February 4, 2008

Inspiration - the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

In The Power of Myth, Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell speak of moments time during which we as humans are rendered speechless - the only thing usually said in those moments being "Ah...Oh..." As a musician I am grateful to have experienced many moments like that, and one of them was last night while listening to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

The BSO will be playing in Carnegie Hall on February 9, 2007 and, while presenting a different program from the one about which I write here, it was so inspiring and indeed humbling to hear one of the world's greatest ensembles in top musical form on the eve of such an important event, as this upcoming concert is also Marin Alsop's Carnegie Hall debut. On Saturday, February 2, 2008 the repertoire was all American: Duke Ellington's "Harlem", Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" and Mark O'Connor's "American Seasons" with Mr. O'Connor as soloist.

During the Ellington, I found myself fantasizing: would it not be amazing to hear this piece performed with the string section of any world-class orchestra and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra sitting in for the winds and brass? This dreaming of mine was not in any way a reaction to the musicmaking that I heard, as the players of the BSO delivered solid, convincing, and exciting performances of jazz during the work. "Appalachian Spring", a bit of a string showpiece, was equally as exciting, with solos played masterfully by Jonathan Carney, and the piece ended so peacefully - one could say that destiny was accomplished on Saturday night at the Meyerhoff. Mr. O'Connor's very free bowarm and joyful fiddling rounded out a splendid evening - a highlight of which included the audience almost clapping at the end of his improvised cadenza (yes, it was like being at a jazz concert!).

Having played under Ms. Alsop as a student, first at the National Orchestral Institute and later while a fellow at the New World Symphony, it has been thrilling to watch her career unfold, and I do have to say that both rehearsals and performances under her direction were quite thrilling and fulfilling. Nevertheless, it has been somewhat puzzling to read various reactions to her tenure in Baltimore. In a recent article published in The Urbanite Magazine, former Baltimore Sun music critic Steve Wigler writes very candidly about the history of orchestras, orchestral funding, and the current situation of many of our nation's ensembles. While there are many enlightening points in Mr. Wigler's article - some that shed a much different perspective into contract negotiations that have taken place during the past ten years - Mr. Wigler speaks in a somewhat ominous manner when referring to Ms. Alsop's tenure in Baltimore as well as
"the orchestra as an institution." I invite you all to read and share your thoughts.

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