Judging by the bottom line, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 2016-2017 season-opening gala Saturday night was an unqualified success. The event raised a little over $1 million.
That total includes about $40,000 raised during the concert portion of the evening. Audience members were encouraged to take out their cell phones and text in pledges to support summer programs of OrchKids, the BSO's widely admired educational project that currently serves 1,000 inner-city students.
Artistically, the gala was, like many a previous one, something of a mixed bag.
Given that the well-heeled, well-connected crowd on hand for these events is not necessarily the same crowd that attends the BSO's regular activity, gala programs tend to be on the short, peppy side, with room for a big-name guest artist. This one was no exception.
As for star power, that came from veteran violinist Itzhak Perlman. He was greeted enthusiastically as he drove toward center stage on a motorized scooter, and the applause continued as he grabbed his crutches and worked his way to the raised platform where he sat to play Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.
(Perlman, who contracted polio at an early age, is a passionate advocate for the rights of the disabled. He's equally passionate about other rights issues. Earlier this year, he canceled an appearance with an orchestra in Raleigh when told he could not make any statement against what he described as the "ugly and hostile" North Carolina law limiting LGBT rights.)
The 71-year-old Perlman delivered a typically warm-hearted performance of the Mendelssohn war horse, bringing considerable tenderness to its lyrical side and handling bravura passages with a good deal of finesse.
BSO music director Marin Alsop provided supple support on the podium, drawing smooth playing from the ensemble.
The evening also offered the premiere of a commissioned work, "The Baltimore Bomb," by Caroline Shaw, who took as her inspiration a decadent local pie made with Berger cookies (just thinking about that concoction can generate calories).
The versatile, New York-based composer, who became the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in music in 2013 (she was then 30) and went on to collaborate with Kanye West, has written an attractive curtain-raiser. A suggestion of clanking cutlery from the percussion section -- evoking eager dessert eaters, perhaps -- provides an initial pulse for "The Baltimore Bomb," which gets further fuel from lush chord progressions.
Kinetic music also turned up later in the form of Ginastera's "Malambo" and Bernstein's "Mambo" — one would have sufficed; performing both back-to-back edged toward overkill. But Alsop had the BSO percolating impressively through the two pieces.
It has become customary for the annual gala to promote OrchKids (a brief barrage from a "bucket band" of young players got things started) and other BSO educational ventures.
Saturday's concert ended with contingents from OrchKids, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Youth Orchestras and BSO Orchlab spread across the front of the stage to join the BSO in a bit of Beethoven. Perlman returned to join the students.
An arrangement by BSO associate conductor Nicholas Hersh of the "Ode to Joy" (sans vocalists) added a pop beat to the familiar music to little purpose. And, even though he conducted from an aisle in the hall, supplementing Alsop's efforts onstage, coordination was not exactly pristine. Not that anyone minded. The ovation was loud and long.