‘Romeo and Juliet’ at The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at The Music Center at Strathmore by Jessica Vaughan

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It was a night of flying fingers and familiar classics with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Music Center at Strathmore for Romeo and Juliet. The three pieces chosen for the evening could not have been more different from a contemporary Thai composer to a French pianist to a Russian ballet. But each piece complimented the others and was, of course, brilliantly executed by this renowned orchestra under the direction of Carlos Kalmar. The BSO has been making music for almost 100 years; it began in 1916 and has grown to be one of the preeminent orchestras in the nation.

The evening began with modern Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen’s Phenomenon, an ambitious, haunting piece that almost sounds like it belongs in an opera or as the soundtrack to a huge action film with tense, high violin runs and long trumpet motifs that fade into eerie flute melodies. He says his inspiration was otherworldly natural phenomenon like the northern lights and especially the Naga Fireballs of Thailand, where giant balls of flame rise mysteriously from the Mekong river once a year. Listening to this piece, I could almost see them.

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After a brief break, pianist Jean-Phillip Collard performed the Third Piano Concerto by Charles Camille Saint-Saëns. This concerto is not often performed, which is a shame because it is absolutely beautiful, evoking another natural phenomenon with its opening piano arpeggios: a waterfall in the French alps. Right from those opening bars, it’s understandable why most pianists don’t care to attempt it. Saint-Saëns was a virtuoso and very few players can match him. Collard is one of them. His hands were a blur over every octave through this incredibly difficult piece.

The evening concluded with selected works from Sergei Prokofiev’s famous ballet, Romeo and Juliet. It has become very popular for its iconic music and has been re-choreographed a half dozen times since it premiered in 1940 in Prokofiev’s native Russia. To hear a full orchestra take it on was a treat. From the stately trombones of the opening “The Montagues and Capulets,” to the weeping violins of “Romeo and Juliet,” to the glorious battles in “Tybalt’s Death,” the orchestra wrung every bit of beauty and emotion from the score.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is on fire this season and this diverse, technically superior and moving concert was a worthy addition.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Romeo and Juliet played for one night only on May 25, 2013 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For future events, check their calendar.

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