BSO plays `Seems like old times'

Music: Conductor David Zinman likens his return to the Meyerhoff podium to a family homecoming -- you can visit a while then leave.

March 09, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Almost a year has passed since David Zinman, the former music director of the Baltimore Symphony, last conducted the orchestra. Tonight, he returns in a program that includes the Elgar violin concerto performed with soloist Pinchas Zukerman, the Sibelius Symphony No. 6 and John Harbison's "Music for 18 Winds."

It may seem like something of a homecoming, but as Zinman points out, homecomings are a little different when you don't visit much.

"It's like visiting your family," he says, sitting backstage after a rehearsal at the Meyerhoff. "You have all the things that go with coming back to a family, whether it's functional or dysfunctional. But you don't have to deal with them.

"Which is a very pleasant aspect," he says, laughing.

"I enjoy it very much, because I'm not in charge," he adds. "I can come in and just conduct. Smile and be nice, and I'm gone. I don't have to worry about what happens [after]."

If Zinman sounds at home in the role of guest conductor, it's because he's had a lot of practice at it.

Since leaving the BSO in 1998, Zinman has become the music director of both the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich, Switzerland, and the music director of the Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado. In addition, he has done guest conductor stints with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, the Chicago Symphony, he Philharmonia Orchestra in London and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Needless to say, Zinman has really been racking up the frequent flier mileage.

"It was very funny," he says. "I went to the [ticket counter] because I wanted to upgrade myself for one flight. I said, `Can I use my frequent flier miles?' And she said, `Well, you have enough to buy the plane, actually.' "

Despite a long absence from the Meyerhoff, Zinman doesn't see any changes in his relationship with the BSO players. "I've always had a good relationship with them, and I hope to continue that," he says. "I'm not being different, and they're not being different."

Of course, given the amount of noise in the music press about how the Baltimore Symphony seems a changed orchestra when its current music director, Yuri Temirkanov, is on the podium, it may seem hard to believe that Zinman would think the orchestra is the same as when he left it. But that's because he knows the way an orchestra sounds has as much to do with the conductor as with the players themselves.

"Every conductor gets his own sound," Zinman says. "I mean, any orchestra will have a personality and a way of playing, and I don't think that changes much from conductor to conductor. They're always going to have the same strengths and weaknesses, unless you have different players.

"It's like a horse or a car. Some are more high-powered than others, and some have other attributes. Some have a wonderful sense of humor, some have no sense of humor. It's all very different.

"I just conduct the same," he adds. "I don't make any kind of adjustment for the orchestra. I might pick repertoire that's different from orchestra to orchestra, but essentially [the conducting] is the same."

For this season's appearance in Baltimore, Zinman has chosen what he calls "an un-hackneyed program" which is, on its deepest level, about very specific physical and emotional landscapes.

"They are pieces that could only have been written where they were written, [in] England, Finland and America," he says, adding that the Harbison and the Sibelius have "a common astrin- gency to them."

"As I said to the orchestra this morning, `The Sibelius Sixth is not action/adventure. It's not Arnold Schwarzenegger.' It's an acquired taste. It's a very beautiful piece, but it's something else.

"I find Sibelius has a lot to do with weather, landscape, shades of dark and light," he continues. "It slops over the edges, so to speak. It's not sharply defined."

Zinman finds a similar sensibility underlying the Harbison, which was written at the composer's 110-acre dairy farm in Token Creek, Wis. "I always call it his Token Creek style, which has also very vividly to do with the weather, and the kind of birds that there are around, or the bells that ring," he says. "So it's a quite distinct place and personality."

Then there's the Elgar. Even though Zinman finds the work to be exquisitely English -- "You could never mistake it for anything but English," he says -- the conductor feels the music's emotional landscape comes through more strongly than anything having to do with the British countryside.

"It had to do with [Elgar's] own love life," Zinman says. "I always get depressed the minute the violin comes in, because there's this kind of lovesickness that we've all felt, you know? Unrequited lovesickness. And this is what this piece is about."


When: 8 tonight, tomorrow and Saturday

Where: Meyerhoff Concert Hall

Tickets: $22 to $57

Call: 410-783-8000

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.