BSO sets out on 2nd tour of Japan Respect: David Zinman and the orchestra seek a surge in energy and prestige.

November 16, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Symphony leaves today for a second tour of Japan, where three years ago it experienced some of the greatest triumphs in its 13-year partnership with music director David Zinman.

The BSO was perhaps the biggest hit of Tokyo's 1994-1995 concert season, with the orchestra garnering notices that compared its playing favorably to that of such world-famous institutions as the Vienna, Berlin and New York philharmonics.

In the next two weeks, Zinman and the orchestra will return to the scenes of those triumphs for nine concerts in six cities, four of them featuring famed violinist Isaac Stern.

In 1994, the orchestra set out on its tour with essentially three goals:

To increase its prestige so that it could attract better guest conductors and bigger corporate donors.

To open a new market, for its recordings as well as its concerts, in the country that has the largest per capita consumption of classical music and whose 120 million inhabitants (less than half the population of the United States) account for more than 30 percent of all classical record sales.

And, because of the demands that touring makes upon players and the way it boosts their morale, to return to Baltimore a better orchestra.

While not all those goals wereachieved with equal success, there is no question that the orchestra that sets out for Asia today has a more important international profile than the one that left three years ago.

One measure of that prestige is the BSO's ability to entice the distinguished Russian conductor Yuri Temirkanov to succeed Zinman.

Another is that Zinman and the BSO, who were an unknown quantity before the tour and whose records were almost impossible to find in Tokyo, now have a substantial presence in stores such as the Wave, which is in the city's fashionable Roppongi district and is among the largest CD emporiums in the world.

All 26 of the Zinman-BSO recordings are now available in Japan, and their all-Samuel Barber and "Dance Mix" albums have numbered among the best-selling classical recordings in Tokyo ever since the orchestra's first appearance in that city three years ago, says Chouei Nakamura, manager of The Wave.

"Sales have been getting even better in the last two years because Zinman and the Baltimore orchestra have carved out a niche for themselves," Nakamura says.

Part of the reason, he says, is that Zinman's informal manner made him a very popular figure in Tokyo.

"Another is that Japanese audiences like the BSO's adventurousness in playing more modern music than other orchestras, and they seem to think that the BSO's performances get better with every new record."

Recording plans reduced

Slumping record sales in the United States and Europe led to cancellations by the Argo and Telarc labels of plans to make further recordings with the BSO.

The orchestra and Zinman currently have only one recording project in the works -- a recording of concertos by Beethoven and Leonard Bernstein with violinist Hilary Hahn for Sony Classical this spring.

But according to BSO executive director John Gidwitz, the effect of international touring upon an orchestra cannot be measured merely in terms of selling tickets and records.

"Six of our nine concerts will be presented in the premiere concert halls of Japan, and five of the concerts will not have a soloist," Gidwitz says.

"That is a measure of the prestige of the orchestra -- that the presenter felt he could present us alone in substantial repertory. None of that would have been possible if it weren't for the success of the first tour."

International touring is expensive. The cost of the current tour, which involves moving 100 musicians, a support staff of 20 and more than 11 tons of cargo halfway across the globe and back, is $2 million. ($1.25 million of that cost will be absorbed by the presenters, with the remaining $750,000 supplied by the sponsorship from NGK-Locke, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, the City of Baltimore, the orchestra's own fund for touring and various charitable trusts.)

But it is money that the orchestra cannot afford not to spend, Gidwitz says.

"An orchestra that tours successfully is a different orchestra than one that doesn't. The one that doesn't is merely a local resource; the one that does is an international resource."

An indication of the BSO's international status is that it will be accompanied by a state of Maryland trade mission that includes officials of higher education, transportation, trade and economic development agencies.

"One international tour doesn't do anything for an orchestra," Gidwitz adds. "Repeated international tours do. And because it establishes your international credibility, you raise more funds.

"Leading corporations such as Mercantile Bank, Bell Atlantic, Aegon Insurance and the Philip Morris Companies are giving us more support than they used to, and they would not do it if the appeal were exclusively artistic.

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