BSO plays with stars Solutions: Lacking a musical director next season, the orchestra has an impressive list of guest artists lined up.

March 01, 1998|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

An orchestra that must spend a season without a music director -- as the Baltimore Symphony will do in next season's interregnum between David Zinman and Yuri Temirkanov -- has to solve two problems.

It has to keep the level of its ensemble playing high -- something that will prove difficult enough when an orchestra has been accustomed to Zinman's superb ear for balances and his almost microscopically accurate beat.

And it must sustain the interest of audiences in the absence of the continuity usually provided by a music director.

In their mailboxes tomorrow, BSO subscribers should find, in its brochure for the 1998-1999 season, the orchestra's solutions to both problems. It's a season unique in the orchestra's history. It features:

* An unusually high number of prominent guest conductors -- several of them spending two weeks or more with the orchestra.

* An equally generous helping of star soloists, whose only common denominator, among their diverse kinds of appeal, is their glamour.

* Programming that preserves some of the innovative emphasis upon new music that was characteristic of the Zinman years, while also presenting so many works by Beethoven -- another specialty of Zinman's -- that the coming season can almost be described as a yearlong Beethoven festival.

Each of these features was shrewdly designed to compensate for the season between the music directorships of Zinman, who steps down after this season, and that of Temirkanov, which begins in the 1999-2000 season.

Take, for example, the roster of guest conductors. It includes multiple-week engagements by many of the conductors who have had the most success in motivating the BSO to perform at its highest level: Gunther Herbig (three weeks), Jeffrey Tate (two weeks), Hans Graf (two weeks) and Mario Venzago (two weeks).

"Without a music director to keep his hand on the rudder, the greatest risk the musicians of an orchestra run is losing their ability to play well together," says Mark Volpe, the executive director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. "Judging by the conductors they're engaging, [the Baltimore Symphony's] management is pulling out all the stops to keep that from happening."

That the orchestra made a point of engaging Herbig for #i appearances at the beginning, middle and conclusion of the season is particularly noteworthy. Although he is not as celebrated as such superstars as Seiji Ozawa and Claudio Abbado, Herbig has the reputation of being the guest conductor whose visits are most likely to leave an orchestra playing at a higher level than before.

"The first thing we were concerned with was was that the orchestra be kept interested enough so that its level would remain high," says BSO executive director John Gidwitz. "We had just conducted a major conductor search, so we had a

pretty clear idea from the players themselves who were the conductors most likely to motivate the orchestra to show what it can do."

And a sense of continuity will be provided by guest-conducting stints from past, current and future BSO music directors: Sergiu Comissiona (one week), Zinman, who will return for two weeks of concerts and take the orchestra to Carnegie Hall, and Temirkanov, who takes the podium for subscription concerts March 25-26 and repeats his Berlioz-Barber-Beethoven program on March 30 in a nonsubscription concert.

With so many conductors, whose fees are at the $30,000 level or higher for a week, one suspects that this may be the most expensive BSO season in more than a decade.

"We definitely want people to feel that way," says Gidwitz, delicately sidestepping the question. "We want them to feel that it's an attractive season."

But while orchestras may be motivated by conductors, audiences generally come to hear soloists.

"There are only a handful of conductors in the world who can sell out a hall," says Boston's Volpe. "Ticket sales are driven by big-name soloists."

Andre Watts and violinists Nigel Kennedy, Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg and Sarah Chang, all of whom will be appearing next season, are genuine stars likely to sell out Meyerhoff every time they appear in the hall. (Not to mention Bobby McFerrin, who will both solo and conduct.)

And such great musicians as pianists Radu Lupu and Leif Ove Andsnes, violinist Elmar Oliveira, cellist Lynn Harrell, guitarist Manuel Barrueco and trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger have large-enough followings among Baltimore's not inconsiderable cognoscenti so that few seats will be left unfilled. It was a shrewdly chosen roster of soloists.

According to Gidwitz, scheduling decisions about soloists were made with an intent to provide the greatest possible variety.

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