Inspiring musicianship from a new generation


Last night's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert in Meyerhoff Hall showed how well the torch has been passed from one generation to the next.

The conductor, making his first appearance as a guest with the BSO, was Michael Stern, the son of the famed violinist Isaac Stern. The soloist was violinist Pamela Frank, the daughter of pianists Claude Frank and Lillian Kallir.

Although Stern got his start as associate conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra, he has made his career in Europe, primarily in Switzerland and France.

To judge from this program of Rossini's overture to "L'Italiana in Algeri," Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony and Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D, he is very talented.

The Rossini overture sparkled persuasively and featured some piquant touches in the winds, particularly from flutist Emuly Controulis and oboist James Ostryniec.

The Mendelssohn symphony was equally solid and was genuinely inspired in the slow movement. Stern molded the melodies most persuasively, pacing matters so that the music reached its climax in an utterly unforced manner.

There were a few moments in the performance that suggested the 36-year-old conductor's inexperience -- an obvious gearshift here and a bombastic moment there -- but this was a debut that made one interested to hear more from this conductor.

Frank is no stranger to BSO audiences, and she played the Beethoven concerto with her usual fearlessness and sensitivity.

She experienced some occasional rough going early in the first movement -- her intonation seemed uncharacteristically unsteady.

But once she hit the Joachim cadenza -- whose hills and valleys she climbed with breathtaking assurance -- she settled down. The performance of the slow movement was among the most beautiful this listener has heard; it was at once wistful in its tenderness and probing in its introspection.

At the beginning of the final movement, an alarm in the hall went off, sounding like a crazed cuckoo.

The young violinist merely grinned, continued to play and played the piece with focus, freedom and technical flair that made for compulsive listening.

What lent her performance further distinction was the way in which the soloist listened to and responded to the orchestra's fine accompaniment. It was playing that had the character of a fine chamber music performance.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15 and Sunday at 3 p.m.

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