The sound of Baltimore resounds in Scotland

BSO well received with 1st performance of tour in Glasgow

BSO In Europe

November 23, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

GLASGOW, Scotland - Just about the time millions of Americans were pushing back from Thanksgiving Day tables, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was serving up a hearty meal of Johannes Brahms to a small, but appreciative, audience at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. If last night's opener in the BSO's European tour was a firm indication, the rest of the journey should go winningly.

"I got a little emotional," assistant principal cellist Chang Woo Lee said afterward.

"After everything that happened Sept. 11, and with a war still going on, it felt right to be here, to be doing something positive. I'm glad we came."

That seems to be the spirit throughout the ensemble, which went through a sobering debate on the question of post-Sept. 11 travel before deciding a few weeks ago to proceed.

Since arriving on an exceedingly comfortable charter flight (BSO management will have a hard time getting this group back onto a commercial airline for the next tour), the musicians have been in a relaxed, jovial mood.

"It's impossible not to have fun on a tour like this," said bassist David Sheets.

Many of the players made the most of their brief free time since arriving Tuesday night to explore Glasgow and other parts of Scotland.

A contingent even managed to tour a local distillery in the few hours between yesterday's rehearsal and performance.(There were no formal Thanksgiving plans for the musicians, perhaps because the memory of the last Thanksgiving meal they got on tour - from a hotel kitchen in Japan in 1997 - was still fresh in the minds of musicians. "Basically, it was turkey sushi," said bassist Hampton Childress. "We couldn't eat it.")

Initial rehearsal

When the orchestra gathered for its first rehearsal yesterday, music director Yuri Temirkanov wasted few words, but covered a lot of ground in under two hours.

He didn't have to stop often to go over a passage; when he did, he quickly got the results he wanted, letting out a series of "Yes, yes, yes" as the orchestra responded.

The rehearsal also served to introduce one of the soloists who will be appearing with the BSO on the 12-city trek across the United Kingdom and continental Europe.

When the originally scheduled violinist, Pamela Frank, had to cancel, two young artists were engaged to fill in for her.

Teen-age soloist

The first, 18-year-old Japanese violinist Sakaya Shoji, is making her U.K. and BSO debuts with her appearances last night and Monday in London.

Shoji, who recently toured Japan with Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, has been coaching with the conductor.

His influence could be detected in her impassioned, imaginative phrasing of the Brahms Violin Concerto during the rehearsal and, even more so, in the concert a few hours later.

"I am very happy to play with the maestro again, and to play with the Baltimore Symphony," Shoji said.

"I feel the members of the orchestra are very sympathetic and friendly, and they make a very bright sound."

Chances are, Shoji will have a very bright future. She has an exceptionally sweet tone, a polished technique and a flair for communicating.

The Glasgow audience certainly got the message, and rewarded her with a sustained ovation that yielded some sparkling Paganini as an encore.

But the BSO was hardly overshadowed by this striking new talent. The ensemble's playing boasted its now trademark string tone - lush, full, darkly colored.

A few spotty moments in the wind sections were quickly forgotten.

Music from inside out

Things went especially well in Brahms' Symphony No. 2.

There were lots of notable individual efforts in that piece (from Emily Skala on flute and David Bakkegard on horn, to name two).

But what commanded the most attention was the overall flair and commitment throughout the orchestra, and Temirkanov's remarkable way of inspiring music-making from the inside out - getting to the heart of the notes and releasing their poetic potential.

For his efforts, the conductor was awarded a bottle of champagne, presented to him the way flowers usually are to a performer.

With a bemused grin, he motioned to those in the hall that he would be opening it soon.

The audience, in no hurry to leave, coaxed Temirkanov back to lead two gentle encores, including the indelible African-American spiritual Deep River, beautifully arranged by BSO bassist Jonathan Jensen.

Starting the BSO tour in Glasgow seems particularly fitting, given the similarity between this city of 625,000 and the orchestra's hometown.

Like Baltimore, Glasgow used to be dismissed as a rundown, working-class city inevitably overshadowed by the country's capital, only an hour away, in this case Edinburgh.

But Glasgow has been steadily undergoing redevelopment since the 1960s; evidence of the sprucing up is everywhere along streets lined with chic shops and restaurants.

Elegant historic buildings abound and mingle neatly with new ones, such as the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, a 2,500-seat, sleek box of blond wood and variable acoustics that opened in 1990 as home to the Royal Scottish Orchestra.

That's the same year Glasgow was named "European City of Culture."

Last night, the BSO added impressively to that culture.

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