Russian musician to replace Zinman as BSO director Temirkanov praised as one of world's 'greatest conductors'

October 29, 1997|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF Kathy Lally of the Sun's Moscow bureau contributed to this article.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced yesterday that a Russian musician considered among the best conductors in the world will be its next music director.

Yuri Temirkanov, who is director and principal conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, replaces David Zinman, the symphony's longtime director, who announced last fall that he will resign in June. Temirkanov, 59, will take on his directing responsibilities in the 1999-2000 season, and will begin conducting in 2000. In the interim, the symphony will have no principal conductor but instead will rely on visiting artists.

Temirkanov, who has performed as a guest conductor with virtually all of America's major orchestras, has an international reputation as a passionate and imaginative musician. Though English is his second language -- and he often speaks through a translator -- he is renowned as a conductor who nonetheless is able to communicate easily his musical vision to orchestra and audience members.

"I first heard Maestro Temirkanov conduct in 1972, and I knew then, as I know now, that he is one of the world's greatest conductors," said John Gidwitz, president of the symphony.

"It is not easy to find someone to replace David Zinman -- the job he has done here has been spectacular -- but from the first time Temirkanov guest-conducted here, it was clear that there was an extraordinary chemistry between him and the orchestra."

"Temirkanov has an absolutely stellar reputation," said Willa Walker, artistic adminis trator of the Detroit Symphony.

"He is a great conductor, a great musician and has a rare gift for being able to communicate it to an orchestra and an audience. I think the BSO is very, very lucky -- it's quite a coup," Walker said.

The symphony's eagerness to build upon the successes it had during Zinman's tenure convinced Temirkanov that the Baltimore position would be an exciting one. "It is a very good orchestra. Not only is it good now, but it seems to me that this is the one that wants to improve," he said.

But, the conductor added, it was the bond between Zinman and the BSO musicians that impressed him the most. "In my conversations with members of the board and with musicians, everyone talked very well about David Zinman, who is leaving.

"In 30 years, I have never heard all people -- from musicians to board members -- speak so warmly of the music director. It's incredible."

Temirkanov's appointment comes after a yearlong search conducted by a committee that included musicians, board and staff members. Committee members began with a list of about 100 candidates, which was winnowed to about 25. They also traveled in the United States and Europe to listen to conductors, said Gidwitz.

"We wanted very much to move the orchestra forward artistically, and we knew, therefore, that if it were possible we should at least try to get one of the most distinguished conductors in the world," said Calman J. Zamoiski Jr., chairman of the BSO board. "And we did."

Once the committee decided upon Temirkanov, he said, "it was not who do we want, but how do we get him?"

Zamoiski said that the symphony's plan to build a second concert hall in Montgomery County was among the factors that appealed to Temirkanov.

Under Zinman's leadership, the BSO developed from a solid regional orchestra to one of international renown. During his 13-year tenure, the American conductor took the orchestra on tours of Russia and East Asia; produced with it more than 20 recordings, which won three Grammy awards; and developed a radio show that is broadcast in 180 cities. Next month, Zinman is scheduled to lead the BSO on a second Asia tour -- this time to six cities in Japan.

"[Temirkanov's appointment] puts us on the map internationally," said BSO cellist Gita Roche. "And the fact that he is coming here speaks volumes about how David Zinman is thought of internationally."

As music director, Temirkanov will oversee all artistic programming of the BSO. According to his three-year contract, he will conduct 12 concert subscription weeks, any recordings and the symphony's fund-raising gala, as well as lead all tours beginning in 2000, said Zamoiski.

And this spring, he will be the BSO's guest conductor on March 27, 28 and 29 in a program that features Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2.

Like many other conductors, Temirkanov simultaneously will hold other positions: He will continue to direct the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, and he also serves as the principal guest conductor of London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Temirkanov was born in the Caucasus city of Nal'chik and began studying music at age 9. At 13, he began attending the Leningrad School for Talented Children, where he studied both violin and viola.

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