Sunday, September 12, 2010

BSO - Prokofiev, Mahler, Bach, Schumann, Williams, Mozart, Barber & Shostakovich - 09/10/10

Conductor: Marin Alsop
Guest Conductor: Ilyich Rivas
Prokofiev: "Allegro con brio" from Classical Symphony
Bach: "Air" from Suite No 3 (Arr. Mahler)
Mahler: "Blumine" from Symphony No 1 in D Major - Ilyich Rivas
Schumann: "Allegro molto vivace" from Symphony No 2 in C Major, Op. 61
Williams: "Main Title" from Star Wars
Mozart: Overture to The Magic Flute, K. 620
Barber: Essay No 2, Op. 17
Prokofiev: "Quarrel" and "Amoroso" from Cinderella
Shostakovich: "Allegro non troppo" from Symphony No 5 in D Minor, Op. 47

Now that summer is officially over, it does not get much better than taking the Red Line train again all the way up to Strathmore, which I did last night for the much-awaited Season Preview concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The music center was bustling on such a beautiful fall evening and once the concert got underway, it really felt like I had never left because - guess what - they were all there: the snifflers, the coughers, the talkers, the fidgeters, the program droppers, the loud candy sucker to my left (just once, but unfortunately during The Magic Flute’s overture. Damn it, and her) and the sporadic bangle shaker to my right (at will. Hers, not mine, obviously). It may be a brand new season, but some things will never change, will they?
In the middle of it all, maestra Alsop brought her trademark hot red cuffs, deadpan sense of humor and unwavering commitment to sharing the wonders of classical music. Having the musicians and herself mingle with the audience during intermission was yet another one of her non-stop initiatives to make us all one big happy music-loving family, and the schmoozing feast was such a big success that it apparently may even become a regular thing. In the meantime, the program was predictably a smorgasbord of excerpts from the upcoming season, loosely alternating movements from large pieces with stand-alone works. So on with the music.

Sergei Prokofiev was only 26 years old when he wrote his Haydn-inspired Classical Symphony (never mind that it actually is one of the first neo-classical works ever since even then he couldn’t help but toy with new compositional practices). Not quite yet Russia’s enfant terrible, he made sure to include everything that makes us love classical music: the pretty melodies, the vibrant harmonies and the inventive rhythms, all conspiring to attract, enchant and convert. Its “Allegro con brio” was therefore a playful, infectious way to kick off this new journey with the BSO, and they threw themselves whole-heartedly into it.
From 20th century Russia we went right back to 18th century German with Bach and his lovely “Air” (on the G String. The violin one, that is) from Suite No 3, arranged by no less than Gustav Mahler. One of the most popular hits of the Baroque era, it gracefully rose and ethereally soared. It is one of those soothing pieces that make you feel a better person by just listening to it.
Next, we stuck to Mahler with “Blumine”, the rejected second movement of his first symphony. For the occasion, the baton was passed on to Ilyich Rivas, a promising 17-year-old conductor in the making from Venezuela, who brought steady soulfulness to the short but so pleasant intermezzo. The orchestra seemed to take well to their temporary leader and let the work’s delicate lyricism open and bloom.
After all those lofty sounds, it was time for some happy tunes, which we ironically got from one of the most ill-fated composers ever. The “Allegro molto vivace” closes Schumann’s second symphony with unabated zest and sunniness, and Marin Alsop, back on the podium, led her musicians in a merrily alive rendition of it.
Our uplifted spirits got another boost with John Williams’ main title from Star Wars, his world-famous heroic theme unabashedly filling up the Strathmore concert hall loud and clear. Unsurprisingly, it got the biggest ovation of the evening, a feat probably due, at least partly, to all the young (and a bit less young) people in the audience.
The second half of the evening started with Mozart’s irresistible overture to The Magic Flute. One of the best cross-over achievements in the opera répertoire, this truly magical score quickly grabs the undivided attention of young and old right from its first, strongly assertive notes to the fast-paced, buoyant passages that follow. And best of all, no knowledge of freemasonry is needed (Watch for Number 3 if you're interested) to appreciate all the perky intricacies of this mood-enhancing frolic. In the hands of the BSO, it brightly shone as the all-around crowd-pleaser that it is.
I have not been a big fan of Barber so far and his Essay No 2 won’t change my mind, but it nevertheless went down nicely.
Then it was back to Prokofiev with two short excerpts from his Cinderella score, “Quarrel”, whose vivaciousness did conjure up some heated arguments and “Amoroso”, whose charming melodies could only have been inspired by blissful love.
Maestra Alsop had obviously decided to wrap things up with a resounding bang, and we sure felt its power courtesy of Shostakovich and the “Allegro non troppo” from his fifth symphony. The forceful, no holds barred movement (out of triumph or despair, you decide) concluded our evening with an intense punch. Let the season begin!

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