Michael Daugherty, composer
Alsop begins her season-long tribute to her one-time mentor, Leonard Bernstein, next week. Listening to Daugherty's extraterrestial-inspired work made me aware of several parellels with Bernstein's music: both are glossy, susceptible to cross-pollination with Broadway and jazz, occasionally vulnerable to fatal quirkiness. The piece's solo part, which calls for a stage-filling battery in several stations, alternates between a more traditional conception of percussion as meter-reinforcing pulse and an opposing range of improvised sounds noteworthy for its unpredictability. At various points, the slender, sorceress-like Glennie strode down the aisle with an amplified waterphone (so overused in The First Emperor), cranked a large siren, and frantically manipulated an endless variety of little noisemakers spread out on a mat. It was as cooky as the cultural phenomenon, UFO followers, it sought to embody.
Glennie's performance was astonishing to watch, especially in the more demanding movements that featured her primarily at the xylophone, vibraphone, and drum set. At times Alsop had her work cut out just to keep the orchestra in line with Glennie, which brought to mind that Glennie's accomplishment is all the more remarkable because she is hearing-impaired (she plays in bare feet, which she has said helps her sense vibrations more clearly). Regrettably, her recent forays into motivational speaking and jewelry design may make her become a parody of herself or just primarily a business. In any case, seeing her perform is still nothing short of stunning.
Joe Banno, The Baltimore Symphony's Space Adventure, Without the Cosmos (Washington Post, September 20)
Tim Smith, BSO ventures out of this world in season opener (Baltimore Sun, September 19)
Tim Smith, Quick Hit: Evelyn Glennie (Baltimore Sun, September 18)
Suzanne Collins, BSO Kicks Off Season With A Unique Sound (WBJZ, September 18)
The hymn in Jupiter, later known as Thaxted, was monolithic and congregational, almost uninflected. Uncharacteristically, the trumpets had a few imprecise attacks, and it was hard not to miss the organ part that is so memorable in the Uranus movement (yes, that's right, the organ in Uranus -- cue rimshot). The women's chorus in Neptune, made up of members of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society under the direction of Tom Hall, were suitably atmospheric, as the final movement, in 5/4 like Mars, rounded out the mirror form of the work.
The only false note was the opening work, the immolation scene from Wagner's Götterdämmerung. The strings and indeed the whole orchestra had a massive sound, like a wall of cyclopean blocks -- none of that Boulezian transparency in Alsop's Wagner. Some of the sectional transitions were a little rough around the edges, something a little more rehearsal time would have improved. All in all, it was an auspicious start. At intermission I spoke to a young Baltimorean who was at his first classical concert. An amateur rock musician, a friend had given him a season subscription and he found himself pleasantly surprised. It was no coincidence that Glennie's performance and the Daugherty piece were critical to the good first impression.
We are looking forward to next week's program even more, because it will combine the first symphonies of Leonard Bernstein and Gustav Mahler, with mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor as soloist, on September 26 (Strathmore) and September 27 to 29 (Meyerhoff).