Zinman marks 10 years in town Harmony: The BSO and its director are satill making beautiful music together

February 04, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

As a weary David Zinman relaxed in his Meyerhoff Hall dressing room Monday after a grueling two-day recording session, he began to reflect on his 10 seasons in Baltimore when he was interrupted by a knock on the door.

It was Joshua Bell, the violin soloist in the three works that had just been recorded. He was about to leave for the Midwest, and he wanted to say goodbye.

"You made it all work out," Bell said as he embraced the conductor. Zinman, as almost every musician who has worked with him says, is a soloist's best friend.

Wednesday evening, several other celebrated musicians will also drop by to say thanks. Pianist Leon Fleisher and violinists Elmar Oliveira, Cho-Liang Lin and Pamela Frank will contribute their services without fee to help celebrate Zinman's 10 years in Baltimore with a spectacular gala concert to benefit the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians' pension fund.

The program will feature Fleisher, playing with two hands for the first time in Baltimore since 1982, in a Mozart concerto; Oliveira, Frank and Lin joining BSO concertmaster Herbert Greenberg in Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins; any number of flashy violin solos by the three guest violinists; some orchestra-only Rachmaninoff and Wagner; and, perhaps, more than a few of the off-the-wall skits -- such as a country-and-western "Duelling Fiddles" between Pamela Frank and Cho-Liang Lin -- that have made the BSO's Saturday "Casual Concerts" imitated nationwide.

The idea for the concert came about only last October, when a date for a pops concert scheduled for this week fell through.

"The musicians were being paid for the time anyway," Zinman said. "Some of them asked me if I would conduct a special concert to raise money for the pension fund. I agreed to conduct without fee, of course, and I asked some of my friends to join me."

That so many busy, world-class soloists would make time on such short notice for something of this order is astonishing -- but not where Zinman is concerned. In Minneapolis on July 9, most of the musicians appearing Wednesday will be joined by Yo-Yo Ma, Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman and others to perform -- again, without fee -- to celebrate the conductor's 60th birthday.

Zinman is the most considerate collaborator in the music business and tailors his accompaniments to support each soloist's individual needs. He can make almost anybody sound good.

"I was terrified this week," Joshua Bell said. "I had never played three concertos on a single program before, and I was particularly frightened by the Walton Concerto -- it's very difficult, and most orchestras don't know it. But David and the orchestra stayed with me through every turn, and I became less afraid and was able to play better than I thought I could."

MA There's another reason soloists love Zinman. He's a nice guy.

"Pure music"

"He's made of pure music," says Isaac Stern, who has worked with almost every great conductor of the past 50 years. "It's just a joy to make music with him."

Surprisingly enough, most BSO players feel that way, too. Of many orchestra musicians it can be safely said that they have never met a music director they liked. And after they work with a conductor steadily for more than 10 years, it's rarer still to find musicians who even respect one.

Although there have been inevitable ups and downs in Zinman's relationship with the musicians, according to BSO oboist Jane ,, Marvine, most of the players like and respect Zinman even more than when he arrived in 1985.

"There's a kind of harmony among us that's unusual after so long a period," Marvine says. "In 10 years he has never stepped on the podium without being prepared down to the tiniest details. I can't imagine more integrity or commitment. And in the last two years, especially, we've reached a level we never had before. He's got vision and tenacity, and the orchestra is eager to continue a wonderful relationship."

Zinman himself says that what makes him proudest about his years in Baltimore "is the rapport I have with the orchestra."

But that's not all he can be proud of. When Zinman arrived in 1985, the BSO broadcast only sporadically, recorded very little and only for minor labels, and toured infrequently. That has changed. The BSO's nationally syndicated broadcasts are among the most popular on the airwaves and are widely imitated. The orchestra has made several major tours of the United States, in addition to an enormously successful four-week trip to Europe and Russia in 1987 and an even more successful four-week tour of Japan and the Far East in 1994. Zinman and the orchestra now record regularly -- two of its records have won Grammys -- for major labels, such as Sony Classics, Decca-London, Telarc and Nonesuch.

Beethoven recordings

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