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Lang Lang provides energetic start to BSO centennial season

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The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's annual gala had extra significance this year, marking the start of the organization's 100th season. For such an occasion, a prominent guest star was in order. Keyboard phenomenon Lang Lang fit the bill perfectly, assuring a hearty turnout Saturday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

That Lang Lang got his first big career boost from the BSO in the late 1990s, when he was a teen, made the choice all the more appropriate. And in the absence of music director Marin Alsop, the orchestra welcomed back another musician from the past to help with the gala -- Christopher Seaman, conductor in residence from 1987 to 1998.

What the well-filled house was really waiting for, of course, was Lang Lang. He came onstage to a huge ovation and generated an even bigger response following his performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. Such a meaty, romantic score is catnip to Lang Lang, who milked the lyrical themes with terrific intensity and negotiated every technical challenge with his typical aplomb.

The pianist's performance, supported in generally firm fashion by Seaman and the BSO, was volatile, prone to whims and bursts. The sense of spontaneity certainly proved arresting, though there were unfortunate side effects -- notes in the middle of otherwise smooth, elegant phrases that suddenly got hammered out for no apparent reason, that sort of thing.