Nurturing Baltimore's cultural garden For more than 40 years, Randy and Amalie Rothschild have been outstanding patrons of the arts

Music: Randy's commissions of modern classical works have earned him accolades.

November 23, 1997|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

As the afternoon sun streams through his spacious house, 88-year-old Randy Rothschild looks closely at a thin piece of paper with a long list of musical births, a list of contemporary chamber music, orchestral pieces, solo works and several small operas.

He begins to read the composers' names aloud in a soft, frail voice -- Henry Cowell, Gunther Schuller, Leon Kirchner, Ernst Krenek, Richard Wernick, Lukas Foss, Robert Hall Lewis, Charles Wuorinen, Hugo Weisgall, Milton Babbitt, Christopher Rouse, John Harbison. He pauses occasionally to recall scenes from long-ago concerts and late-night conversations.

Rothschild shakes his head over the list of premieres, chuckling sometimes like an old-timer confronting a room full of young relatives at a family reunion. "I can't believe that I commissioned so many pieces," he murmurs.

The list helps reveal the history of modern art music in Baltimore and of the man who helped pay for it. Rothschild's commissions encompass virtually every style in the vast landscape known as modern classical music. And during the past 40 years, many of the pre-eminent American composers visiting Baltimore have stayed at his house, some of them waxing as eloquent about favorite recipes as about music.

A corporate attorney and amateur musician, Rothschild made a lifelong commitment to support contemporary art music and to bring it to the attention of his native city. His largess led to the creation and performance of 44 new works for the Chamber Music Society of Baltimore and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

"You could argue Randy Rothschild has been one of the most important patrons of contemporary composers in the United States for the past 30 years," says Robert Sirota, director of the Peabody Conservatory. "He consistently supported commissions of mainstream composers -- some of whom were not that well-known when he commissioned them."

In return, Rothschild has collected a wall of awards from a grateful arts world: the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America; the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers' award for adventurous programming, two years in a row; the Maryland Medici Award from the Maryland Citizens of Arts.

And although he has been slowed considerably by Parkinson's disease, Rothschild remains involved with the nurturance of contemporary music, showing up for board meetings of the BSO and Peabody whenever he is able.

However, it's a bittersweet time for this small, self-effacing gentleman: His beloved Chamber Music Society of Baltimore quietly called it quits last summer after audience development and fund-raising proved too daunting for its board. The organization's success at awakening audiences to the challenges of new music, some observers say, also led to the creation of competing recital series and musical groups.

Rothschild served as the society's president for 39 of its 47 years, commissioning 28 new works in the process. He essentially ran the organization until 1987, when composer and pianist Anthony Stark took over as its managing director and first paid employee.

"It was Randy's organization," says Susan Weiss, a musicology professor at Peabody and former chamber society board member. "Even if he didn't found it, the Chamber Music Society of Baltimore was synonymous with Randy Rothschild."

The founding

When the society was begun in 1950 by late composer Hugo Weisgall and pianist Richard Goodman, there was little chamber music in Baltimore outside of the Peabody Institute. The organization's first goal was to provide live performances for local music lovers.

Through the society's programs at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Rothschild helped provide a diverse musical education for the community. Baltimoreans heard such chamber groups as the Juilliard String Quartet play traditional repertoire and new music. After each performance, the audience had the opportunity to meet musicians and such composers as Aaron Copland.

Richard Goodman, who had known Rothschild since they were boys, enlisted him for the society's first board. Rothschild quickly became president.

"Mr. Goodman said, 'Oh, come on. You have to join us,' " Rothschild recalls. " 'We're new. We're not only going to need your thoughts about music, we're going to need your money!' "

Rothschild and his wife of 61 years, visual artist Amalie Rothschild, have made it their business to help cultivate Baltimore's cultural gardens. Together, they have shared the beauty and excitement of the visual and performing arts while raising two artists of their own: Daughter Amalie is a photographer and filmmaker, daughter Adrien is a quilt-maker and designer.

"Randy has had a commitment to living composers -- whether he liked their music or not," Amalie Rothschild says. "He believes that the works must be heard and played for audiences wanting to hear them."

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