Zinman to lead city orchestra through 1998

April 23, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

David Zinman has signed a new four-year contract to continue as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The contract begins at the end of next season and keeps Zinman with the orchestra through 1997-1998. It makes his tenure, which began in 1985, one of the longest in recent American symphonic history.

"We have worked so hard and accomplished so much over the past eight years," said Zinman yesterday from San Francisco, where he was guest-conducting. "I am excited that we can now build further on that strong foundation."

Zinman's salary, which depends on the number of weeks he conducts here, will range from $264,000 for the 1994-1995 season to $375,000 for the 1997-1998 season.

The contract commits the orchestra to an international and a U.S. tour, to at least two recordings each season, to continued support of the BSO's broadcasts and to "a best effort" to increase the string section by two players. If the orchestra does not honor these commitments, said BSO Executive Director John Gidwitz yesterday, "David has the option of cutting short the contract with a minimum of a year's notice."

Zinman has privately let it be known he was unhappy that the orchestra, which has not toured since spring 1990, dropped plans to tour Europe and Japan and canceled two recordings. Although these cuts were made for financial reasons the conductor says he understood, he remained concerned they would inhibit the orchestra's improvement and dull its reputation.

However, because he has markedly elevated the BSO's playing and reputation and introduced innovative programming ideas -- such as the widely imitated "casual" concerts and the "discovery" series -- the orchestra's board and management tried hard to keep him in Baltimore, according to Gidwitz.

This contract provides Zinman, whose current recording of Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3 is now one of the best-selling classical records in history, with an unpaid sabbatical from all conducting in the spring and summer months of 1995. Rather than his customary 18 to 20 weeks a season with the orchestra, he will spend a minimum of 15 weeks. The reduced number of weeks partly reflects the increased stature of the orchestra, which now attracts better guest conductors than in the past. It also enables Zinman to spend part of every year in Zurich, Switzerland, where he will become principal conductor of the Tonhalle Orchestra.

In the late 1980s, the conductor took the BSO on several highly praised tours -- including a 1987 trip to Europe and the former Soviet Union -- and he has continued to make well-received records with the BSO, the London Symphony and other orchestras.

"Touring and recording are essential elements in any effort to advance the artistic quality of an orchestra," Gidwitz said yesterday. "The new contract represents a sound balance between fiscal prudence and a reasonable level of artistic advancement."

The orchestra now has plans to continue recording for the Argo )) label, to resume its Rachmaninoff series for the Telarc label and, though it has not yet been finalized, to visit Japan in the 1994-1995 season.

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