BSO's gala concert Saturday features Latin flavor and plenty of local talent

Monday, September 13, 2010; C03

September is the month for gala concerts, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra hosted one such black-tie affair on Saturday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. To kick off her fourth season as music director, Marin Alsop offered a buffet of Latin-flavored amuse-gueules that went down just as easily as the food served in the tent outside.

Showcasing her laudable efforts to extend the orchestra's reach into the greater community of Baltimore, Alsop once again featured local performers. Flamenco dancers livened up three tired selections from Bizet's "Carmen" suites, with Anna Menendez especially effective in her form-fitting dress and castanets. Four guitarists, all students of Manuel Barrueco at the Peabody Institute, traded phrases with the orchestra in a bubbly movement from JoaquĆ­n Rodrigo's "Concierto Andaluz," effervescent but insubstantial. Soprano Jennifer Edwards, another promising Peabody student, gave a luminous performance of the Cantilena from Villa-Lobos's "Bachiana Brasileira No. 5," with the BSO's cello section.

Piazzolla's bluesy, Vivaldi-riffing "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires," played here in the arrangement for string orchestra by Leonid Desyatnikov, rewards a headstrong soloist who can make the piece her own. One would expect nothing less of the evening's headliner, mercurial violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, whose tone ranged from sultry seduction to rabid squirrel chittering.

Alsop's efforts to demystify the orchestra and broaden its appeal, through outreach programs shown in heartwarming videos throughout the concert, are certainly worthwhile, but it remains to be seen if she can maintain the orchestra's level of playing in the face of self-imposed salary cuts. The good news is that, in spite of the BSO's having presented yet another miscellaneous program the preceding evening at Strathmore, which may have stretched rehearsal time, the musicianship was still generally fine.

-- Charles T. Downey

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