We all look forward to the day when gender distinctions in classical music are beneath notice. Certainly, female instrumentalists have long since assumed equal footing in the profession; conductors and composers are almost there. But for now, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director Marin Alsop likes to give things an overt push every so often, so Saturday’s concert at Strathmore (“A Celebration of Uncommon Women”) featured world premieres by Joan Tower and Anna Clyne, along with the BSO debut of a sparkling violin talent, Alexandra Soumm.
Tower’s piece is the sixth of a series titled “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman,” a trope on the famous Copland number. The initial fanfare was, like its model, a little curtain-raiser for brass and percussion. Subsequent efforts grew longer and included the full orchestra, and this sixth one is not really a “fanfare” at all, but basically a short, fully worked-out overture. It is an attractive work in the bustling American style of Michael Torke or John Adams (chugging, repeated notes as a unifying element), but with rapid shifts in texture. Tower is in many ways a worthy heir to Copland, and I am certain her work will someday be as firmly entrenched in the repertoire.
Clyne is from a much younger generation, but her music seems less of a time or place. In some spots, it reminds you of Benjamin Britten, but in others, Arvo Part. Her basic technique of juxtaposing either static or busily repetitive elements against proper thematic material leads the ear along effectively. “Abstractions,” a suite based on five contemporary paintings in the Baltimore Museum of Art, veers between controlled chaos (rapid figurations in the strings cascading over one another frantically) and icy stillness (the first section, “Marble Moon,” has a single pedal point in the double basses throughout). The swooping arpeggios of the closing section, “Three,” give the work a giddy, exhilarating send-off.
Soumm, a French artist in her 20s, is a firecracker onstage. In Lalo’s “Symphonie espagnole,” Op. 21, she personified the sexiness of the third and fourth movements and tore through the Rondo like a hurricane. As a performer, she is everything an audience could wish for. As a fiddler, though, to reach the top, she will need to cultivate a much wider range of tone color, particularly in slow, lyrical sections; the sound was too often dry or pinched.
The concert concluded with a suite from “Carmen,” featuring very fine solos from the BSO’s concertmaster, principal trumpeter and principal flutist, and rather ragged playing from the rest of the group, probably getting short shrift in rehearsal.