A measure of the BSO's new maestro

Conductor: Yuri Temirkanov gives orchestra members clear signals about how he wants them to play. And he plans to take them places.

January 20, 2000|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

Some musicians divide conductors into those they describe as "time-beaters," and those they do not.

It isn't difficult to decipher what they mean: There are conductors (among them some truly great ones) who use their hands to articulate rhythm precisely. And there are orchestral leaders who use their hands not to mark time, but to mold the music.

Yuri Temirkanov, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's new artistic director, falls into the second category.

The silver-haired conductor stepped yesterday onto the podium in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. He nodded a brisk good afternoon to the orchestra, held up three fingers to signify the third movement of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection"), which the BSO will perform tonight, and with two strokes began the rehearsal.

Though the Caucasus-born musician speaks English well enough to convey what he wants with words, for the most part, he communicates through movement. A lifted shoulder means a little more cello; little dips of the knees signal a brisker attack; deep arm swoops urge the first violins to use less staccato; an airborne flutter of the fingers asks more of the flutes. At times Temirkanov seems content simply to allow the music to flow -- without his intervention. At others, he seems to be painting a picture in the air of the emotion he wants.

How he conducts depends to some degree upon which orchestra he is conducting, Temirkanov explained in an earlier interview, during which he spoke through a translator. "If the orchestra is a good orchestra you don't have to show every bar and every beat. You can just indicate the phrase, the atmosphere. If you are standing in front of a mediocre orchestra, then you conduct in a different way because if you don't show them the beat correctly the orchestra will fall apart.

"It is like talking to an intelligent person or a stupid person. With an intelligent person, you can simply indicate, or not finish a phrase, or give a hint of something. With a stupid person, you must explain everything."

Though yesterday was only his third day as the BSO's artistic director, Temirkanov already is beginning to shape the symphony: Auditions are being held this week and next for two positions: horn and assistant concertmaster (violin).

The 61-year-old conductor is the artistic director of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, and the principal guest conductor of London's Royal Philharmonic. He also is a frequent guest conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

He replaces David Zinman, who resigned in 1998 after leading the symphony for 13 years. And part of the BSO's appeal for Temirkanov was the high regard its musicians had for his predecessor. "Believe me, it is a unique thing when the orchestra speaks well of the director after three to five years, and David worked there much, much longer. I hope that David will come [to guest-conduct] as often as possible.

Temirkanov is hesitant to give specifics about how or what he might change at the BSO, merely saying that he hasn't spent enough time with the musicians to have formulated a detailed plan. But it is clear that he wishes to lift the orchestra to greater heights.

"There are a few better musicians to get. [But] it doesn't make much difference. The whole orchestra has to go up. But when every single musician in the orchestra gives everything he can give, that he is capable of -- when the orchestra reaches this stage -- then it will become clear who can jump higher. When the whole orchestra is kind of cool and relaxed, then you can't judge the potential of the orchestra," he says.

He is looking forward to planning a BSO season in Strathmore Hall, where the symphony plans eventually to make a second home. The $88-million hall now is scheduled to open in spring 2004. Strathmore Hall will give the BSO greater visibility and the ability to attract new audiences from Montgomery County, the state's most affluent county, as well as parts of Washington.

And tours will help to increase the BSO's stature at home and elsewhere. Already, plans are in the works for the symphony to travel first in the United States, then to Europe in November of 2001 and later to Japan.

It is important that music lovers have the chance to hear and see the BSO live, he says. But the BSO musicians will benefit artistically from the experience, as well. By playing in different halls, in different countries, before different audiences, the musicians gain a fresh perspective on their art.

"A tour is a kind of refreshment for the musicians," he says. "Maybe they will go to concerts or museums. They will see wonderful European cities. For the artist, for any artist, it is very important to have new information and new experiences and not to be cooked all the time in the same bouillon."

Asked what he would like people to say of Temirkanov and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra? Temirkanov shrugs charmingly and says, "Ask me in five years."

Then he continues: "My teacher, the one who taught me conducting, was a great, great teacher," he says, referring to the late Ilya Musin.

"He used to say to all of his pupils that the first task of the conductor and a very important one is not to be in the way of the orchestra."

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