The BSO reaches out

June 02, 1993

The final four performances in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's pop concerts this week are great examples of a two-fer. Maestro David Zinman has divided the program between excerpts from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" and Oscar Hammerstein's "Carmen Jones," a homespun adaptation of Bizet's famous opera. Moreover, the performances are integral parts of two significant efforts launched by the BSO to attract new listeners: a pops series aimed at younger music lovers and a community outreach series designed to entice more African-Americans to the Meyerhoff.

In recent years, the pops series of light classics and show music has proven so -- dare we say it? -- popular that Mr. Zinman has taken to conducting many of these performances himself rather than leaving all the fun to guest conductors. Meanwhile, audiences have shown their appreciation by making each year's series more successful than the last. The pops program has been one way the BSO has been able to attract a younger generation of concertgoers, something orchestras across the country must do if they want to stay in business.

Equally important as appealing to younger listeners is attracting more African-Americans and other minorities to the concert hall. The BSO's community outreach committee, chaired by Baltimore City State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, has had great success in encouraging African-American participation in the symphony's programs through its "Classically Black" and "Black by Popular Demand" series, which present works by black composers and bring well-known black performers to share an evening of music with the BSO. For the concerts beginning tomorrow night, the orchestra will be joined by the Morgan State University Choir under the direction of Dr. Nathan Carter and a distinguished roster of guest soloists.

The performances of works by Gershwin and Hammerstein are an excellent illustration of the kind of mix that makes such programs work. "Carmen Jones," which opened on Broadway in 1953, was Hammerstein's homage to Bizet's fiery Gypsy heroine, recast as a parachute packer in a South Carolina factory during World War II. In "Porgy and Bess," Gershwin created some of the most unforgettably lush music ever written by an American-born composer.

All this adds up to an experience that is not to be missed. Bravos to Maestro Zinman, the BSO and all the people who have worked so hard to make reaching out so musically rewarding.

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