- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra opened its current program at Strathmore on Thursday night performing works by Prokofiev, Berlioz and Yardumian under the vigorous baton of guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier. The featured soloist was young piano phenom Yuja Wang.

The orchestra opened with the “Armenian Suite” from the late Armenian-American composer Richard Yardumian. Composed in the 1930s and revised in 1954, it proved an enjoyable curtain raiser if not a memorable one. Next on the musical menu was Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, op. 10, penned as a student work when the composer was just 20. The concerto was controversial at the time, its extended tonality and ostentatious flashiness stretching the boundaries of what was considered permissible in 1912.

Charmingly slight of build, Miss Yuja seated herself demurely at the piano, then proceeded to blow the roof off Strathmore’s Concert Hall with a massive yet insightful attack on the piece. She was skillfully supported by the BSO under Maestro Tortelier, most impressively so in the work’s sweeping final measures. Miss Yuja’s performance was not mere technical bombast, although at times, her tempos were overly exuberant, as if daring the orchestra to go faster. She got Prokofiev’s concept right, however, interpreting the concerto as the bold statement of a new generation. Her speed and control were dazzling, her tone full and rich, her mastery of the composer’s wicked passage work nearly perfect. Not yet 21, she seems already destined to become one of this century’s major talents.

After intermission, the BSO gave a spirited reading of Hector Berlioz’s fabulously insane “Symphonie Fantastique,” penned in 1830, just three years after Beethoven’s death.

Commencing with a dreamy, romantic first movement, the symphony’s visual scenes sweep through a whirling waltz to an unhappy country picnic that convinces our poet-composer to escape the world via a narcotic haze. What he gets instead are the symphony’s crazed 4th and 5th movements in which he hallucinates he’s a murderer and marched to the gallows to the jauntiest funeral march ever. He then experiences the horrors of Hades before waking up to discover it was all a bad dream.

The BSO’s performance was notable for its bright solo work, well-executed musical special effects, and energetic percussion section. The only detectable glitch occurred in the Witches’ Sabbath finale where the offstage tubular bells, apparently unable to see the conductor clearly, were off the beat on two occasions.

But why quibble? This is the kind of dazzling evening classical audiences love — and they’ve got two more chances to do so this weekend in Baltimore at the Meyerhoff.


WHAT: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier and pianist Yuja Wang, performing works by Prokofiev, Berlioz and Yardumian

WHERE: Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St., Baltimore

WHEN: Tonight at 8 and tomorrow at 3 p.m.

TICKETS: $15 to $57

INFORMATION: Call 410/783-8000 or 800/BSO-1444; online visit https://www.bsomusic.org


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