Very few performances are as lighted with enthusiasm and passion as those given by orchestras comprised of young musicians.
Saturday night in Meyerhoff Hall, the National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic nailed the opening of Berlioz's "Corsair Overture." There was a sense of ensemble as sharp as a just-opened razor; there was intonation that featured pinpoint accuracy; and the rest of the piece had a trajectory like that of a Roman candle. And the performance glowed inwardly with as much heart-felt lyricism as it shone with brilliance and grandeur.
This was clearly an orchestra that was not playing the "Corsair" for the 150th time; the freshness of youth replaced the routine of professionalism.
Designed for young musicians on the threshold of their professional career, the National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland College Park puts together an orchestra every summer for three weeks, allowing the musicians to work with such experienced conductors as Joseph Silverstein. Saturday's concert, which was conducted by Silverstein, was the summing up of those three weeks of intensive training in orchestral musicianship. It must have been a very good three weeks.
Silverstein is one of the most experienced men in American symphonic music. He was (and remains) a superb violinist, a former concert master of the Boston Symphony (and later its associate conductor), a former music adviser of the Baltimore Symphony and he is now music director of the Utah Symphony. What he doesn't know about the symphonic repertory probably isn't worth knowing.
Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler" Symphony is among the most difficult pieces in any orchestra's 20th-century repertory. But Silverstein guided his young orchestra -- the ages of the musicians ranged from 17 to 30 -- through the piece with a solid sense of security and an even more impressive attention to detail. The opening movement proceeded unfalteringly at a majestic pace; the slow movement had an affecting quiet eloquence; and the final movement, which had gratifying breadth and weight, featured unusually lucid textures and careful attention to dynamic shadings.
Brahms Symphony No. 1, which concluded the listed program, was also performed with a refreshing absence of the routine. There were several outstanding features. These included an emphasis on the scurrying figures in the strings as the horn announces the chorale theme in the final movement that made the melody even more portentous than usual; and a controlled, but flexible, rhythm in that movement that created a sense of pent-up energy and that led, in turn, to a final peroration like a dam burst.
The encore was a sparkling performance of a Brahms "Hungarian Dance."