With a new $50 million home planned for Montgomery County, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra may trim its Baltimore performance schedule while building support in a new and affluent community -- steps that BSO administrators say are necessary in the competitive world of classical music.
The new 2,000-seat concert hall planned for Rockville will provide the BSO with a venue in which to present a broader menu of summer concerts and a chance to rival the visibility of the National Symphony headquartered nearby in Washington's Kennedy Center.
"We now are at the outer limits of what our market can support, and we know that you can only move forward or you begin to slip back," said John Gidwitz, symphony president. "We think there are significant advantages to be had if we can broaden the base of people we serve to encompass a new audience."
Gov. Parris N. Glendening today is expected to propose that the state spend $1.7 million to begin planning the new facility, which will be located on the grounds of Strathmore Hall Arts Center on Rockville Pike.
"The governor always supports the arts, and he particularly likes this project because it brings something new to Montgomery County, and it also accommodates the BSO. It will really bring together the two communities," said Judi Scioli, the governor's press secretary.
A second residence for the symphony would not have a negative impact on the selection of concerts presented at the Meyerhoff, said BSO administrators. Nor does a summer home mean an end to the Oregon Ridge concerts.
However, dividing its energies between Baltimore and Montgomery County might affect the number of concerts the BSO is able to present at the Meyerhoff. "It is possible that if we normally would play four concerts [in Baltimore] on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, that three instead of four would be played in Baltimore and one would be played in Montgomery County. That is one of the possibilities," said Calman J. "Buddy" Zamoiski Jr., chairman of the BSO board and a leader of the 18-month effort to develop a new concert hall.
Asked whether a second home in Montgomery County would place the BSO in greater competition with the National Symphony, Zamoiski said: "Obviously, if you are in the market within a distant of some miles there is bound to be some competition, but the available audience is so great it should just promote more interest in symphonic music."
Symphony administrators hope that the new venue will function as the BSO's summer home in the same manner that Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass., does for the Boston Symphony. The hall, which will operate year round, will be set on 11 green and rolling acres that form the grounds of Strathmore Hall mansion. Built in 1902 as a private home, the mansion now is the site for wedding receptions, small concerts, art exhibitions and fund-raisers. It overlooks Grosvenor Metrorail station and is about 1/4 -mile from the Capital Beltway.
"The BSO is a state resource, and here in Montgomery County we don't take advantage of it, so we said, 'Let's try to bring one of our state resources to us and take advantage of some of that state money that is going into it,' " said Doug Duncan, Montgomery County executive.
The new concert hall, which could open in three years, is to be loosely modeled on Tanglewood's four-year-old Seiji Ozawa Hall, symphony administrators say. With a 2,000-seat capacity, however, the Montgomery County facility would be nearly twice the size of Ozawa Hall.
In addition, the Montgomery County venue, which Duncan envisions as having "a lot of glass and openness" will be designed so that its back can be opened up during the summer, providing another 2,000 or so seats on the lawn. Project plans also include construction of a separate building for music and other classes and a restaurant.
"We don't have a cultural center in our county so this will really fill a gap," Duncan said. "And it really opens up a whole new market for the BSO at very little expense to them."
The county executive estimates the total project will cost about $60 million: $50 million for the hall, $4 million to $5 million for the educational facility, and $4 million for the restaurant. Under a preliminary financial plan, the state's share would be $25 million and the county's share would be $25 million. Private funding also will be sought, he said.
As the new hall's major tenant, the BSO would present 30 to 50 performances in Montgomery County. Other organizations, including the Montgomery Youth Orchestra, the National Chamber Orchestra and the Masterworks Chorus and Orchestra would perform there as well, bringing the number of events annually to about 150.
The BSO has performed in Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall since it opened in 1982. The hall, which seats 2,462, cost $23 million to build. The late Joseph Meyerhoff contributed $10 million to the project; the state $10.5 million; and the city $2.5 million.