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BSO Premieres Leshnoff’s “Starburst”

Jonathan LeshnoffFriday evening, Marin Alsop led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in the world premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff’s Starburst, Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham, and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony to a packed house. The program was introduced with a dramatic plea from BSO oboist Michael Lisicky, who led an arm-waving pep rally harping on the importance of purchasing subscriptions while pointing out the voluntary twenty percent pay cut made by the musicians to keep the doors open.

Starburst is an intensely driven work that unearths brilliantly unique colors through abstractly weaved lines. Instead of deriving color primarily through percussion, as often is the case with contemporary symphonic works, Leshnoff (pictured) finds purpose in every note with the winds and strings creating inimitable microcosms. When the piece eases midway through, the strings shimmer and muted trumpets hail, followed by the brass and xylophone driving the piece to its bursting, albeit slightly superficial end. There was enough material packed into this brief work to warrant a full symphony by this Baltimore-based composer. We have covered Leshnoff’s interesting Six Miniatures for Violin and Percussion, and your reviewer is currently preparing his intricate Cosmic Echoes for trumpet and organ for performance this week. Additionally, Leshnoff has some interesting commissions in the pipeline.

Other Reviews:

Joe Banno, BSO, Alsop offer new "Starbu[r]st," new-sounding Stravinsky with Shaham (Washington Post, May 2)

Tim Smith, BSO offers Leshnoff premiere, Stravinsky concerto, Rachmaninoff symphony (Baltimore Sun, April 30)
Stravinsky’s neo-Baroque Violin Concerto in D major was a challenge unmet by Alsop and soloist Gil Shaham, due to out-of-tune trumpets, vague conducting by Alsop, who seemed often to be trying to catch up with the music instead of cuing ahead, and an aggressively uncontained soloist. While the work, particularly the opening Toccata, was shaped in an expressively Romantic way, the ensemble within the orchestra and with soloist was exceedingly lacking. It is possible for this work to be performed with the precision of a polished HIP baroque band, which at times occurred Friday evening, such as when the clarinet and violin soloist performed acrobatic maneuvers together in the Aria I movement or when in the final Capriccio the concertmaster and violin soloist were dueling above a pizzicato jive from the basses. Overall, the Stravinsky’s impact was weak in comparison to the Leshnoff – a missed opportunity. The program, titled Russian Perfection, concluded with a persuasive performance of Rachmaninoff’s audience-pleasing Second Symphony.

Next week's concerts by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will feature Beethoven's Triple Concerto (May 6 to 9).

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