The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has introduced various concert series over the years and experienced likewise various results (remember Symphony With a Twist?). One that caught on early during Marin Alsop’s tenure as music director and, judging by the turnout Saturday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, has maintained its hold is dubbed Off the Cuff.
The concept is simple: brief, informal remarks about a single major work, punctuated with musical illustrations, followed by a complete performance of that work. Over the weekend, Off the Cuff spotlighted Stravinsky’s ballet score “The Rite of Spring,” which made history 105 years ago in Paris.
Before a packed house, Alsop delivered a typically droll introduction to the piece. The orchestra played snippets from sumptuous, earlier Russian repertoire to show the tradition Stravinsky emerged from, as well as his ballet scores that earned favorable attention before he created his riotous “Rite.”
Alsop had particular fun describing the disturbance that broke out at the premiere. Although that reaction may have had much more to do with Nijinksy’s bold choreography than Stravinsky’s bolder music, it always makes for a good story.
I’m as big a fan of the “Rite” as the next guy, but did Alsop really need to bring it back so soon? She led the BSO in a crackling account of the score only three years ago.
That said, she certainly gave it her all on Saturday, once again thriving on its rhythmic trickiness, harmonic spice and earthy instrumentation. And the orchestra likewise sounded thoroughly caught up in the music, summoning brute strength with ease for the explosive outbursts, considerable subtlety for the moments of eerie calm.
The brass and percussion made a particularly brilliant showing, but the woodwinds and strings were hardly left in the dust. This was an all-hands, all-cylinders effort that gave the “Rite” a right good ride.