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Alsop Leads Josefowicz and BSO in Adams

In front of a rather full audience at the Meyerhoff Thursday evening, Marin Alsop,

Leila Josefowicz, photo by Michael Zirkle
Music Director-Designate of the Baltimore Symphony, impressed. The high point of the program was The Dharma at Big Sur by John Adams, composed for electric violin and orchestra, and recently commissioned for the opening of Disney Hall in Los Angeles.

From the podium, Alsop offered the audience a verbal introduction to the work, allowing brief demonstrations of the interesting Eastern percussion (cowbells, tuned gongs, a microtonally tuned piano, etc.) and repeatedly referring to the composer as “John,” to underscore the fact that he is not some dead European. The verbal introduction was both well prepared and endearing to the audience, who were given a chance to get to know the future Music Director. Alsop and violinist Leila Josefowicz executed the protracted build-up in intensity – which extended for the entire piece – with absolute authority. The opening Appalachian Spring intervals, heard in harmonics from the cello section, reminded one that the The Dharma at Big Sur is indeed a fusion of Indian and American material (Adams is a Buddhist).

Adams, who also wrote the program notes for his piece, mentioned that “in almost all cultures other than the European classical one, the real meaning of the music is in between the notes.” This case for portamento was laudably affirmed by Josefowicz on her six-string violectra. In the Q&A at the end of the evening, Josefowicz gushed about being able to enter the viola and cello range (the violectra has low C and F strings). Over time, though, one did wonder if the performance would have been more expressive on her actual violin.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, Marin Alsop And BSO Revel In What Feels Like New (Washington Post, May 4)

Tim Smith, BSO takes sojourn with Mahler, Adams (Baltimore Sun, May 5)
Alsop stretched the phrases of the Blumine from Mahler’s First Symphony in a lovely way, while giving the soloists plenty of musical space as well. Perhaps the tranquil Blumine was programmed directly before the Adams piece because it ends with portamento figures that rise higher and higher by the first violins. The clarinet solos in Scheherazade, of Rimsky-Korsakov, were particularly well played.

My concert companion mentioned that the average age of a Harley-Davidson purchaser is 65 years old. This leaves Harley with the task of introducing new products aimed at cultivating interest in younger riders (sport bikes, etc.), while not alienating their grayed-hair, loyal base. The Baltimore Symphony is doing an impressive job framing contemporary music so that it may be enjoyed by all. Though as a hedge next season, one should not forget that in addition to progressive programming, the BSO will perform the complete cycle of Beethoven Symphonies. Also in the Q&A, Alsop created interest in next season’s programming by mentioning that the music of Adams will be featured in the season opener, and that Adams will lead the season’s second weekend of concerts, for which he has specifically requested to conduct Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony because of its “minimalism.”

This concert will be repeated this evening (May 4, 8 pm) and tomorrow morning (May 5, 11 am) -- as a Casual Concert, without the Adams work. All performances take place at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.

You can also hear Leila Josefowicz in a solo recital next weekend, at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville: May 12 (9 pm) and May 13 (7:30 pm).

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