Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Brings Splash of Summer

Marin Alsop and the BSO, pictured in September, shined on Saturday.
Marin Alsop and the BSO, pictured in September, shined on Saturday. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
Monday, December 3, 2007

Aaron Jay Kernis's "Newly Drawn Sky," which the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed on Saturday at Strathmore, draws inspiration from a walk Kernis took on a beach with his (then) 6-month-old twins, watching the sky color and darken and contemplating the changes in his life.

The work begins with a sequence of shifting chords that morphs into long, eloquent lyrical paragraphs -- in one memorable episode, a flute coolly wafts a breezy melody over a humid string haze, evoking a perfect summer day -- and shorter, punchier interludes. A melodic momentum drives the piece until the orchestra considers a melody supported by rapidly shifting chords that flicker from major to minor like clouds changing color, then resolve into a gorgeous near-hymn.

Music Director Marin Alsop led the BSO in an extraordinarily sensitive, thoughtful and passionate performance, qualities that also informed their reading of the composer's "Lament and Prayer" with violinist Timothy Fain. In the "Lament," Fain's violin sounded dark and arresting and the orchestra matched him with severe, stony string chords and disquieting dissolutions. The tone lightened in "Prayer," and Fain played with incredible concentration right up to the benediction that closes the work.

The relaxed sunniness and inspiration from nature in Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the "Pastoral," made a fine contrast and complement to the Kernis works. Though at times rhythms could have been more precisely pointed, Alsop drew from the BSO clear textures and a sound that glowed with good cheer.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

© 2007 The Washington Post Company