The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has played Carnegie Hall five times in the past six years — the fifth time Monday night, when it opened the third annual Spring for Music festival. And the orchestra seemed to have made itself right at home — but that was just Spring for Music’s schtick.
This festival celebrates American orchestras and creative programming at low ticket prices, and it tried to build up a sports-stadium-like-fan-club ambience by having members of the hometown crowd wave banners at the appropriate moment (Baltimore’s color is purple). Gov. Martin O’Malley also offered observations from the stage about how much the orchestra does for its community and the importance of arts education. Since O’Malley has actually performed with the BSO, along with the Celtic rock band O’Malley’s March, which he founded in 1988, he has plenty of authority to say anything about music that he wants.
Priming the audience to whoop and holler is not a terrible idea, and the program offered at least one clear occasion for such a response: Jennifer Higdon’s “4-3.” This concerto for the classical-bluegrass trio Time for Three was, if not the best piece on the program, certainly the one that most played to the crowd. Time for Three formed when its members were students at Curtis, the elite music school: These are, in short, top-drawer classical musicians who happen to branch out into another idiom. There’s something slightly tongue in cheek about having a leading classical composer (Higdon teaches at Curtis) write a concerto for three Curtis students who happen to have a crossover band — it’s as if all the vernacular elements were in air quotes.