20-22 make a powerful statement about what not to expect. The entire program will be devoted to a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection").

This is not to say that Russian music will be absent from Temirkanov's programs next season. Along with several pieces by French, American and Austro-Germanic composers, he will perform one work each by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev and two by Shostakovich -- the one important Russian composer whose music received relatively short shrift during the 13-season tenure of Temirkanov's predecessor, David Zinman.

One of those Shostakovich works -- the Cello Concerto No. 1 -- will appear on a program Feb. 10x-x12 with Beethoven's popular Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica").

Shostakovich and Beethoven are often regarded as compatible because they are deeply personal composers whose greatest works often appear to signify their creators' psychological states at the time of composition and whose oeuvres sometimes suggest autobiographical records of their struggles against personal suffering.

"That stuff about how 'deeply personal' they are may or may not be true," Temirkanov said. "But, to me, what is important is that they are public composers who take upon themselves the task of addressing the whole world."

Shostakovich never performed that task more searingly than in his Symphony No. 13 ("Babi Yar"), which Temirkanov will perform on next season's final program, June 22-23.

The Symphony No. 13, which ranks among the composer's most controversial works, is a setting of Yevgeny Yevtushenko's poem "Babi Yar," an unsparing portrait of one of the worst atrocities of World War II committed on Soviet soil. German soldiers, along with the enthusiastic participation of several dozen Ukrainian collaborators, shot and bayoneted more than a thousand helpless Jewish men, women and children before dumping their bodies into a shallow grave.

Even before the first performance of the symphony in 1962, Soviet censors, who denied the existence of Russian anti-Semitism and the collaboration of Soviet citizens with the Nazis, forced both Shostakovich and Yevtushenko to revise the text.

"Everyone knew the truth about Babi Yar, but, officially, it had never happened," Temirkanov said. "I love this work for three reasons. First, it is great music. Second, it is among the most important works of art to record the truth about the Holocaust. And, third, I will never forget the incredible reaction of the audience when I conducted the first performance with the original [unexpurgated] text."

Other Temirkanov fingerprints on the 1999-2000 season may be found in the appearances of several Russians, including conductor Dmitri Kitaenko (Nov. 12-14), cellist Natalia Gutman (Feb. 10-12) and pianist Eliso Virsaladze (June 15-16). Virsaladze, one of the world's great pianists, has appeared with the orchestra before. But the debuts of Kitaenko, a major presence on European podiums for more than two decades, and Gutman, whom cello aficionados rank in importance alongside Yo-Yo Ma and Lynn Harrell, are long overdue.

In other respects, next season resembles the one in process. Since Temirkanov does not assume command until next January, the orchestra must face the same challenges in the first half of the 1999-2000 season that the absence of a music director has created in all of 1998-1999.

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