Baltimore Symphony at Strathmore: ‘Jean-Yves Thibaudet Plays Bernstein’ by Jane Coyne

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Jean-Yves Thibaudet joined Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Music Center at Strathmore on Thursday night for in a truly wonderful night of music. The concert will be repeated both tonight and tomorrow evening at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore. With Cuban Overture by George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety,” Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, and Suite No.2 from Daphnis et Chloé on the program, Marin Alsop conducting, and Thibaudet and the extraordinary musicians of the BSO performing, this is a concert that should not be missed.

Jean-Ives Thibaudet. Photo courtesy of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Photo courtesy of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

The concert opened with Gershwin’s Cuban Overture.  Premiered before an audience of more than 18,000 approving fans in 1932, Cuban Overture is a beautifully orchestrated work, full of gorgeous interwoven melodies and sensuous Cuban inspired rhythms that left audience members and the majority of musicians on stage, all or whom were led by BSO Music Director Marin Alsop, dancing in their seats.

As only she can do, Alsop, a celebrated protégé of Bernstein, introduced Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety” with a delightful demonstration and backstory that was made even more entertaining when guest artist Thibaudet found himself searching to find his place in pages and pages of music from which he needed to perform a short passage. As Marin grabbed her own script and quipped that indeed this introduction had been rehearsed but that now she was also feeling a bit nervous about pulling it off, the audience laughed in understanding as they visibly embraced the humanness of the world class musicians on stage.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet, a fantastic and exciting pianist whose musicality and personality is simply awe-inspiring, gave brilliant performances both in Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety” and in Ravel’s jazz influenced Piano Concerto in G Major.  A consummate and versatile musician with avant garde appeal, he could not be better suited to the music he performed. Bernstein composed without walls and confines and freely moved through musical styles and periods to the truth he chose to communicate. Watching Thibaudet’s fingers fly across the keyboard, seeing him lift himself right off of his seat into the piano to reach the music, and then looking across to see Marin coaxing such beautiful sounds from the BSO, it seemed as if a smiling and approving Bernstein could not be far away.

During the first half of the concert, I looked out across the audience and noticed a young boy who appeared to be about ten years old. Always happy to see young people attending concerts, and curious to know more about him, I approached him in the lobby during intermission. He introduced himself as Sam Blank, a clarinetist. I asked him how it came to be that he was all dressed up and at the concert. He told me that he wanted to be there because he liked to spend time with his grandfather and because he liked fast-paced orchestra music.  He seemed to love the orchestra and Mr. Thibaudet, but he did have one complaint. It was that the placement of the piano was blocking his view of the clarinet section. I walked away inspired both by Sam and by his grandfather.

Ravel was front and center in the second half of the program, first with Thibaudet turning in a beautiful performance of the Piano Concerto in G Major that, like Bernstein’s Symphony No.2, garnered a standing ovation and multiple curtain calls.

Marin Alsop. Photo courtesy of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Marin Alsop. Photo courtesy of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

As Marin Alsop stepped up to the podium to conduct Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No.2, the audience burst into spontaneous and extended applause that brought a very wide smile to the face of a surprised and clearly touched Ms. Alsop. The ballet score Daphnis et Chloé is considered by many to be Ravel’s greatest work and one of the most beautiful works of music in the repertoire. Watching Marin Alsop with her hands and arms fluttering towards and becoming one with the flutes in the opening movement was a moment to be cherished, and the ensuing BSO performance was stunning.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is really a new kind of orchestra, very alive with sharing and talented musicians who seem to enjoy being one with their audience and equally in love with and in awe of the music they perform. Attending their concerts is an experience that should not be missed.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet Plays Bernstein played on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For tickets for future Strathmore events, go to their website.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet Plays Bernstein plays again tonight and tomorrow and Sunday, September 27th and 28th at 8 PM at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall – 1212 Cathedral Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them online, or call the BSO Box Office at (410) 783-8000.

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Jane Coyne
Jane Coyne has been involved in the arts for all of her life. As a singer, she has toured the country as a soloist, appearing at major venues throughout the United States, performing with musicians including Duke Ellington, Johnny Coles, Paul Gonzalves, and Tyree Glenn, and she has appeared in many musical theatre productions. She has managed the careers of a number of a number of international conductors and composers and previously served as the vice president of the National Philharmonic at Strathmore, executive director of the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras, and associate director of Washington’s Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts. Jane directs the National PTA Reflections Program (one of the largest arts education programs in the country). She is also one of the founding directors of Young Artists of America, and manages the career of her son, composer and violinist Joshua Coyne.