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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Baltimore Symphony presents 'From Russia with Love'

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg was the guest artist at Thursday's performance at Strathmore by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Photo by Christian Steiner

It was a night of music from Russia. 

Forget Putin but think Shostakovich (1906-1975) and Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), my two favorite composers, who filled the house and the program by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Strathmore Thursday evening.

What was not to like?

The evening began with Sergei Rachmaninoff's always popular Vocalise followed by the powerful presentation by guest artist, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, who delivered Dimitri Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor. 

From the first movement, when the sounds from her violin expressed sadness and later, foreshadowing, with singular percussion, a haunted tension led to the fierce passion of the second, the scherzo, and the melodies of the third, culminating in the lively but harsh finale.

The fervor Salerno-Sonnenberg utilized in interpretation matched the color of her red top which matched the blouse Maestro Marin Alsop wore which matched the evening's energy exuded by all the forces on stage.

Members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Photo, BSO

While she pierced her instrument with her bow, Salerno-Sonnenberg moved up and down, bending at times almost at right angles, frequently grimacing and expressing anguish.

Music and stand were unnecessary since she seemed to play with her eyes closed most of the time, or so they appeared to me in my chair nearby.

She pounded the violin strings, leaving one guessing how the poor instrument was able to endure her strength and intensity without breakage, but it answered in perfect response every time, softly and eloquently as she required, alas, no doubt fearful of going astray.

At times, during a violin respite, Salerno-Sonnenberg stood and turned her back to the audience, becoming a fan to enjoy majestic achievement by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra while Maestro Alsop weaved and led nearby.

Conductor Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Photo, BSO

Salerno-Sonnenberg's casual apparel (black skinny jeans) belied her performance which ended with shouts and cheers from the standing gallery and, for the first time, she smiled broadly and saluted her comrades, orchestra members whose output, as usual, was every bit as perfect as one has come to expect. 

The evening ended with Rachmaninoff's splendid Symphonic Dances with noticeable contributions from his beloved piano.  He wrote it only three years before he died, a summation, which he composed for the Russian ballet dancer, Fokine, according to program notes. 

For the encore, the orchestra played Shostakovich's Bolt Ballet Suite, No. 8 Final Dance and Apotheosis which was well received.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Photo, BSO

Strathmore's love affair with Maestro Alsop continues:  Her contract has been renewed for seven years.

Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg, a U.S. citizen, was born in Rome in 1961 and emigrated with her family to the U.S. when she was eight years old. In 2008 she was appointed music director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra in San Francisco. 

You can take the music out of Russia but you can't take Russia out of the music.  Amen. 

Thank you to Total Wine & More for sponsoring the show. 

Please, once more I must ask what's wrong with Strathmore that it doesn't install more seats and tables for dinner patrons?  How many years have I been complaining about this?  Think of the missed revenue because of lousy facility management, not to mention customer satisfaction.

Although you may be seated at one of the tiny tables for dinner before the concert, it does not guarantee that a pushy patron (comparable to those at the Kennedy Center) will not uplift your chair and dump you right out upon the floor. Or so goes the feeling.

After being dumped, just try to enter the lobby outside the music hall and find a seat to drink your wine or coffee.  Reserved for ushers and closed to patrons until 7:30 p.m., if you please.

Where is a person to go? 

Oh, I forgot: The patio with a temperature of 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Конечно!

Coffee or wine may warm you up on the Strathmore patio/Photo, BSO

BSO performances coming up at Strathmore:

March 15: Bach's Brandenburgs

March 22: Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto

March 27: The Bee Gees and 'Stayin' Alive'

April 5:  Bugs!  (Two performances for young children)

April 5:  Andre Watts Returns!

April 10:  Itzhak Perlman

April 25: Off the Cuff:  Mahler's Titan

May 3: Moo, Baa, Neigh (Two performances for young children)

May 3:  Yefim Bronfman

May 15:  All That Jazz, celebrating Kander and Ebb

May 24:  Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto

May 29:  A Midsummer Night's Dream Concert

June 7:  Summertime Movin' and Groovin' (Two performances for young children)

June 7:  Beethoven's Ninth

June 14Casablanca with music

Where:   Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, N. Bethesda, MD 20852.

Park:  For free at the adjacent Metro Strathmore station.

Tickets:  Click here.

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