Yuri Temirkanov responded to the persistent roar of yesterday's large audience at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall with broad smiles, hand-over-heart gestures and enthusiastic waves as his six-year tenure as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra came to a close.
A Washington fan unfurled a hand-written banner in Russian and English: "You are still the czar." Temirkanov gave a heart thumbs-up sign at the sight of it.
Last October in Vienna, during an end-of-European-tour party for the BSO, he had the musicians cheering wildly when he declared, "I am still the czar." The line seemed a thinly veiled suggestion to the orchestra's management not to count the music director out too soon.
Yesterday's echo of those words seemed an appropriate response to the inspired account of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony.
If there's an artistic sense of the word "czar," Temirkanov deserves the title, as someone who can command respect from an orchestra and quickly earn its affection, and can generate so much expressive power that his interpretations almost always sound authoritative.
That's certainly the way it was with his account of Mahler's heaven-scaling symphony. Temirkanov's carefully sculpted phrasing never came off as studied; his tempos, and all the little rhythmic gradations within them, invariably felt right, carrying the music toward its ecstatic release of exultation.
Saturday night's performance at a sold-out Music Center at Strathmore had wonderful moments but did not come together as satisfyingly as Thursday and yesterday at Meyerhoff. Things were often off-center in the orchestra, and the strings sounded oddly thin.
(The audience was invited to have champagne in the Strathmore lobby as concertmaster Jonathan Carney toasted Temirkanov, finishing with the traditional triple "hip-hip" salute.)
Mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby, who had sung beautifully Thursday, became sick Saturday. In the best trouper tradition, she went onstage anyway, though she had to sing much of her fourth movement solo an octave lower than written. In the finale, soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme bravely sang the mezzo solo as well as her own, enabling Maultsby to save the last of her strength for the subsequent brief duet.
In a case of diva ex machina, a replacement for Maultsby arrived from Philadelphia yesterday an hour before the concert - Marietta Simpson, who sang gloriously. So did Chandler-Eteme. Her radiant voice was a highlight in each of the concerts I attended.
The chorus, containing members of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, Morgan State University Choir and the former BSO Chorus, offered extra subtlety and power yesterday.
(Temirkanov had the choristers sing their opening verses while seated and then, a few at time in seemingly random order, begin to stand for the rest. It was a striking visual image to match the finale's words about conquering death and rising again.)
A few smudges aside, the BSO was at its technical peak yesterday. More than that, it played with a remarkable eloquence. Given this Mahler symphony and these circumstances, you could say the ensemble played with a kind of spirituality, too.
Personally, I believe Temirkanov could have been persuaded to stay on for a few more years as music director, if things inside the BSO administration had been more stable. But the time he did give this orchestra and its public proved exceptionally productive.
He's still the czar.