Ensembles and concert series around the Washington area are coming back to life. On Thursday night at Strathmore, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra offered a preview of the season to come.
The musical tasting menu was a hodgepodge of mostly single movements from a range of pieces. The first movement of Debussy’s “Ibéria” featured castanets and some Spanish flavor, with the mood remaining on the sedate side throughout the first half. The first movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, enough to catch a whiff of the composer’s elation at walking in the countryside, was followed by the slow movement of Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” symphony. It was perhaps extravagant to have a tenor saxophone player just for three movements from Prokofiev’s ballet music for “Romeo and Juliet,” planned for a concert performance next month with actors reciting scenes from Shakespeare’s play, co-presented with the Folger Theatre.
The playing was mostly fine, except for a prominent wrong note somewhere in the violin section in the Beethoven and an early brass entrance in the Mendelssohn. Guest conductor Christopher Seaman’s introductions to each movement were basic but droll, wearing on one’s patience by the end of the evening. He had good ideas about ensemble balances and dynamics, shushing instruments or sections that drew too much attention to themselves, and he was at his best in a suitably eclectic rendition of Elgar’s complete “Enigma Variations.” Given the length of his microphone time, Seaman should have omitted Vivaldi’s “Spring” concerto from “The Four Seasons,” where his crassly amplified harpsichord spoiled the pleasing interpretation of concertmaster Jonathan Carney and his small string group.
This might seem like the preview of a fairly boring season, but do not let that put you off. The BSO will play more interesting repertory, such as Strauss’s “Alpine Symphony,” Philip Glass’s Third Symphony, Sibelius’s “Four Legends” and John Adams’s “Harmonielehre,” as well as new music by Thomas Adès, Anna Clyne, James MacMillan, Christopher Rouse, Victoria Borisova-Ollas, Joan Tower and Kevin Puts.
Downey is a freelance writer.