Tovey conducts a little electricity

The Baltimore Sun

The hottest hot-weather conductor in America right now is a Brit - Bramwell Tovey.

He's a box-office magnet for the New York Philharmonic's Summertime Classics series, and he was just named principal guest conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic's summer series at the Hollywood Bowl.

On Thursday night, the 50-something Tovey made his Baltimore Symphony Orchestra debut as part of the Summernights 2008 festival, leading a one-performance-only Gershwin-Bernstein program before a sold-out house at the Music Center at Strathmore.

Tovey, music director of the Vancouver Symphony, has acquired a reputation as a gifted commentator with a deliciously dry and wry streak. Sure enough, his remarks from the stage provided so much amusement that it was hard to complain about the resultant lengthening of the evening.

Tovey shaped a warmhearted account of An American in Paris that drew dynamic playing from the BSO. The trumpet work of Rene Hernandez made an especially vivid impression.

Another Gershwin war horse, Rhapsody in Blue, was dragged out of the stable as a vehicle for Tovey's pianistic and conducting talents (the subprime mortgage crisis, he joked, necessitated saving money on a separate guest soloist). His keyboard work wasn't entirely clean, but had abundant flourish. Christopher Wolfe delivered the famous wailing clarinet solo at the start with an earthy, irresistible punch.

The Symphonic Dances from Bernstein's West Side Story sizzled and emoted powerfully. And there was an extra jolt of music from that show - Tovey's own crackling arrangement of the Latin-flavored rouser, "America."

Tovey composes on the side, and he brought along as a curtain-raiser a kinetic piece produced this year called Urban Runway. I can't say it lingered in the ear exactly, but it was fun while it lasted.

With any luck, the BSO will find a way to get Tovey back soon - and, next time, for appearances in Baltimore, not just Bethesda.

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