Washington Classical Review »Blog Archive» Adams concerto a highlight of the breathtaking debut of Bancroft’s Baltimore Symphony


Ryan Bancroft conducted the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Thursday night at the Music Center in Strathmore.

After a 22-month absence, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra returned to the Strathmore Music Center on Thursday night, which BSO’s COO Tonya McBride Robles called “our second home.” The fully vaccinated and masked audience was restricted and socially distanced. Amid a flurry of cancellations this month caused by the surge of the Omicron variant in the region, it was a rare and welcome chance to hear live music.

Ryan Bancroft, a California-born conductor who quickly rose to prominence after winning the Malko Competition in 2018, was on the podium for his BSO debut. He is currently principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra in Wales and last month of the Royal Stockholm. He was appointed Principal Conductor by the Philharmonic Orchestra, a nomination from 2023.

Bancroft opened with György Ligeti’s Românesc concert, a tribute to the folk music of his youth as a Hungarian speaker in Transylvania. Composed in 1951, before Ligeti escaped the artistic restrictions of Communist Hungary, it is less focused on modernist techniques than its later music and partly based on Romanian folk music. Ligeti described the piece with its heavy woodwind orchestration as “in the spirit of village orchestras”.

In the first section, the strings sang a warm melody in unison, later picked up by the flute. Bancroft, who displayed boundless energy all evening, pushed the tempo of the second movement to a jumble of madness. The dreamy third movement is distinguished by the natural tuning of French horn solos, Ligeti avoiding the use of valves. As a backstage player echoed each statement like alphorns calling each other, Melissa Hooper’s crystal-clear English horn solos added to the rustic flavor.

Bancroft’s breathless beat sparked a mad rush in the finale, a quagmire of droning, muffled tracks from which lead violin Jonathan Carney exploded with folk violin fervor, to which clarinet and viola solos responded. A brief return to the mountain horns provided a well-deserved break before an exhilarating conclusion.

Ligeti’s piece, with its full assortment of woods, was an ingenious pairing for the second work, Dharma in Big Sur, which John Adams composed with a generous assortment of brass and winds that includes two bass clarinets. Visa delays prevented British violinist Chloë Hanslip from taking the solo part, but Tracy Silverman, who premiered the work at the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2003, stepped in to save the concert. situation.

Tracy Silverman was the electric violin soloist in John Adam’s Dharma in Big Sur Thursday evening.

Wave-like patterns in two keyboard samplers set the tone in the opening bars, setting up the “slow and lazy beat of terrifying power” of the Pacific Ocean hitting the cliffs of Big Sur. The brass partials echoed the right intonation demanded in the harps and the keyboard, a sort of musical homage to nature (also reminiscent of Ligeti’s previous piece). Gongs and other exotic percussions recalled the “American gamelan” of the composer Lou Harrison, dedicatee of the first movement.

Adams conceived the piece after hearing Silverman play the electric violin at a jazz club in 2002, and his more vernacular style of bends and slides and blue notes strongly influenced the form of the work. Compared to Leila Josefowicz, who performed the piece with the BSO and with the National Symphony Orchestra with Adams on the podium, Silverman’s style was more casual than exciting, with some technical shortcomings in the high end of his six-man instrument. strings.

That said, Silverman and Bancroft collaborated with rhythmic ease on a read that communicated dharma, the Buddhist concept of universal truth, with a consummate Californian cool. The second movement rippled with an almost constant pulse pattern reminiscent of the music of Terry Riley, who was his inspiration, with Bancroft delineating the multitudes of metric shifts with clear efficiency. The great brass section surged and swelled with ocean power in the vast crescendos of the conclusion

As a reminder, Silverman offered his own arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s song “I Wish”, serving as a cheerful and nostalgic celebration of live music. Accompanied by locally recorded loops, Silverman has woven the sound of an entire rock band, from string bass riffs to electric guitar solo moans.

Bancroft’s insistent preference for frenzied tempi turned out to be erratic in the second half, devoted to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The four movements of this “apotheosis of dance” tended towards Bacchic fury rather than graceful ballet, and the tempos sometimes fluctuated even within the movements. With many extreme gestures, Bancroft signaled a desire for excitement and he got it, with the musicians at BSO spinning on a dime with impressive precision, even as the conductor almost jumped attacca between movements. .

The first and second movements were rushed, with little attention to detail except for a few oddly long pauses. By the time of the third movement there was hardly any room to impress with additional speed, although the BSO continued to deliver with well-oiled precision. Bancroft reveled in the fullness of sound, calling for booming timpani and thundering double basses. By the time the fourth movement sped up to an upside down conclusion, that listener was as exhausted as the conductor.

The program will be repeated at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. bsomusic.org; 410-783-8000

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