Ending on a High Note
Monday, June 12, 2006
Yuri Temirkanov concluded his tenure as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with the same piece that began it in January 2000 -- Gustav Mahler's massive Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection." Baltimore's Meyerhoff Hall was filled to capacity yesterday afternoon, and when the last thunderous chord had died away, the house exploded in cheers that could be heard more than a block away.
This has been a grand week for Mahler-philes. The National Symphony Orchestra presented the composer's largest work, the Symphony No. 8, for large orchestra, several choirs and eight vocal soloists. The "Resurrection" Symphony gets by with large orchestra, chorus and only two soloists, yet it is possessed of the same manic, celebratory grandeur -- and it is highly unusual to be able to take in both pieces on the same weekend.
Temirkanov's time with the Baltimore Symphony was relatively brief, just 6 1/2 years, but I wouldn't be surprised if it takes on the glow of legend as time passes. He inherited what had long been a solid orchestra of the not-quite-top tier and proceeded to elicit, in concert after concert, nuances, tendernesses and reserves of feeling from the players that were often extraordinarily affecting. The best analogy I can come up with is that moment in "The Wizard of Oz" when the scene changes from black and white to full color and we are in a different world.
When Temirkanov was at his best, he conducted in full radiant color.
The symphony is a familiar one to me, but it didn't sound familiar yesterday. From the very first attack of the massed strings, there was an apocalyptic quality to the opening Allegro Maestoso. All was drama and high tragedy, but on a stern, exalted plane quite removed from the confessional self-pity that lesser conductors like to wring from Mahler.
The Andante Moderato that follows is music of great sweetness, suffused with a curiously joyful melancholy. Here, too, Temirkanov kept things objective, though it was interesting to observe that he permitted his string players just a bit of portamento, a gliding from note to note that is generally discouraged as old-fashioned but suits the sentiments of this music absolutely. (Mahler, a great conductor himself, and one who flourished during the era of portamento, would surely have approved.)
Mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby, who sang the other performances in this series of concerts, dropped out because of illness and was replaced by Marietta Simpson. I prefer a plummier and more opulent tone in the "Urlicht" movement, but Simpson's musicianship is not to be questioned, and the BSO was lucky to have her on such short notice. Janice Chandler-Eteme, who, with Maultsby, sang in Temirkanov's 2000 performances of the "Resurrection," was on hand again yesterday to sing with authority and rapt fervor.
The chorus was assembled with members from three organizations -- the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, the Morgan State University Choir and what was billed as the "Former Baltimore Symphony Chorus," a group that was dissolved in 2002 but met for a partial reunion in honor of the occasion. The blended voices sang with unity, power and luster.
The Baltimore Symphony faces some tough challenges. Within the last few months, there has been a near-complete shake-up in top management; finances are so bad that the orchestra recently withdrew a third of its endowment (some $30 million); and what promise to be complicated union negotiations are coming up this summer. Still, yesterday's concert offered resounding proof that this is a wonderful orchestra, brilliant, varied and responsive. Its health should be the concern of anybody who loves music.