Before the concert began at Strathmore Saturday night, a man came out on stage to announce the guest conductor* had been ill with a fever and would not be able to lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and substituting at the last minute would be the BSO's new (since September) assistant conductor, Nicholas Hersh, he, who hesitated nary a second to welcome the surprising opportunity, bounding out upon the platform, and almost leaping to the podium, exuding confidence and showmanship far beyond his years of almost 30, one would guess.
Hersh's eagerness for a leadership role and the chance to display his talents may not happen often enough for an ambitious musician, and this was a night to glow.
At times during the evening and looking at his back, I was reminded of a horse race: He was the rider swinging from left to right and right to left, urging his horse to go faster and faster, waving his arms with fury and whipping the animal, I mean the orchestra, into frenzy to jump over the barriers so it would win at the finish line, and win it did with flourish, Conductor Hersh's head held high in victory.
He secured stunning performances all night from the BSO whose members responded energetically to the conductor's baton, urged on by a cheering audience at the end of each piece.
Throughout the presentation, concertmaster Jonathan Carney got more than his usual workout, performing with his customary flair and gusto.
On the program for the first act were Hector Berlioz's Le corsaire, Op. 21 and Ravel's Trio in A Minor, and opening the second was Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488 played by the internationally acclaimed French-Canadian Louis Lortie who produced much enthusiasm from the warming crowd who came out on another very cold night.
But the featured selection was the finish, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, written for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes which brought to mind the spectacular costumes and exhibition presented by the National Gallery of Art in 2013. The standing, cheering audience called Hersh back three times.
All the pieces Saturday night were exquisite components of another thrilling night at Strathmore, marred only by a rodent or person behind me (I was initially afraid to look) who wrinkled and rattled a candy wrapper at the beginning of the second movement of Ravel's Trio.
My eyes soon followed those of another woman who sat in front of me who turned to glare at the sound maker which turned out not to be a rodent after all, but a woman of about 55. She may as well have been rattling pots and pans, the racket she made.
I joined the eyes attack and soon, the crinkling, like a fire in a fireplace, ceased.
At intermission I complained to an usher about the music interruption, and she said she was only a volunteer usher and strictly forbidden from saying anything to patrons, but I could complain to the house manager if I liked, but where was the house manager and who wanted to spend time searching for the house manager when the program was about to resume?
And why, asked the volunteer/usher, did people even come to the symphony if they didn't know symphony etiquette?
At the beginning of the second act, I hoped for music only (as one often wishes at a concert hall) but, alas, it wasn't crinkling wrapper this time which interrupted the lovely sounds coming from the stage, but pages turning! My colleague-in-arms had moved up a row to an empty seat and out of earshot since she exhibited no annoyance with the new blast.
Stealing a glance over at the candy wrapper rapper, I saw she was bent over, looking down and reading something she held between her knees. Perhaps she had an upset stomach and was thumbing through Dr. Spock? After that, she was quiet. I mean, lady! Why bother coming?
Dear Strathmore: If you had more room for restaurant patrons and more tables, I would have been happy to have ordered your grilled salmon, however, eating it off the floor which is where some of your customers may push my plates seeking a table top for their own dinners, is uncomfortable and rushed, especially if you are wearing a skirt.
"Oh, so sorry," they say, as my roll rolls along on the floor heading to the adjoining table where those restaurateurs will soon stomp on it. "We thought you were finished."
Where's the symphony to that? (I do exaggerate, but not by much.)
*Yan Pascal Tortelier