After a month of playing together, the young musicians of this year’s National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland have achieved an ensemble that many professional orchestras might envy. Saturday’s wrap-up concert at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center featured three big, showy, colorful pieces that were given big, showy, colorful performances, but in the end, it wasn’t splash but shape and subtlety that made these performances memorable.
Leonard Slatkin was at the helm and at his best, his stick work clear and concise, his sense of architecture absolutely unambiguous. He seemed to be enjoying the physicality of conducting. In the midst of the busy exuberance of Roberto Sierra’s “Fandango,” he kept wind lines just within the bounds of brassiness, managed balances that allowed the cellos’ relentless ostinato to be a solid but almost subliminal presence, and shaped phrases that ebbed and swelled inexorably through a huge dynamic range. He sketched the very individual characters of the four movements of Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphosis” without making them caricatures and allowed the flutes and horns (which were wonderful all evening) just enough space to inflect their lines gracefully.
Where Slatkin’s urging and ensemble spoke most forcefully, however, was in the huge organic crescendos of the first movement of the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony that emerged from silvery violin pianissimos, and in the weightlessness of the third movement, where time seemed almost suspended. Almost any orchestra can make big noises, but this one can speak eloquently in the quietest voice imaginable, and in this concert, it did both splendidly.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.