The world of classical music sometimes seems such a seriou place. So serious, in fact, that we sometimes forget that the verb in the phrase "to play music" is the same verb that means to engage in sport. That frolicsome sense was part of the experieThe world of classical music sometimes seems such a serious place. So serious, in fact, that we sometimes forget that the verb in the phrase "to play music" is the same verb that means to engage in sport. That frolicsome sense was part of the experience last night in Meyerhoff Hall when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its music director, David Zinman, gave their first concert of the season.
Michael Torke's "Ash," which received its local premiere and will be recorded by the BSO later this month, was certainly about as playful as music gets. In this piece, the young American composer -- he's the hottest new-music man in the 20-something generation -- takes an F minor chord and refuses, in the manner of minimalism, to let go of it. He subjects it to all manner of $H permutations, orchestrating it with myriad colors.
The work sometimes sounded as if Beethovenian gestures were on a speeded-up treadmill from which there was no escape. It was fun to listen to because those gestures were taken apart and pasted back together in such intriguing ways. Zinman and )) the orchestra performed the piece with energy and wit.
That the conductor was himself in a playful mood was apparent from his performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in his own arrangement. After the recent brouhaha of Roseanne Barr's rendition of the national anthem, Zinman's performance of this traditional first-concert-of-the-season opener made one a little nervous. He performed it as a minuet in the style of a Bach suite, with all the affected musical turns, bows and double-dotted rhythms that style suggests. The audience seemed stunned; few knew when to begin singing.
That same tongue-in-cheek manner was then applied to the first work on the program, Bach's Suite No. 4, which received a superb performance that made one wish that the composer's music had not been forced out of the modern orchestra's repertory.
The concert ended with a performance of Brahms' Symphony No. 2 that could perhaps only be faulted for a second movement that was a little too slow. The rest of it was superb, carefully shaped and -- like the rest of the concert -- exuberantly playful.