Live from New York, it's BSO and Peabody

Scrutiny: As the two groups prepare for their upcoming performances in the Big Apple, there's a lot riding on these important visits.

Classical Music

April 17, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Baltimore hits the Big Apple next week. On consecutive nights, two of this city's leading musical institutions - Peabody Institute and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra - will make forays into New York. It should be an interesting experience for both, and also a useful reminder to New Yorkers that there really are significant life forms south of Soho.

Sure, not all Manhattanites view the country as that famous New Yorker cover had it years ago - a vague idea of California on the opposite end, a few famous landmarks somewhere in between. But the old view of New York as the cultural Valhalla dies hard. And no wonder.

In a city that regularly hears the Berlin and Vienna philharmonics, let alone the New York Philharmonic and the other four of America's top five orchestras (Boston, Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia), it's not easy to make a splash.

Many musical organizations have arrived in Manhattan with plenty of talent and a thick book of great press notices from back home, only to be greeted with little more than mild approval, or something worse - disdain, condescension or indifference.

The Baltimore Symphony, of course, has successfully survived the scrutiny of the New York press and public before, but this will be its first visit with music director Yuri Temirkanov. (Yes, New York critics have come to Baltimore to check out the Temirkanov/BSO scene, but there's still something different, a change in perspective, when an orchestra comes to New York.)

It's possible that fresh questions will be raised. Is Temirkanov really a worthy successor to David Zinman? Does the orchestra sound better or worse? Is all that fuss being made over Temirkanov in Baltimore anything more than provincial cheerleading?

Temirkanov's choice of program for the BSO's Carnegie Hall concert April 26 may not be entirely welcomed. Prokofiev's "Lt. Kije" Suite, Grieg's Piano Concerto (with the terrific Lang Lang in his Carnegie debut) and Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 come right off the well-worn hit parade list. There has been a fair amount of grumbling in the New York press about the New York Philharmonic's fairly conservative programming in recent years under Kurt Masur; a visiting ensemble could run into the same sort of thing.(Sibelius' Symphony No. 2, given a sensational performance by Temirkanov and the BSO last weekend, will be played at some other venues on the orchestra's week-long, three-state East Coast tour that begins Monday. Yes, it's a hit-parade item, too, but this conductor makes it sound freshly composed. Carnegie Hall would have been a great place to share that vision.)

Chances are, though, programming won't be much of an issue. In the end, while Lang Lang will certainly share in any coverage of the event, the main focus is going to be on Temirkanov. And Temirkanov is apt to make believers out of everyone.

After a year on the job, he hasn't hit a foul ball yet. And his players will surely give him in New York all the vitality and emotional commitment they do here.

Does it really matter what anyone in New York thinks? Yes. That may not be fair, but that's the way it is. New York is where the musical imprimatur is bestowed, and sometimes revoked, almost exclusively by the New York Times. The BSO needs that official re-affirmation of what we already know - the union between Temirkanov and this orchestra is magical, with almost unlimited potential for more peaks of passionately involved music-making.

If, for some weird reason, that seal of approval isn't forthcoming next week (or contains too many reservations), it won't change the power of that union. It will only make the next New York visit all the more important.

The Peabody Symphony Orchestra faces a different challenge - getting people to pay attention. Its performance at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall April 25 is being self-presented, rather than being included on a regular subscription series. This means attracting an audience from scratch.

And no matter how talented the students are, they are students. So it's sometimes hard to be taken seriously, especially in a city like New York, which has some pretty talented students of its own, including a whole bunch at the Juilliard School of Music, located within spitting distance of Tully Hall.

This will be only the second time Peabody has taken its orchestra to New York. The first occasion, two years ago, wasn't covered by the New York press, so, in New York terms, it didn't really happen. This time, there's a better chance for coverage.

The program, conducted by Hajime Teri Murai, includes "Ashes of Memory" by Peabody grad Michael Hersch. It so happens that the Pittsburgh Symphony, which premiered that Hersch score last year, was to have given the New York premiere last month at Carnegie Hall. For some reason, music director Mariss Jansons decided to include only half of "Ashes," leading to a severe reprimand in a New York Times review.

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