Sergiu Comissiona returns to conduct BSO and reminisce about Baltimore

January 09, 1991|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

Sergiu Comissiona, the 62-year-old former conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, remembers his successes and acknowledges a mistake in his 16-year tenure here, but passionately maintains, "my music love story is Baltimore."

The numerous successes included, in an informal count, hiring 56 of the 92 current BSO members. His error was not playing enough music from the classical period.

Pronounced fit this week by his doctor, graying and working like Rimsky-Korsakov's flying bumblebee, Comissiona is in Baltimore for three concerts starting tomorrow featuring the Shostakovich "Symphony No. 10 in E. Minor." He led the orchestra into the major leagues from 1969 until 1985, when David Zinman took over.

Comissiona, who lives in New York, arrived here Monday, two days after rushing onto a plane in Madrid in his conductor's tux. He had eight minutes to spare after a concert. After Baltimore, he's flying to Israel "under the January 15 Iraq deadline" for concerts with the Jerusalem Symphony and a chamber orchestra in Tel Aviv.

His BSO rehearsal finished yesterday, he paused with a fruit cup lunch to look back on Baltimore memories and a strong hope to be invited back each year to the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, which he opened in September 1982. "Every stone, every corner tells me something," he said. "We have so many friends here."

The mistake?

"I was criticized for not conducting enough classic period music. My interests were more the Romantic, the French, the Modern. The public is very conservative here. I think I did enlarge the taste of music here. But I blame myself that I didn't give them enough Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. I learned from these mistakes and play more classical now."

Throw a dart onto a map and Comissiona seems to conduct there. He works 10 weeks a year as music director and chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic, 10 weeks as chief conductor of Madrid's radio and television orchestra, four weeks (to be increased to eight and 12 weeks) as music director designate of the Vancouver Symphony (becoming head man in September 1991), two weeks in Jerusalem and guest shots all over.

The successes in Baltimore? "We made many recordings here," he said. "The first European tour in 1981...the annual visit to New York...the Meyerhoff opening...the bigger repertory.

The BSO under Zinman? "I follow the Baltimore Symphony with the greatest pride. You are never finished. Under Zinman, the orchestra has achieved a lot of precision, depth, discipline, more music from the classical period, some excellent recordings. You can't imagine how it feels to have the orchestra in such good hands."

On his health, Comissiona said, "I walk a lot and got good marks yesterday [Monday] in a full checkup. I'm not arrogant about my health. I try to exercise, diet, enjoy my life and music."

The conductor's wife, Robinne, was to join him here today. "She is very busy, teaching, writing, lecturing...she's publishing a book this year on different methods of relaxing for different professions." Comissiona hasn't decided whether to accept an invitation to direct in Bucharest in May because of the unsettled conditions there, though he has been told there was less anti-Semitism than before.

Comissiona was born in Bucharest of musical parents. He was 17 when he was at the Bucharest Opera to hear his mother sing Marguerite in Gounod's "Faust." The scheduled conductor couldn't appear, the young man convinced the management he knew the score and he made his conducting debut then and there. Later he moved to Israel, then the United States, where he first appeared on tour in 1963 with his Ramat Gan Chamber Orchestra.

Besides the Shostakovich, which Comissiona led here last in 1977, the BSO program at 8:15 p.m. tomorrow and Friday has the French pianist Cecile Ousset playing Liszt's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major" and Sibelius' "Finlandia." Symphony No. 10 alone will be played at 11 a.m. Saturday in a Casual Concert.

Retire? "Never," Comissiona said quickly. "Look at Bernstein. He died days after retiring. All conductors dream of dying on stage, playing their favorite music." His choice if he had to make one? "Mahler, of course."

Comissiona had a friend, the Romanian-born pianist Mindru Katz, who died about a decade ago the right way.

"He was playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on stage in Ankara, Turkey. He had a heart attack. He put the lid down and he put his head down on his hands. Then he died."

Tickets for the season's seventh "Celebrity Series" concert tomorrow and Friday range from $11 to $37. Tickets for the Saturday Casual Concert are $11 each. Tickets are available at the box office. For more information or to charge tickets, call 783-8000.

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