Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Composer Tan Dun led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a fascinating cultural journey through Russian and Asian music Thursday night at the Music Center at Strathmore.
Best known for penning the film score to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," Tan is a minimalist conductor who allows music to ring out with little distortion of composers' original intentions. He effectively used the hall in Shostakovich's "Overture on Russian and Kirghiz Folk Themes," Op. 115, where the BSO's taut and prismatic melodies flowed with buoyancy. It took minimal coaxing for the musicians to engage in a cinematic and nuanced treatment of Alexander Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances." Tan emphasized the countermelodies amid the BSO's hallmark ability to balance its instrumental voices effortlessly.
While Tan's understated beat pattern caused tempo discrepancies initially in both pieces and in Borodin's final dance, in his own multimedia concerto "The Map," he unfailingly synchronized soloist and orchestra with videos displayed on three screens.
Featuring BSO principal cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn, the nine-movement work evoked the sounds -- and sights -- of ancient Chinese folk music. Through unconventional playing techniques, such as blustery exhalations through brass mouthpieces, the instrumentalists generated music and noises that integrated with the videos' soundtracks. Featuring traditional folk singing, percussion playing and a swaying ensemble of bamboo-reed mouth organs, the video documented the art of stones being struck and rubbed together to create a strangely melodic and rhythmic song.
The concert repeats tonight at 8 and tomorrow at 3 in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
-- Grace Jean
Christian Gerhaher's voice is at once lustrous and deeply penetrating, two qualities not always combined in a single baritone. This versatility is required of the music he has performed, ranging from the title role in Monteverdi's opera "Orfeo" (four centuries old) to major works of Bach, Schubert, Mahler, Britten and Orff. Presented Thursday by one of Washington's premier concert sponsors, the Vocal Arts Society, Gerhaher gave a capacity audience at the Austrian Embassy a glorious evening of lieder by Robert Schumann. Equally remarkable, all but one of the offerings date from Schumann's "song year" (1840), when he composed a record-breaking number of his most beautiful lieder -- and when he was in an unrelenting and agonizing state of mental deterioration from a still-unidentified cause.
Singing German lieder is a remarkably precarious undertaking, the musical settings largely based on lyric poetry that has its own musical timbres -- louds or softs, concentrated energy or tonal luminosity, restless pauses or breathless chases. But even the most inspired song settings of Schubert, Schumann and other composers can impose a sonic resonance lovely in itself but foreign to the timbre of the poems. Gerhaher, obviously well aware of these often-opposing sound qualities, subtly blended them into a meaningful new whole.
Despite a cold, Gerhaher delicately approached Schumann's daunting "Liederkreis" cycle of poems by the supreme lyricist Joseph von Eichendorff, capturing the intense dosage of languorous melancholy and biting irony that the composer lends to his setting. In the dramatic "Waldesgespraech," Gerhaher's operatic talents came into play, portraying the sorceress Loreley and his maiden victim, both characters sharply contrasted in the singer's tone and facial gestures. Accompanist Gerold Huber left no doubt that Schumann's piano writing vies with the vocal line in expressive power.
-- Cecelia Porter