Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Seldom do you hear a performer who does everything technically and stylistically to spectacular effect, making a sonic statement that propels one into the music itself. That's what saxophonist Gary Louie did when he joined with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Friday for Alexander Glazunov's Alto Saxophone Concerto and Darius Milhaud's "Scaramouche."
Glazunov's piece is relatively unknown. (Just Louie's cup of tea, as he is continually introducing the public to a little-heard repertoire -- old and new, classical and jazz, with an instrument eminently adaptable to many different styles.) Where his Glazunov intoned gravity and lush, dark enchantment, his Milhaud took you along on a saunter, with an ironic playfulness, down a Parisian boulevard. His legato, jet-speed articulation and multidimensional color-scape stunned listeners into disbelief.
Under the baton of Yan Pascal Tortelier, principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, the concert also included two of Debussy's Nocturnes ("Fetes" and "Sirenes"), Poulenc's "Gloria" and Ravel's "Rapsodie Espagnole." Soprano Ying Huang, her radiant voice lending a personal intensity to Poulenc's sometimes offbeat stance, sang in the "Gloria" along with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, whose women were heard in "Sirenes." Debussy's vocal writing simply dresses Wagner's undulating Rhine Maidens in new clothes, and Tortelier united all his forces in beautiful swells of tidal ebb and flow. Here, as in the Poulenc, the chorus was superbly prepared by director Tom Hall.
-- Cecelia Porter
'Meetings: Two Worlds
Of Modal Music'
East met West musically Friday night in the Freer Gallery's Meyer Auditorium, and the encounter was remarkably harmonious. The program's content was indicated by its title: "Meetings: Two Worlds of Modal Music -- Indian Ragas and Medieval Song." But behind that slightly stiff and scholarly description was a wealth of excitement and musical brilliance.
Medieval song and North Indian ragas have at least one crucial quality in common: their structures are rooted in melodic modes distinct from the key relationships that underlie Western classical music. There are also contrasts: the ragas have a kind of freedom often missing in the medieval strophic forms, and Indian music is hospitable to dazzling displays of virtuosity, while the medieval style seems relatively self-effacing. Perhaps because of such differences, in this program they complemented each other superbly.
The medieval element was embodied in Dominique Vellard, a scholar and singer expert in many musical styles. He would sing an ancient hymn or love song, and then the melody would be elaborated and transformed by Ken Zuckerman, playing a 25-string sarod or a Western lute and reinforced by Swapan Chaudhuri on tabla, Keyvan Chemirani on zarb and Gilda Sebastian supplying a drone on the tanpura. The Indian players also performed ragas compatible with the modes (Dorian, Ionian, Lydian and Phrygian) used in the medieval music. The two contrasting musical systems merged into a single expression of shared humanity.
Vellard's singing was stylish and Zuckerman's playing was often dazzling, but the most spectacular parts of the program were the dialogues between the two percussionists, Chaudhuri and Chemirani, played in a spirit of friendly rivalry and technical brilliance.
-- Joseph McLellan