BILL CURRY has grown up a lot since the early conducting days when he came to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as a self-described baby of 21.
"I became known as William Henry Hurry for my fast conducting. I drove the music too hard and sometimes got a critical drubbing. I was very introverted and didn't think conductors had to do public relations.
"But I grew up musically in Baltimore, and I truly love the Baltimore Symphony. When I goofed, they helped me. Sergui Comissiona scheduled the Brahms Third Symphony when I was just 22 or 23. It's technically difficult, but he told me, 'This needs to be slower.' I have a rose-colored vision of those years [1977-82]."
Along the way, Curry said, he became more self-critical, lyrically oriented, concerned with orchestral balance in a piece and fusing the colors. He retained his interest in "good" minimalism and in championing American music.
And he grew up fast. In 1988 he won the Leopold Stokowsky Conducting Competition. He makes his operatic conducting debut with Leroy Jenkins' "The Mother of Three Sons" at the Houston Opera this summer and then at Lincoln Center in October.
Many BSO players remember him fondly. Baltimoreans heard him lead the BSO last summer at Oregon Ridge, and since then he's become resident conductor of the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra after stints with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Indianapolis Symphony.
Locals get another chance to see him work at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall when he conducts some 200 musicians including about 75 BSO players, violinist Ramsey Husser, the Morgan State University Choir and Festival Chorus. The featured performer is vocalist Maureen McGovern with conductor Jeff Harris.
Curry and most of the musicians are volunteering their talents. The concert is the third annual benefit organized by the Chesapeake AIDS Foundation and BSO violist Kris Braly, who founded the group after befriending a man dying of AIDS, Robert Doyle, in 1985.
"I was shocked at how he was treated," said Braly, a widow with two children. "He died four months later in September. The fear of AIDS has subsided a bit, but the need for help continues. I've lost count of how many people I've met since then with AIDS. Many people have been touched by knowing people living with AIDS."
Braly hopes the foundation, which awards grants to health and social support agencies, eventually becomes a national organization. There is no paid staff, only volunteers.
Curry calls Braly "a great spirit" for her AIDS work. He has had friends die of the virus. "Usually I'm a person who only talks a blue streak about causes, but here I can do something; I'd pay to conduct here. These are oppressed people. We're in the dark ages. There is no such thing as gay rights now. It's a national disgrace. So this is such a worthy cause, and I'm proud to come and flattered to be asked."
Curry calls music planning "a neat jigsaw puzzle." He will lead this program: Gustav Holst's "A Hampshire Suite"; two Morgan choir pieces -- "Harriet Tubman" by Harvard professor Walter Robinson and the spiritual "Call Him Up Today"; violinist Husser's performance of Sarasate's difficult "Carmen Fantasy" and Vaughan Williams' anthem "Toward the Unknown Region" with words by Walt Whitman.
Husser, a Peabody Conservatory student of BSO concertmaster Herbert Greenberg, makes his formal BSO debut this summer at Oregon Ridge and will solo with the Vancouver Symphony under Comissiona, the BSO's former music director. McGovern has become admired recently for her interpretations of Gershwin. She announces her songs from the stage.
Tickets are $15, $25, $35, $40 and $100. The latter price includes a catered reception with McGovern. Call the box office, 783-8000, for tickets or 669-7557 for more information.