Friday, September 28, 2007

Five Things about the Baltimore Symphony

I went to the opening concert of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Strathmore Thursday night.
1. The crowd was excited and a pretty good size Thursday night. Outside the hall was a beacon of swirling spotlights, inside audience members talked of the new conductor and enjoyed cocktails and some, dinner.
2. Martin Goldsmith introduced the concert and interviewed composer John Adams, as the concert was broadcast live on XM*. Goldsmith was either nervous or stressed as he introduced the concert, microphone shaking visibly - it's an odd thing to see a radio host work - but then asked good questions of the composer. Afterwards, Martin was showing patrons a BSO program from the 40s when his father played in the orchestra - the old program a gift from the orchestra.
3. Adams called his Fearful Symmetries a 25 minute boogie, a jam for orchestra with a saxophone section that is the "lounge lizards." It certainly seemed to put the audience in the right frame of mind, and they indeed loved Marin Alsop in this opener. Alsop danced, coaxed, shook and led the orchestra in great stride and energy. The only detraction was a photographer on the second level whose camera made audible disruptions in the music. Musically the orchestra and conductor were spot on, with the right amount of energy and passion, precision and phrases.
4. Mahler's 5th Symphony was the other work on the program. If one thought Alsop was energetic in the Adams, she was even more animated for the Mahler! The comparisons of Alsop and her mentor Leonard Bernstein are quite apt. Alsop drew visions of Vienna with the performance, and in the first movement, somehow elongated the first beat as the funeral march went along - tempos were quite extreme, but not too much to be awkward, but with the right contrast. Each movement was treated with care, the dramatic second movement attaca, the third with the right amount of motion, and the fourth charming without sappiness. I was quite surprise at the volume of the harp, never heard quite such a balance - almost too much at the start - but by the high points, was heavenly. The finale brought the house down - Marin actually jumped several times - with the results paying off with the orchestra responding more and more.
5. The post concert reception was champagne and dessert filled, and included the proclamation of "Marin Alsop Day" on September 27th, Alsop's proud parents attending, as well as Adams and Goldsmith. Several orchestra members came, besides orchestra management (I was amused one manager got his copy of Fearful Symmetries cd signed and another got Martin to autograph his copy of the Inextinguishable Symphony, an excellently written story of Martin's parents). I have to say I so loved experiencing all of this energy and excitement, and certainly the idea of 11 living composers on the programs is such a great concept! There is a small part of me that wants to chide management that there was a scandal when the original announcement of Alsop's appointment was made - there should have been no worries!

Needless to say, I'll be going to the BSO alot this season, and will also be talking to many of the composers, as well as Alsop. Keep an eye out here and over at Composing Thoughts.

*Access to the broadcast for those who are not subscribers to XM’s service is available through signing up for a free three-day trial. To do so: Go to and click on “Listen Now Online”, or go directly to:

No comments: