BSO opens season mindful of tragedy

Review: Conductor adjusts program and presents stirring performances to remember Tuesday's attacks and offer hope.

Terrorism Strikes America

September 15, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The age-old notion of music's healing power was put to the test Thursday as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra opened its 85th season.

A huge American flag was draped above the entrance to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, greeting a crowd that seemed eager for the chance to leave the week's horror behind if only for a short while, to be surrounded by the warmth and purity of art.

Traditionally, the BSO starts its season with the playing of the national anthem; the music could not help but take on greater weight this time. Originally, it was to have been followed by the brilliant, scampering Overture to Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, but conductor Yuri Temirkanov replaced that piece with an excerpt from Sir Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations known as Nimrod, one of the noblest of all musical utterances. He and the orchestra dedicated it to the memory of those who perished.

There is something at once solemn and stirring about Nimrod ; it not only suggests a requiem (though Elgar never intended such an implication), but also a statement of inner calm and strength - things we needed to feel this week.

Temirkanov approached the work (as he does all music) from the heart, and the orchestra responded in kind. The extra richness in the strings, the extra bloom in the wind sections no doubt reflected recent renovations in the hall, but acoustical science alone could not account for that sound. The last notes stayed long in the air, as the audience sat in respectful silence. (Violist Jeffrey Stewart, in a brief, eloquent statement about the tragedy, had requested no applause).

Then the mood lifted, as much as possible. It must have been difficult for the musicians to concentrate on the program; it wasn't always easy to listen with both ears, either. But the evening contained substantial rewards, beginning with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, a last-minute substitution for a Mozart concerto and Strauss' Burleske for piano and orchestra.

Aside from the very opening, when his articulation was rather impersonally colored, soloist Emanuel Ax offered incisive playing in the first movement; the cadenza found him in particularly dynamic, arresting form. He was likewise vivid in the finale.

In the second movement, Beethoven sets out a dramatic scenario in which beauty and truth (the almost prayerful keyboard part) gradually subdue anger and obstinacy (the orchestra's confrontational strings). Such idealism seemed more touching than ever. If Ax's tone was not quite tender enough at the start, his innate sensitivity shone through as the movement unfolded. Temirkanov and the BSO backed him solidly throughout.

Turning to two of the best-loved French works that will be featured on the orchestra's upcoming European tour, the conductor coaxed generally refined, subtly shaded efforts from the ensemble. The most atmospheric passages of Debussy's La Mer, notably the outbreak of the noon-day sun, were powerfully realized.

Ravel's La Valse whirled along in vibrant fashion. More rhythmic ebb and flow is possible in this score, and a few details of execution could have been cleaner, but the performance served notice that Temirkanov and BSO are ready for a memorable season.

Uninterested in the ovation that followed, Temirkanov quickly struck up an encore, God Bless America, and reality returned.


What: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

When: 11 a.m. today

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

Tickets: $26 to $68

Call: 410-783-8000

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