Opening notes of BSO's new movement: Orchestra: The era of Yuri Temirkanov begins with a Thursday concert -- and high hopes.

January 16, 2000|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

The name is Yuri Temirkanov.

Tem-ir-KOHN-off.

For the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, that name resonates with the excitement and high hopes of a new musical era -- one that starts Thursday when the 61-year-old conductor steps onto the podium and leads the orchestra in concert for the first time as its artistic director.

Temirkanov, the 11th person to fill the position in the orchestra's 83-year history, begins his tenure with the BSO looking to him to improve it artistically and to enhance its reputation in the United States and abroad. Temirkanov succeeded David Zinman when he left in 1998.

Musicians consider Temirkanov highly imaginative, capable of raising orchestras to new heights by communicating his emotions through gestures of nearly dance-like grace. "He is a great conductor -- the best conductor I've ever played for," says BSO principal bassoonist Philip Kolker. "That doesn't make any of the other conductors any less good. He's just really special."

Violin soloist Pamela Frank, who has performed with Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, London's Royal Philharmonic and the BSO, agrees.

"It is liberating to play with him because you can bare your soul and get a piece of his soul at the same time," she says.

Temirkanov arrives at a time of significant change. The BSO plans to establish a second home in Montgomery County, a move that would allow it to market itself to residents of Maryland's most affluent county and the nation's capital. It also hopes to reinvigorate its summer music program with the recent appointment of Swiss conductor Mario Venzago as director. And the symphony is seeking a replacement for pops conductor Marvin Hamlisch, who will leave the BSO this year to direct the National Symphony Orchestra pops program in Washington.

Silver-haired, trim and courtly, Temirkanov is a man of few words, preferring to communicate with his musicians with subtle gestures. At the podium, he doesn't use a baton, conveying what he wants through his hands, which become expressive, infinitely flexible, evocative.

The Caucasus-born conductor is the artistic director of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, and the principal guest conductor of London's Royal Philharmonic. He also is a frequent guest conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

He inherits an orchestra that has come a long way -- and wants to go even further. Bronx-born David Zinman -- renowned for his precision, knowledge of music and commitment to contemporary music -- transformed a solid regional orchestra into one with an international reputation. His sense of rhythm was deemed nearly flawless, and soloists said he could anticipate what they were trying to express. In his 13-year tenure, he brought the BSO to a new artistic level, teaching it greater discipline and flexibility, and expanding its repertoire.

Travel, a radio program

He traveled with the orchestra to Russia and East Asia, produced with it more than 20 recordings, and developed a radio show that was broadcast in 180 cities.

Now, the symphony is looking to Temirkanov to take it to even greater levels of artistry. BSO administrators hope the conductor's international reputation will create new touring opportunities. The BSO, which has a $21 million annual budget, last year launched a $100 million capital campaign in preparation for Temirkanov's arrival. Plans for domestic and international tours are being discussed. The BSO hopes to perform in New York City and possibly other cities, travel to Europe in November 2001, and to East Asia. "After Zinman left, we were left wanting, hoping for a messiah. Now we hope Temirkanov will be happy with us," says Adrian Semo, associate concertmaster of the BSO. "He is very well-known as the director of the St. Petersburg Symphony, but he also is our director now."

At a concert in November, Temirkanov led the Philadelphia Orchestra in a program including Sergei Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major. The soloist was 28-year-old Russian virtuoso Vadim Repin. From the moment Temirkanov stepped onto stage, there was an intense feeling of connection, even intimacy, between conductor and musicians.

Communicating by music

Unlike his predecessor, this conductor has no desire to talk to the audience during a performance. Zinman, who was at ease chatting up his listeners, pioneered Saturday morning "Casual Concerts" that were so successful that they are being imitated nationwide. (The BSO probably will continue some version of the series, but not with the new artistic director, says John Gidwitz, president.)

To Temirkanov, the podium is sacred. He wishes to speak to the audience only through music. "In every instance, every moment in music, there is an emotion, a hue of certain emotions, and the conductor must show this to the orchestra. If the orchestra accepts these emotions, then the audience feels them, too," he explains. "There is conductor, orchestra, audience."

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