BSO sounds to be blended into the Baltimore community

November 07, 1990|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

BALTIMORE SYMPHONY Orchestra audiences -- no surprise to anyone -- are largely white, middle- and upper-class gatherings listening to mostly white music for two hours in the warm cocoon of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

How to get more people of color, less money and differen backgrounds and tastes in the hall and bring the BSO closer to where they live remains an acknowledged major challenge for the BSO, corporate Baltimore and patrons.

One step for five years has been the annual "All-Baltimor Concert," financed by a $1 million grant from the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. Selected local non-profit groups sell all the tickets and get all the proceeds.

This year, for the concert at 8:15 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, featurin Tchaikovsky Prize-winning pianist Stephen Prutsman, 12 community groups instead of only two will benefit, John Gidwitz, BSO executive director, said.

Gidwitz said the increase in participating groups shows "th BSO's commitment to make this concert reflective of 'All-Baltimore' and . . . to broaden its outreach to the greater Baltimore community."

Curiously, however, the "All-Baltimore" program is not particularl Baltimorean in some respects. In a city that is at least 60 percent black, the program has no composers of color, no featured performer of color, no Baltimore music. Under the circumstances, some have already viewed as an odd joke that one of the three works being played is even called "The Wasps."

How come no racial diversity in the program? "It's a goo question," Gidwitz said. "Doubtless that will evolve in future years. The all-Baltimore philosophy at first concerned two things -- accessibility in price [$10] and involving many community organizations." The next step will be more consideration for non-whites in the program and performers, Gidwitz said.

Wendell G. Wright, director of one of the 12 groups benefitin and a black, was asked about this in an interview. He suggested, as he has in talks with past and present BSO management, that the symphony could do much more to integrate its total administration, featured artists and programs throughout the year and not just for February's Black History Month.

Wright said he felt the BSO should play more music by 20t century African-Americans. Who, for instance? He suggested these composers: Leslie Adams, William Dawson, Nathaniel Dett, Dorothy Rudd Moore, Undine Moore, Margaret Bonds, George Walker and Adolphus Hailstork, whom the BSO did play this year and will again.

"The BSO doesn't know anything about that literature," Wright contended. Black artists, local and national, should also be featured more in the Celebrity Series, he contended.

Wright is executive director of the Lois J. Wright Concert Series mainly but not exclusively for minority musicians. The series has seven concerts this year here. Wright stressed he has a good relationship with the BSO, which helped get $4,000-a-year funding for his series from Southwestern Bell Foundation.

Wright applauded the BSO's new 100-member "communit outreach" program, headed by State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms and coordinated by a community affairs manager, Jean Patterson Boone, hired last April. A $40,000 Abell Foundation grant helped its birth. "One day," Simms has pledged, "the composition of the audience . . . is going to look more like Baltimore".

As one result, the BSO this year begins a new "Sampler Series of programs with black musicians designed to attract more blacks as well as interest whites and others. "Sampler" begins Dec. 13 with James DePreist, the Oregon Symphony's music director, conducting the BSO. The Boys Choir of Harlem sings Jan. 5. Composer Hailstork's "Celebration" is played April 28, followed by Ray Charles with the BSO May 11 and the Morgan State University Choir singing with University of Maryland and BSO choruses June 15.

Also awaited is the 75th anniversary BSO concert Feb. 1 featuring Harolyn Blackwell, the black Metropolitan Opera soprano who recently got a rave review from the New York Times' Donal Henahan for her singing in Verdi's "A Masked Ball."

For the Nov. 30 "All-Baltimore" concert, Prutsman, Peabody Conservatory student of Leon Fleisher and fourth-place winner in the 1990 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow, will play. Christopher Seaman, the BSO's conductor-in-residence, leads the BSO.

The evening's program is Vaughan Williams' Overture to "Th Wasps," Brahms' Symphony No. 4 in E minor and Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor.

Prutsman was a particular favorite of Moscow audiences las summer. Of his July 5 finals playing of the Tchaikovsky Third Piano Concerto, Elizabeth Shogren, Los Angeles Times, wrote:

"There was warm applause when the gold, silver and bronz medal winners were announced. But when Prutsman's name was heard (as fourth place finisher), at 2:30 a.m, the hall filled with bravos and applause that lasted at least twice as long as it did for the other winners."

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