Zinman leaving BSO post

Departure: The music director emeritus is frustrated over the lack of American music the orchestra has been playing.

September 17, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

In a move that has startled Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians and staff, David Zinman has resigned his title of "music director emeritus" in protest of the BSO's current artistic direction, specifically a decline in programming of works by contemporary American composers. He also has canceled previously scheduled appearances with the orchestra in March.

Yuri Temirkanov, who succeeded Zinman as music director in January 2000, has emphasized Russian and European repertoire, including several important works new to the orchestra, such as Dmitri Shostakovich's Babi Yar Symphony and Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible. By contrast, Zinman's 13-year tenure was perhaps best known for championing American music, much of it commissioned by the BSO.

A letter from Zinman announcing his decision was addressed to the players' committee of the orchestra and timed to be received just before the orchestra opened its 2001-2002 season last week.

"We're saddened by this," said violist Jeffrey Stewart, chairman of the committee. "We intend to communicate to David that it's a real loss to the orchestra. Hopefully, it will be short-lived."

Stewart would not release the contents of the letter, which "came out of the blue," but characterized its tone as complimentary to the orchestra.

"I think his intention is understandable," Stewart said. "David felt he could no longer hold the position because of the different direction Maestro Temirkanov is taking. Certainly, American music is not Maestro Temirkanov's forte."

Ironically, Zinman may have made his move prematurely. Plans for commissioning new works by several American composers have been in the works for some time now, said Gregory Tucker, vice president of public relations and community affairs.

Zinman formed close friendships with several players during his years with the BSO, among them longtime concertmaster Herbert Greenberg, who announced his resignation last May. A few weeks later, Zinman canceled a scheduled appearance with the BSO, citing fatigue. But, he guest-conducted the New York Philharmonic that same week.

Privately, some BSO personnel suspect that Zinman's actions, then and now, are connected at least partly to Greenberg's departure. (The two men continue to collaborate; Zinman is music director of the Aspen Music Festival and Greenberg serves as concertmaster of the festival orchestra each summer.)

Others suggest that the events are related to lingering unpleasantness between Zinman and BSO management before he stepped down.

Temirkanov and BSO president John Gidwitz declined to comment; Zinman could not be reached for comment.

Will the removal of Zinman's name as music director emeritus adversely affect orchestra morale, given how many musicians still on the roster enjoyed a great deal of artistic success with the conductor?

"Obviously, in a group of 96 people, there are going to be different feelings," Stewart said. "But people are not really divided. While we do appreciate our past with David, we are also excited over our future with Yuri."

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