BSO simply rocks Tokyo, Yokohama


HIROSHIMA -- Sometimes, in the swirl of unpacking and re-packing and schlepping and waiting and more schlepping, all the while still trying to shake off the enervating after-effects of jet lag, it's hard to remember why touring is such a good thing for an orchestra.

And then comes a night like the one the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra had on Saturday before a sizable, enthusiastic crowd in Tokyo's premier performance venue, Suntory Hall.

It's worth putting up with just about any aggravation to hear this ensemble make that kind of pour-your-heart-out music-making. The BSO's still-evolving relationship with music director Yuri Temirkanov seemed to reach a fresh height of inter-communication and expressive freedom.

The experience was all the more remarkable given the uneven showing the night before in the Tokyo suburb of Tama. We're talking the difference between yoru and gozen, -- night and day. And things were just about on the same high level yesterday in Yokohama with a new program.

It sounds as if the BSO, which arrived in Hiroshima last night straight from that matinee performance, has now hit its groove for this tour.

Saturday did not start out auspiciously. There was an edgy rehearsal in the afternoon, with Temirkanov showing little patience for lapses in intonation or articulation as he zipped through portions of several scores.

The conductor has never been pleased with the limited rehearsal time allowed by union rules when an orchestra is on tour, and his frustration was evident. (This 75-minute session was the longest of five scheduled rehearsals; the four others are 30 minutes).

Temirkanov is used to a two-to-three-hour session every day when he travels with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. From his experience, precision and reliability require such constant honing. The notion that everything will just fall into place without a fresh, extensive rehearsal doesn't come naturally to him.

But if the players continue to deliver the goods as emphatically as they did Saturday and yesterday, the BSO may well make a believer out of Temirkanov on this issue.

Elegantly contoured Suntory Hall, with its spacious acoustical environment and listener-friendly ambience, is a great place for the orchestra to show off it strengths. The strings produced even more richness than they do at Meyerhoff Hall; the woodwinds, notably guest principal oboist Eric Olson, took on an extra warmth; the brass came through vividly.

The sheer beauty of the ensemble's tone, complemented by the sheer intensity of phrasing, generated a simply sensational account of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.

"I have heard many great orchestras here," said one woman during intermission, "but I never heard such wonderful Beethoven in my life."

Other random reactions from the audience included praise for the "perfect strings," the "very wonderful" conducting and the "majestic sound."

After the concert, which boasted new sumptuous, sensual levels in the Richard Strauss waltz suite and Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 (with Stefan Jackiw, at his most inspired yet), the musicians also seemed decidedly upbeat. As one put it succinctly, "We were rocking."

But the biggest vote of approval came from Temirkanov, who had said the night before that this concert would be better. He wasn't kidding. At a post-concert reception given by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (which has been striking its own positive chords in conjunction with the BSO visit), the conductor greeted musicians with unusually demonstrative hugs and kisses.

The residual force of this night in Suntory Hall is likely to be felt for a long time to come.

Turning for the first time to the tour's second program -- Weber, Schumann and Brahms -- yesterday in Yokohama's sleek, acoustically appealing, Suntory-inspired Minato Mirai Hall, the BSO still had all cylinders firing. Temirkanov coaxed exquisite details out of the Oberon Overture and had Brahms' Fourth Symphony alternately sighing and surging with dark passion.

Schumann's Piano Concerto was more notable for the orchestra's lyrical contributions than Michie Koyama's solo work, though she offered more varied phrasing and more potent attacks than she had back in Baltimore a couple weeks ago.

The Tokyo/Suntory and Yokohama/Minato concerts provided ample reconfirmation of the celebrated manners and intense focus of Japanese concert-goers. It's a little unnerving to be in a crowd that makes hardly a sound during a performance. There might be one or two coughs, but they are always stifled with a consideration for others practically unimaginable in the States.

It's also worth noting that the public here can register its enthusiasm quite sufficiently without resorting to the everyone-gets-a-standing-ovation-everytime routine practiced back home.

The BSO has today off in Hiroshima, the "International City of Peace and Culture." There won't be a concert here; the orchestra will instead bus out to Tokuyama and back tomorrow before bullet-training on Wednesday to Osaka and the tour's home stretch.

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