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BSO's Casual Gershwin

Miss Ionarts and Master Ionarts, on the concert reporting beat
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra often offers a slimmed-down version of their weekly programs, called the Casual Concert, presented with no intermission on Saturday mornings at 11 am. This past weekend, it seemed like as good a time as any to pile Master Ionarts and Miss Ionarts into their car-seats to see what it was all about. On the surface, it was not really all that different. While a few in the audience wore shorts and/or T-shirts, most people were dressed about as casually as they are for a regular evening concert, while a few others still dressed more formally. On stage, the orchestra "dressed down" to jackets and ties, but Marin Alsop and this week's soloist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, wore what they generally wear. Whatever one may have expected in terms of changes in audience behavior, the same sense of decorum associated with concerts remained. Well, the audience did applaud after the first movement of the Concerto in F, understandably enough, and we are happy to report that not a finger was wagged.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pianist
Thibaudet must tire of playing these two Gershwin concertos -- his recording of Rhapsody in Blue with the BBC Symphony Orchestra showed up again on his recent Movie Album. One had the sense, listening to this performance of both of them back to back, of Thibaudet searching for something new in the way he played them. While he did drive himself over and past many of the denser passages, as if daring himself to push the envelope, he did not hit on something truly striking, as Fazil Say did with the BSO a few years ago. His strength was in the suave, bluesy side of the works, as Thibaudet coolly explored every riff and twinkle of this mixture of jazz and Ravel. Alsop followed that lead, justifying her programming of Gershwin on a non-pops program in her earnest introduction to the concert. It is what it is, so enjoy it.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Soloist, BSO play Gershwin with vim (Baltimore Sun, May 24)

Ronni Reich, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Washington Post, May 26)
What was promised in the promotional materials was the original 1924 orchestration for the premiere of Rhapsody in Blue, by the Paul Whiteman Band (really a swing orchestra), but the program notes claimed this was the later orchestral arrangement. Ferde Grofé was the mastermind behind transferring Gershwin's score for two pianos to that original Whiteman Band arrangement, as well as two revisions in 1926 and 1942, for chamber and full orchestra. Grofé later went on to teach orchestration at Juilliard, among many other things. Listening to the premiere performance, or most of it, online (Part 1 and Part 2) is an enlightening experience. Among other things, you can hear Whiteman's clarinet player, Ross Gorman, on the now iconic opening glissando, a touch that was improvised by Gorman and later added by Gershwin to the score. The BSO played with polish and verve, with a smooth opening solo from the clarinet and well-behaved trumpet lines. The group was not always exactly together with Thibaudet, but not to any disconcerting degree. The verdict from the younger members of the Ionarts family was unanimous: they listened attentively and bopped along to some of the bouncier parts. Fortunately, at a Casual Concert it is alright for a small child to giggle softly when delighted.

Next week, under the baton of Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra undertakes a program of South American music called The Inca Trail. On Friday (May 30, 8 pm) at Strathmore, and on Saturday (May 31, 8 pm) in Baltimore.


Frank Pesci said...

oh my god, yer kids are huge!

Charles T. Downey said...

Hi Frank! Yes, they don't tell you this, but children eat an astounding amount of food and grow at a terrifying rate. Are you going to be in Washington at all this summer?