Reaching, renewing BSO's goals of diversity

Music: Symphony's efforts to reach out to the black community have been mostly successful, to wit: a free concert at the New Shiloh Baptist Church.

Fine Arts

July 18, 2000|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Although the classical music world has been color-blind for many years, the effort to make African-Americans feel welcome at symphony concerts, chamber music programs and operas continues. For its part, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has been addressing the complex issue of inclusiveness through its Community Outreach Committee, marking its first decade with a free concert Thursday evening at New Shiloh Baptist Church.

The committee currently has almost 300 members, representing churches, businesses, education and civic organizations. Nearly half of those members came to a meeting in 1989 with BSO officials to discuss community needs.

"They were very candid with us," says BSO president John Gidwitz. "They let us know that the orchestra didn't have a great tradition of service to African-Americans. We weren't the most loved organization in the community."

That initial meeting produced four goals that have been the focus of the committee's attention ever since: music education, such as youth concerts and other activities; specialized marketing programs geared to African-Americans; building strong links to existing community organizations; more people of color playing in the BSO and more music by African-American composers.

Those goals have largely been met. From the annual "Live, Gifted and Black" program to the hiring of minority contractors and the holding of music workshops for ministers, the BSO has invested wisely and well in outreach.

"We have come a great distance," says Stuart Simms, chairman of the Community Outreach Committee and a BSO board member. "I am delighted with what the committee has accomplished. The orchestra has become more appreciated and recognized in the community."

As for personnel, only two full-time current players are African-American. Efforts to recruit more blacks to take part in the orchestra's auditions have been made, Gidwitz says, but the audition process itself will remain as it is - anonymous, with musicians auditioning behind a screen.

A tangible result of the committee's activities is the BSO's recently released CD of works by a leading African-American composer, Adolphus Hailstork, whose Symphony No. 1 and "An American Fanfare" will be featured on Thursday's concert. On the podium will be Leslie B. Dunner, music director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

The concert will be at 7:30 p.m. at the church at 2100 N. Monroe St. Tickets, limited to four a person, are free, but must be picked up in advance at the church between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., or at the BSO ticket office at Meyerhoff Hall, Cathedral and Preston streets, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m

Now there are three

Following a wide search, the Peabody Trio has a new cellist - Natasha Brofsky, former principal cellist of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. She will join founding members Violaine Melancon, violinist, and Seth Knopp, pianist, starting in the 2000-2001 season. The much-traveled trio, a resident ensemble at the Peabody Conservatory, is finishing up its summer residency at the Yellow Barn Music School and Festival in Putney, Vt.

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