BSO takes nature walk with Beethoven, Frans Lanting, Philip Glass
Music can tell stories as riveting as the best literary texts, can paint images as vivid as the finest works on canvas. That message is reinforced on the first half of the latest Baltimore Symphony program, and then, to an extent, reversed on the second.
The sonic-only pictorial lesson comes from Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, the composer’s extraordinary evocation of a visit to the countryside, complete with babbling brook, tipsy farmers and a cool thunderstorm.
This classic is matched with a multimedia production, “LIFE: A Journey Through Time,” with an evolutionary tour of nature through the work of National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting, matched to music by Philip Glass.
Here, the sounds serve as complement or counterpoint to the imagery. The accompaniment was not created with the visual in mind, but matched to it subsequently. The pictures clearly could stand on their own without a note, but the match-up provides an extra kick.
Marin Alsop, who was instrumental in generating the Lanting/Glass epic, introduced it to the BSO in 2007. Given all the other music available by Glass, one of Baltimore’s most famous sons, and given that his 75th birthday will be observed on Tuesday, it’s disappointing that we didn’t get something new to the BSO repertoire. “LIFE” is a compilation of previously existing pieces (arranged for orchestra by Michael Riesman). A symphony by Glass would have been very welcome.
Leaving that aside, it was impossible not to be impressed by ...
the performance Alsop drew from the ensemble Friday night at Meyerhoff (where the program will be repeated Sunday afternoon). The tight rhythmic pulse and vibrantly nuanced melodic patterns produced a suitably absorbing sound-world to take in Lanting’s brilliant images on a giant screen.
The Beethoven symphony at the start found the BSO in likewise disciplined, sensitive form. Alsop shaped the score with evident affection. She stayed on familiar paths, in terms of tempo and phrasing, but breathed a good deal of freshness into the performance with beautifully shaded dynamics and lyrically shaped phrases. The orchestra played admirably. Woodwinds added to the aural landscape with particular charm.
Here's an excerpt from "LIFE," filmed at the Cabrillo Festival premiere in 2006: