BWW Reviews: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 2012 Concert a Huge Success
I had an extra ticket to the recent Preview Concert given by Maestra Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. They were to present excerpts from some of the pieces of the upcoming season.
After I noticed the SRO sign by the box office, I wanted to give the ticket to a young student looking for a ticket and I found one. Boy, did I find one.
He is Yanbin Chen, a trumpet player from Shanghai China who attends the Peabody Conservatory of Music. He's not just a trumpet player. He plays First Trumpet in the Peabody Conservatory Orchestra and happens to take lessons from the First Trumpet player of the Baltimore Symphony, Andrew Balio. (There's a huge poster of him right outside the front of the Meyerhoff.) What a coincidence!
Maestra Alsop infused the evening with humor using a microphone to inform concert goers about each work she would be playing and thanking the audience for their continued loyalty while enticing new patrons to subscribe to the 96 year old BSO. The orchestra was in their white tie and tails.
When introducing selections from the"Symphonic Dances from West Side Story" suite, she mentioned the theme this season of music in the cinema. She mentioned the importance of music in films while discussing the gorgeous Bernard Hermann score for Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" and mentioned that his classic "The Birds" had none. I highly recommend a visit to New York's Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, which has a lovely exhibit on film music. One sees a scene from a film with three different film scores and what a difference they make.
Bernstein's only film score was for "On the Waterfront" and the BSO played the overture last week-end. The BSO will accompany Charlie Chaplin's film "Modern Times" May 10-12 (with a score by Chaplin). There's even a new Broadway musical that just opened called CHAPLIN. Another film being shown is "Alexander Nevsky" with a score by Prokofiev.
But what may very well be one of the highlights of the season will be the BSO accompanying the film "West Side Story" June 14-16, 2013. As a prelude to this big event, the BSO played a suite from the score which was truly breathtaking. Normally, one hears a Broadway orchestra (usually under 20 instruments) in the orchestra pit. Here, there is NO pit. Just an orchestra of about 90 musicians. It was a great piece for the percussion section to shine. And the solo Oboe and French Horn were lovely. During "There's a Place for Us" you could hear a pin drop in the hall. And what an ovation Alsop received. I was surprised she never mentioned she studied conducting with Bernstein at Tanglewood.
Another film the orchestra will be playing along with is "Fantasia". One of the highlights of that film is Paul Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice". The audience really enjoyed it. Thanks to my new friend Yanbin, I can tell you there was a great solo by David P. Coombs on Contrabassoon. I closed my eyes and could visualize Mickey Mouse with his broom trying to get rid of the flood. While Alsop recalled she first saw the film when she was seven at Radio City Music Hall, I was reminiscing many years ago watching Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops playing the music on the Esplanade by the Charles River.
Alsop believes that contemporary composer Christopher Rouse one of the great American composers along with Bernstein, Copeland and John Adams. She selected a modern piece which featured only the BSO percussion section, "Ku-ka-llimaku", which was outstanding. Kudos to Christopher Williams, John Locke, Brian Prechtl, Karen Haringa, and Jack Brennan. Many in the audience stood following the short 10 minute composition. I wish I was one of the few in the box seats overlooking the percussion section to get a bird's eye view.
An interesting series the BSO has instituted is the "Off the Cuff" series where on four Saturday nights, starting early (7 p.m.) with no intermission, Alsop dissects one piece of music and then performs it in its entirety. I tried it last season and really enjoyed it. She then proceeded to present a taste of the "Off the Cuff" series playing the first movement of Beethoven's 5th symphony. How many of you are humming, da da da daaaaa?
During intermission, members of the BSO, including Maestra Alsop, filtered into the lobby to talk with patrons. I got the opportunity to meet Yanbin's teacher, Andrew Balio who is just delightful. We had a lovely conversation and I learned he is writing a Broadway musical. Hope to have more on that later.
The second half began with another American composer, John Adams. His "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" was thoroughly enjoyable. Alsop swayed back and forth to the time kept by a wooden block. It is clear that she loved the five minute piece.
A piece by composer Richard Wagner was next. The BSO played his Liebestud from "Tristen and Isolde". It was truly beautiful, incredibly moving. The strings never sounded better.
Next was a bit of Rachmaninoff. Alsop conducted "Cinq Etudes-tableaux" (orchestrated by Respighi), which was commissioned by the other BSO, the Boston Symphony. This gorgeous piece will be part of all Rachmaninoff evening featuring Garrick Ohlsson on the piano playing what is known as the Rach 3 (remember the movie "Shine"?) to be performed in January.
It was fitting the concert ended with the fourth movement of Mahler's Symphony #1 in D Major, "The Titan". This piece was recorded by the BSO in September of 2008 and the CD is just being released. The audience responded with a terrific ovation. The Maestra signed copies of the new CD following the concert. I highly recommend it.