Concertmaster to leave BSO

Resigning: Herbert Greenberg says there was no pressure for him to go.

May 05, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

After 20 years as concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and after working with three different music directors, Herbert Greenberg is resigning at the end of the current season.

"This was not an overnight decision," the violinist said yesterday. "I have been thinking about it for five years. I feel that I have paid my dues. I am ready for a new direction."

Although the rumor mill has cranked up stories that Greenberg was fired or paid to retire now, both he and BSO president John Gidwitz denied that any pressure was brought to bear.

"I know you are going to hear those stories," Greenberg said, "but I am leaving on mutually agreeable terms. I initiated this. I am not unhappy about how I was treated in any way. The only pressure I've gotten has been from my wife. I owe my family a little bit of time."

Gidwitz said that Greenberg approached the subject of retirement more than a year and a half ago; discussions intensified a few months ago. "He believes the time has come," Gidwitz said.

The concertmaster has faced some criticism in the press for his playing over the years. But his musicianship and personal charm earned him many admirers as well.

"It has been a remarkable tenure," Gidwitz said. "A concertmaster is really the person on the spot to translate the artistic impetus for each conductor. Herbie has been a key person in helping this orchestra play for completely different styles of conductors. He deserves a lot of credit for the orchestra's stytlistic flexibility and for its success over the years."

Since becoming BSO music director in January 2000, Yuri Temirkanov has been putting his own stamp on the orchestra. Some observers expected this to include the appointment of a new concertmaster.

"Yuri and I have a lot of respect for each other," Greenberg said. "We're friends. I've had an excellent working relationship with him."

Temirkanov was in Denmark and could not be reached for comment.

The Philadelphia-born Greenberg, 51, was associate concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra when music director Sergiu Comissiona recruited him for the BSO. Greenberg remained in the post through David Zinman's subsequent term at the helm.

During his two decades with the BSO, Greenberg regularly stepped from the first violinist's chair into the spotlight, performing a wide range of concerto repertoire with the ensemble. He is scheduled to do so again next January, a commitment he plans to honor in his capacity as former concertmaster.

Greenberg also plans to continue teaching at Peabody Conservatory, where he is coordinator of the violin faculty, and to continue serving as concertmaster of the orchestra of the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado each summer. He wants to explore more chamber music opportunities and is "very excited" about projects in the planning stage.

As for leaving the BSO after so many years, Greenberg is upbeat.

"From the time I got here," he said, "I think the strength of this orchestra has been the first violin section. I'm very proud to have been a part of that."

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