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The BSO Presents Bernstein and Beethoven

3 min read

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Saturday, November 22nd, 8 p.m. – The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at The Music Center at Strathmore presented a pair of Leonard Bernstein classics, the complete Chichester Psalms and Symphony No. 1 “Jeremiah.” Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, was also presented in it’s entirety. They were joined by the Cathedral Choral Society with soloist Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano and Nolan Musslewhite, boy soprano.

Marin Alsop was the conductor and music director. She described Beethoven as being one of Leonard Bernstein’s top influences and that was the reasoning behind the pairing of the two composers in the program. Come to find out; Marin Alsop was actually mentored by Bernstein during his years as a teacher at The Tanglewood Music Center in Boston. That must have been quite the experience! Leonard Bernstein is one of the most talented and successful musicians in American history! The insight Marin has with Bernstein greatly qualifies her to direct a program with him in it. That’s exceptional considering Bernstein consistently remains one of the most performed composers by American orchestras to this date.

The first of the two Bernstein compositions, Chichester Psalms, showcased the Cathedral Choral Society. In the first movement they sung exquisitely. Complex harmonies flowed in unison. Male and female Cantors traded between voices and they were accompanied by some interesting glockenspiel percussion. The Jewish psalms were sung to a western theme in a lively 7/4 time. It reminded me of American composer Russell Peck.  Both composers had a close association with The Tanglewood Music Center in Boston and seemingly traded influences. In the second movement Nolan Musslewhite, boy soprano, made his debut. The sound of his voice perpetuated an innocent emotional expression. It gave the performance heart.

The second Bernstein composition was Symphony No.1 “Jeremiah.” The introductory motif starts rather dissonant but then develops into this triumphant and powerful symphony. It follows the story of Jeremiah through three movements, Prophecy, Profanation and Lamentation. This piece is a musical exploration of faith with an adventurous tone. Jennifer Johnson Cano performed admirably for the arias. She never drops character maintaining a heart broken facial expression throughout the entire symphony, even when she wasn’t singing. It was an expression of destruction and chaos, the cry of Jeremiah as he mourns for Jerusalem. Jennifer pulled you into this setting with her voice. It was astounding!

The last piece was Beethoven, Symphony No. 7 in A major. If anything this appeared to be the most anticipated piece on the program by the orchestra themselves. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 is an immense expression of joy and the BSO had no problem portraying that expression. Concert Master violin Johnathan Carney led with pep, and several musicians carried a smile while they played. It looked like they were having fun. That’s so important! Not that it’s uncommon in classical music but it brings out the best in the performance when you know the musician is having fun. I highly believe enjoyment increases your communication. Marin Alsop was just as excited about conducting the piece as the orchestra was about playing it, and it reflected incredibly in the sound.

This was a fantastic concert and an incredible evening. The program flowed graciously and was fun to listen to.