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Hannu Lintu with the BSO

Hannu Lintu
Conductor Hannu Lintu
Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu, recently appointed as music director of the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra in Finland, impressed me when he stepped in for Xian Zhang to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra last year. Not only did he replace her, Lintu conducted the very program of unusual works scheduled for Zhang and on fairly short notice: one of them he had happened to conduct just before he came to Washington but he learned the others on the fly. What would he be like in this weekend's concerts with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, in a program that he had actually had a hand in shaping? As experienced on Saturday night, when the BSO came to the Music Center at Strathmore, even though the repertory was much less interesting, Lintu was just as impressive.

We will take Sibelius any way we can, even if it is the tone poem Finlandia, which even the composer himself found a little overrated. Lintu's shaping of the work was all edges, with the brass encouraged to thunder and echo in the famous opening ("Finland, Awake!"), with extra low rumbling added by the basses. Stark woodwinds opened the vista further, as the music evoked a barren, rocky expanse. Lintu's insistent gestures, at times his arms wind-milling around wildly, set the fast section of the piece on edge. Another, more mystical side of Finnish music was shown in the U.S. premiere of a new percussion concerto by Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928), Incantations. Premiered by the London Philharmonic at Royal Festival Hall last October, the work attempts to depict the spell-casting and spiritual dream-states of a shaman.

Other Articles:

Tim Smith, Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu makes electric debut with Baltimore Symphony (Baltimore Sun, April 9)

Jordan Edwards, Mallet man (Montgomery County Gazette, April 7)

Ivan Hewett, Rautavaara premiere at Festival Hall (The Telegraph, October 26, 2009)

Hilary Finch, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nezet-Seguin at the Festival Hall (The Times, October 27, 2009)

Martin Kettle, LPO/Nézet-Séguin (The Guardian, October 26, 2009)
The main theme -- opening the first movement and returning at the end of the third, like a cheesy Puccini melody -- is Romantic enough to sound like Rachmaninoff, except that it is harmonized with so many dissonant clashes, including major-minor chords. Rautavaara conceived the solo part for percussionist Colin Currie (who performed it again here, quite ably and with dramatic flair), focusing it mostly on pitched percussion, especially xylophone and vibes, switching to louder, unpitched instruments when the orchestra is at its fullest. By the standards of modern percussion concertos Rautavaara's remains on the conservative side of things -- by comparison to Jennifer Higdon, for example, the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Music, not for her percussion concerto but for the far superior violin concerto (which I had already declared as Higdon's best work in the genre). In the second movement, which keeps the soloist on vibes throughout, some parts could be mistaken for a Henry Mancini score.

The multi-metric rhythms (mostly 7/8) in the third movement seemed hackneyed, but the soloist's cadenza here, which reportedly was partly improvised by Currie on the spot, was thrilling. Lintu gave the score as much interest as he could, but it did not strike me as being a work of great significance beyond one performance. Lintu then gave Beethoven's seventh symphony -- if pressed, my choice for the composer's most perfect work -- a thoroughly considered and yet nearly reckless interpretation. He carefully weighted the orchestra's dynamic contrasts, pulling back particular sections or the entire texture, a reticence -- as in the hushed fugal section of the first movement -- that added punch to the loud passages. The insistent march of the second movement was expansive and yet propelled, while the third movement's athletic pacing was exceeded only by the almost chaotic rush of the fourth.

While the BSO's 2009-2010 season was disappointingly lackluster, the line-up for 2010-2011 is much more encouraging. Alsop will focus on some of the great 19th- and 20th-century symphonists, including Mahler (the seventh and tenth symphonies, as well as Das Lied von der Erde, but with no soloists announced yet), Shostakovich (the first, fifth, and tenth, the last with Günther Herbig at the podium, plus the first violin concerto with Midori), Bruckner (the sixth, coupled with Yuja Wang playing Rachmaninoff), and Prokofiev (the first and sixth in a single program). Throw in Ingrid Fliter playing Chopin's second piano concerto, Baiba Skride playing Berg's violin concerto, and rarities like Lutosławski's Concerto for Orchestra and William Walton's first symphony, and there are plenty of concerts we will want to experience. Not to mention a couple of new works, like Philip Glass's Icarus at the Edge of Time and an unspecified new piece commissioned from Osvaldo Golijov. Let us hope that the BSO can survive its latest salary cuts for the musicians: get out there and buy some tickets!

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