For its 19th annual gala of socializing and fund-raising, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra put on a French accent Saturday evening. So did Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, which sported a Parisian flower stand and some energetic can-can dancers in the lobby.
The interior of the theater was transformed into a massive restaurant for the occasion, with tables set up on platforms covering the main floor seating.
Before the formally attired, highly coiffed crowd of patrons enjoyed cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and dinner, the BSO offered a short program of selections from Bizet's Carmen and Gounod's Faust, topped off with Gershwin's popular evocation of An American in Paris.(The "Gaite Parisienne" theme of the evening was partly pegged to the BSO's first concert in the French capital later this year during an extensive European tour.)
Music director Yuri Temirkanov looked a bit embarrassed by the standing ovation he received as he walked onstage, but there was nothing shy about his approach to the works at hand.
In the selections from Carmen, he revealed a keen appreciation for dramatic outline, rhythmic vitality and instrumental coloring. The seductive phrasing he brought to the Habanera was especially persuasive, with all sorts of little touches giving the familiar phrases a fresh sound. A similar infusion of subtlety and insinuation enhanced the Aragonaise.
Baritone Timothy Scott Mix, a Peabody grad who has sung throughout the region, joined the ensemble for a competent, if rather soft-edged, account of the Toreador Song.
Although the orchestra didn't have the use of its risers (so more dinner tables could be quickly set up on the stage floor after the performance), the sound that reached the grand tier section of the hall was decidedly rich and cohesive throughout the Carmen excerpts. There was particularly silken articulation from the violins and a sheen to the woodwinds.
The violins also produced a delicious tone in the ballet music from Faust, especially the Variations du miroir, which found Temirkanov again applying admirable nuance. The orchestra was not entirely in synch for the concluding dance, but generated sufficient sparks.
It was interesting to hear Temirkanov's take on the Gershwin score; American music is not one of his specialties. Although it's possible to get more sizzle and snap out of it, he tapped the lyrical side very effectively, taking his time exploring the quiet side-streets in this musical travelogue. He was assisted in this by suave playing from the brass; trumpet, trombone and tuba solos sang out with considerable warmth.
The gala, sponsored for the eighth year by Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles, was expected to raise $500,000, a nice note to start the BSO's 85th season.