BSO program lights fire under audience


You never know when lightning will strike, indoors or outdoors. Thursday night, it struck three times inside Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, heating up the place something fierce.

The first hit came at the start of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's season-closing program, when Vadim Repin, one of today's most gifted and engaging violinists, took hold of Tchaikovsky's over-used Violin Concerto and injected fresh blood directly into its veins.

Next came the premiere of a concerto dedicated to Repin and commissioned by the BSO. It did what precious few pieces of contemporary music do - light a fire under the audience. With good reason. Daniel Brewbaker's Playing and Being Played has the right stuff.

Then it was back to well-worn fare, Respighi's Pines of Rome, and, what do you know? With guest conductor James Judd pulling out all the stops, that thumping old orchestral showpiece sounded brand-spanking new, almost profound in content (a surprising trick in itself) and just plain irresistible.

Not bad for one concert.

In a single, compact movement, Brewbaker's concerto packs a remarkable amount of thematic material that is developed clearly and arrestingly. From its misty opening measures to a breathless dash for the finish line, the score travels through a variety of moods with a restless energy that, even at the slowest, quietest moments, exudes a powerful tension.

At one of those soft spots, a lyrical theme, simple and direct, emerges from the violin. Many a composer, past or present, would envy its haunting pull.

Repin played the heck out of the heartily applauded new work, while Judd assured smooth interaction and effective balances between the soloist and the taut ensemble.

The violinist jumped on the Tchaikovsky war horse just as impressively, unafraid to let his warm tone turn edgy or bend tempos at will to make an expressive point. The commanding interpretation had Russian soul all over it, but also a smile. Judd's flexible, attentive partnering and the BSO's tight response added to the rewards.

In Respighi's musical evocation of pine-filled Roman sites, Judd wasn't about to let one note slip past without recharging its original potential; the whole piece struck me as more brilliant and inventive than ever.

The delicate shimmer the conductor coaxed from the strings in the Janiculum movement proved as memorable as his masterful pacing of the gradual crescendo in the Appian Way finale, which was like a blinding flash in slow motion.

With barely an exception, the orchestra operated on peak charge. Remaining performances promise equal voltage.


Where: Meyerhoff Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.; Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda

When: 8 tonight at Strathmore, 3 p.m. tomorrow at Meyerhoff

Tickets: $27 to $75 at Meyerhoff, limited availability at Strathmore

Call: 410-783-8000

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