Sounds of success from up north


The reviews are in, and the recent excursion into New York City by two of Baltimore's leading musical institutions -- the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Peabody Conservatory -- generated mostly favorable press.

As expected, the BSO's visit to Carnegie Hall on April 26 became a love-fest for Lang Lang. Anne Midgette, in the New York Times, called the 18-year-old Lang Lang's Carnegie Hall debut "breathtaking." Advance buzz and a newly released CD were not enough, she said, to "prepare one for Mr. Lang in person. He is stunning."

There was praise, if few words, for the BSO and Temirkanov, "also a musician of prodigious talent. The orchestra rose to the occasion with resilient, involved playing."

The conservative program -- the Grieg concerto, Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kije" Suite and Dvorak's "unexceptionable and unexceptional" Symphony No. 8 -- drew a bit of fire. "Musicians of the caliber of Mr. Temirkanov and Mr. Lang could perform just about anything and make it interesting," Midgette wrote. "Unfortunately, 'just about anything' is indeed what they played."

Ultimately, Midgette concluded, "the wisest course of action was to abandon all reservations and allow oneself to be seduced."

Philadelphia Inquirer music critic David Patrick Stearns praised the "hyper-expressive teen-ager" Lang Lang for his "catharsis-as-performance interpretation," even though the pianist "bordered on self-indulgence."

As for the BSO, it got one adjective: "excellent."

The night before playing Carnegie Hall, the BSO was at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Writing in the Newark Star-Ledger, Willa J. Conrad described the "palpable sense of anticipation and escalating bravura [that] made Wednesday's performance a highly emotional affair, one that the audience, fully attentive and appreciative, seemed to take in with delight."

The BSO "delivered the requisite level of spectacle and excitement," Conrad said. She added that "there was less going on than this ensemble's considerable marketing puffery implied, but still it was a solid program."

Lang Lang was described as "a pianist with a passionate sense of expression, not at all a cerebral player but one obviously dedicated to the emotional as well as musical line." He "had quite a bit to say" with the Grieg concerto, the critic said, and "Temirkanov was a perfect accomplice."

The BSO's final stop, the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, Conn., prompted another favorable review. Steve Metcalf, in the Hartford Courant, echoed the enthusiasm for the "hotshot young piano soloist," but noted "a few glitches between conductor and soloist" in the Grieg concerto, "including one fairly serious Alphonse-and-Gaston moment in which each man awkwardly waited for the other to resolve a held chord."

Instead of the Dvorak Eighth, this program ended with the Sibelius Second Symphony, which Temirkanov guided "to a majestic, non-ponderous conclusion."

The night before the BSO's New York performance, the Peabody Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hajime Teri Murai, gave a concert at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. Allan Kozinn, covering it for the New York Times, welcomed the opportunity to hear "Ashes of Memory" by Peabody alumnus Michael Hersch, which had recently been given an incomplete performance in the city by the Pittsburgh Symphony.

The work "speaks in a language whose gestures and broader structures are rooted in Romanticism," Kozinn wrote. "But that language has an edge and an inventiveness that keep the music from seeming like warmed-over Brahms. It also makes hefty demands on every section of the orchestra, and there were times when the Peabody students momentarily faltered. Still, they conveyed the almost visual imagery of Mr. Hersch's gradually unfolding themes with a clarity and directness that served the music well."

The review went on to praise classical guitarist Manuel Barrueco, a Peabody alum and current faculty member, for his "precise, smoothly flowing account of Rodrigo's popular 'Concierto de Aranjuez,' for which Mr. Murai and his players provided a properly supple support.

"The orchestra," Kozinn concluded, "also offered a robust, sometimes clattery performance of Verdi's 'Forza del Destino' overture, and a vigorous if at times rough-hewn reading of Bartok's 'Miraculous Mandarin' Suite."

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