Abus breakdown made the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra half an hour late for the start of its first full season at the Music Center at Strathmore on Saturday, but it apparently did nothing to dampen the musicians' enthusiasm for a program with a distinctly American flavor.

In fact, the concert opened at its height, with a sparkling reading of George Gershwin's "An American in Paris." Yuri Temirkanov, beginning his final season as BSO music director, emphasized the work's angular jazz rhythms and gave the brass and percussion -- areas of BSO strength -- a real workout.

Musicians and audience got a workout of a different sort in Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say often leaned far back, driving the Steinway as if it were a low-slung sports car with only an accelerator pedal. The orchestra played gamely, but tempos and rhythms between soloist and ensemble did not always match, and it was sometimes unclear who was conducting whom. Still, Say's expressive and unusual approach was memorable.

The final work on the program, Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World"), was less so. It's a thoroughly Bohemian work if you take away the spirituals and "Three Blind Mice," more expansive than the intense No. 7 or the sunny No. 8. But Temirkanov was in a hurry, with no repeat in the first movement, a too-quick Largo and some distracting rubato. The third and fourth movements worked best, with the brass again outstanding.

The BSO is scheduled to take this program on its Oct. 19-29 tour of Western Europe, where one hopes the buses are in good repair.

-- Mark J. Estren