Yuri Temirkanov may not have clocked the most on-the-job-site hours of any music director in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's history, but he has certainly put his time with the orchestra to great use. His relatively brief tenure (shortened by occasional concert-canceling illnesses) has been characterized by consistent upgrading of the ensemble's technical, artistic and, some would say, even spiritual quality.
The Temirkanov style, which emphasizes tonal warmth and uninhibited expressiveness, seemed more savory than ever Thursday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, where the conductor launched his seventh and final season at the BSO helm.
Absent in Baltimore since last April, Temirkanov was enthusiastically welcomed back when he appeared onstage to lead the traditional opening-night National Anthem. He was in grand form all night, revisiting pieces he has previously programmed here -- two Gershwin favorites and Dvorak's Symphony No. 9. (Such revisiting points up Temirkanov's limited repertoire, one of his few shortcomings as a music director.)
This particular lineup, which the BSO will take on its European tour next month, offers a neat package of real and imagined American music. Gershwin, of course, couldn't be more authentic; every note exudes quintessential American energy and directness. Dvorak's work, popularly known as the "New World" Symphony, sounds as American as we want it to, even though it never loses a pronounced Czech accent.
Temirkanov's well-documented appreciation for Gershwin ensured a lively, open-hearted reading of An American in Paris, with the bluesy, sweeping tune in the piece given an extra dollop of romantic intensity. The orchestra made a dynamic showing.
For Rhapsody in Blue, the BSO brought back the same Turkish-born soloist who lit a fire under the score here with Temirkanov three years ago. Fazil Say proved even more incendiary this time. His playing had an on-the-edge spontaneity, a sleeves-rolled-up intensity (wearing a loose, Asian-style jacket, the pianist really did roll up his sleeves).
There was a good deal of snap in the ensemble's efforts as well.
Say acknowledged a sustained ovation with a brilliantly played encore -- his own brooding, imaginatively colored composition, Black Earth.
In the Dvorak symphony, Temirkanov kept the pulse energized, without overlooking opportunities to highlight gentle, poetic moments. A slight rhythmic hesitation colored the first movement's lyrical theme deliciously; the hushed close of the Largo was eloquently molded.
In a few spots, articulation lacked tight cohesion, but the orchestra's response nonetheless had a telling mix of power and sensitivity.
Given all the hubbub over the summer, when BSO musicians and management were at odds over the appointment of Marin Alsop as Temirkanov's successor, it was reassuring -- if hardly surprising -- to hear that the onstage product has not been compromised by any residual ill-will. There's every reason to believe that the season will continue running on a strong artistic current.
Incidentally, the players sent Alsop a large bouquet of flowers this week to congratulate her on the MacArthur Fellowship she just received and a note to say they look forward to her next scheduled appearance with the BSO in January.
The Gershwin-Dvorak program repeats at 8 tonight at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda; and 3 p.m. tomorrow at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. For tickets, call 410-783-8000.
$10 million gift to NSO
During a Kennedy Center gala concert and ball tonight to launch its 75th anniversary season, the National Symphony Orchestra will announce a donation of $10 million, the largest single gift in its history.
The donors are Roger and Vicki Sant, who also broke the previous record for an NSO gift, when they gave $5 million in 1999 to establish a permanent endowment for the orchestra's music director chair. The new gift will also be used for that endowment.