Artsmash Critic Tim Smith covers classical music, theater and visual arts in Baltimore and beyond

BSO gets warm reception in Edinburgh Festival debut

Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Responses from online reviewing sites indicate that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra made a great impression in its debut at the Edinburgh International Festival, the first stop in a U.K./Ireland tour.

On Aug. 24, music director Marin Alsop led the BSO in a sold-out concert at Usher Hall, featuring music of Schumann, Gershwin and Stravinsky.

Writing for EdinburghGuide.com, an online entertainment news/reviews web site, Barnaby Miln described the BSO as “a first class orchestra” that gave a “business-like and exciting” account of Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite (“Others may have played it more romantically, but that would not have been appropriate for the BSO,” Miln wrote, without elaboration), and “a very fine performance” of Schumann’s Symphony No. 2.

Alsop — “A familiar and welcome face on the Usher Hall stage from her time as Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra,” Miln wrote — also conducted Gershwin’s Concerto in F with piano soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. “The interaction between pianist and conductor throughout was fascinating,” the review noted.

On Aug. 25, the BSO performed a salute to Alsop’s mentor and friend Leonard Bernstein, who would have turned 100 that day. The program included his “Serenade” for violin and orchestra, with Nicola Benedetti as soloist; Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”; Three Dance Episodes from “On the Town.” The program opened with musical salutes written by eminent composers Luciano Berio, John Corigiliano, Toru Takemitsu and John Williams for Bernstein’s 70th birthday in 1988.

In a post for Seen and Heard International, the live performance review section of the online site MusicWeb International, Simon Thompson wrote that spending Bernstein’s birthday “with Marin Alsop, his most high profile student and disciple, is the closest thing you could get to spending it with Lenny himself.”

The BSO played the birthday salutes “beautifully, with an ear for the good humour as well as the warmth,” the review continued. The orchestra’s “sound is big. There is a real shine to it … with a gleaming gloss on the string tone as well as the brass.”

Of the “West Side Story” excerpts, Thompson said the BSO delivered “about the most high-class Symphonic Dances I’ve ever heard; glitzy and full of raw energy for the fast music, while the love music had just the right of schmaltz, which is no bad thing in Bernstein. The same was true for the ‘On the Town’ episodes … The orchestra featured some fantastic solos, not least from a deliciously smarmy trumpet and an insolent clarinet.”

Bernstein’s “Serenade” was “played with undeniable class by Nicola Benedetti.” As for the BSO’s part of that performance, “This orchestra have this music in their bones,” Thompson wrote.

He added that “there can be no better guide to [Bernstein’s] world than Alsop. She exudes authority in this music. She not only knows it, but she also loves it, and she wants everyone else to do the same.”

The international online magazine Bachtrack also covered the Aug. 25 performance. Ryan Buchanan praised Benedetti’s work in the “Serenade,” noting that the violinist’s “disarmingly unaffected” manner “well matches Alsop’s style on the podium: crisp, precise and no-nonsense while being completely involved.”

Buchanan wrote that classical orchestras “generally [don’t have] swing and pizzazz built into their DNA,” but “the Baltimore Symphony proved [in the “West Side Story” dances] that they can swing when they want to. From the off, the excitement generated was palpable … It’s a great suite from a great musical, and Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony did it proud.” The percussion section, featured prominently in this music, was “nothing short of awesome.”

The concluding “On the Town” music revealed, Buchanan wrote, “how close is the relationship between this conductor and this orchestra, how much they trust each other.” And the encore, the overture to Bernstein’s “Candide,” “sent us from Usher Hall into the cool Edinburgh evening with our spirits lifted.”

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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