BSO hall to rise on field

Hall: Government and cultural dignitaries `virtually' break ground for Strathmore Hall Music Center.

April 12, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

After two decades of dreaming and scouting for funds, "a virtual groundbreaking" for the $88.9 million, 2,000-seat Strathmore Hall Music Center in North Bethesda was held yesterday.

Rain prevented an actual shoveling of earth on the pastoral setting on Rockville Pike just north of the Capital Beltway in Montgomery County. Instead, government officials, staffers, supporters and representatives of music organizations eager to use the new venue gamely crammed into Strathmore Hall, the 1902 former mansion, convent and school that currently houses exhibits, concerts and educational programs.

"It's a glorious celebration, whether indoors or out," said Frances Hughes Glendening, Maryland's first lady, leading off a round of congratulations and thanks by officials from the state legislature, Montgomery County Council and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

"When we want world-class culture, we have had to go somewhere else," said County Executive Douglas Duncan. "Strathmore will bring world-class culture here. It will also bring Maryland closer to Montgomery County, and Montgomery County closer to Baltimore. It is an honor for us to say the Baltimore Symphony's second home will be here."

Preliminary on-site work at Strathmore is scheduled to begin next week; construction is expected to be complete in spring 2004. An official opening season will most likely get under way that fall. A campaign has begun to raise $30 million in private and corporate money to provide an endowment for the new facility, which will have an annual operating budget of about $6 million.

The new concert hall and arts education center will be used by the National Chamber Orchestra, Masterworks Chorus and Orchestra, Montgomery County Youth Orchestra, and Levine School of Music.

The Washington Performing Arts Society, which regularly imports leading musicians and dance companies to the Kennedy Center and other sites in the D.C. area, is committed to a new Strathmore series.

But the major dose of classical music in the concert hall will come from the BSO. About 30 performances a season will be slated in the hall, with its architectural design by William Rawn Associates of Boston and acoustical design by R. Lawrence Kirkegaard of Chicago.

"We have always received significant support from the state of Maryland," BSO president John Gidwitz said, "and we have always conceived our role as serving as much of the state as possible. Strathmore gives us an opportunity to serve a whole new region and to broaden our base of support."

Enthusiasm for the BSO's presence at Strathmore has run high since the concert hall project started in earnest a few years ago. Much of that enthusiasm has been generated by the arrival of Yuri Temirkanov as the orchestra's music director. But his current contract will expire a year before Strathmore's concert hall opens.

"We are all very much hoping he will still be our music director in 2004," Gidwitz said. "He has been very interested in Strathmore from the beginning. He even expressed some design ideas that were incorporated into the hall."

Temirkanov attended yesterday's event but declined to speak to the crowd.

Strathmore executive director Eliot Pfanstiehl envisions an "off-the-Beltway circuit," adding to the cultural life of the Washington metropolitan area, including the University of Maryland's new Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park, and George Mason University's Center for the Arts. Shared concerts and festivals are a possibility.

Pfanstiehl also said he'd be interested in talking to Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser about possible joint programming. Washington Performing Arts Society president Douglas Wheeler predicted that Strathmore would draw audiences from around the state and D.C.

As he put it: "If you have great art and a great facility, you're going to have an audience."

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