Departure won't hurt BSO image

Drive: David Zinman decided to leave, but Yuri Temirkanov will keep the orchestra moving forward.

Classical Music

September 18, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

In light of last week, many things seem less important now. That's how I view the extraordinary news that David Zinman has decided to relinquish his title of music director emeritus of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, voicing displeasure with the priorities of his successor on the podium, Yuri Temirkanov.

Understandably, folks at the BSO don't want to talk much about this strange development. It struck without apparent warning and without much sense. But, in the grand scheme of things, Zinman's action is not really so damaging to the orchestra. He is the one who has been damaged.

Just as former presidents rarely express displeasure with incumbents even when vast policy changes are involved, music directors don't make a habit of dumping on the next person in the job. Certainly not after only 18 months of a new regime. It isn't just a matter of etiquette, but of professionalism.

That said, let's take a look at the issue involved: Zinman's letter to the BSO players committee zeroed in on the direction Temirkanov is taking the orchestra, specifically away from contemporary American music. It certainly can't be a surprise to Zinman or anyone else that a Russian conductor isn't programming tons of American music. Maybe Temirkanov's "crime" is simply that he isn't Zinman.

There's no question that the musical emphasis has shifted at the BSO. Temirkanov is taking full advantage of his opportunity to savor traditional repertoire. Long typecast as a Russian expert, he has not always been able to conduct Beethoven or Brahms or Mahler of Debussy in the West. And when it comes to Russian music, Temirkanov has been filling in gaps in the BSO's repertoire, including such towering works as Shostakovich's Babi Yar, and introducing such novelties as Tchaikovsky's opera Iolanta, which rarely is heard anywhere.

It's worth recalling that those particular Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky concerts were among the most accomplished and affecting efforts by the orchestra since this music director took the helm. I wouldn't trade them for a new piece by Christopher Rouse or Michael Daugherty, as much as I admire their music, and works by other contemporary Americans.

In time, I hope Temirkanov will find ways to get more music of this country into the picture; an American orchestra should play American music. I don't really care if he conducts it or not; guest conductors could fulfill this role ably.

Meanwhile, it's awfully hard to complain in light of what Temirkanov is bringing to us - deeply considered interpretations that have fired up the orchestra and audiences alike. In this vast musical world, there always will be room for inspired Mozart or Dvorak or Strauss or Stravinsky.

So it's hard not to believe that something else is behind Zinman's decision, some sort of sour grapes - or notes. Perhaps the issue goes back to his departure and lingering dissatisfaction with management, or has to do with sympathy for disgruntled musicians. It takes no great leap of imagination to suspect a connection between the recent resignation of longtime concertmaster and Zinman pal Herbert Greenberg, or other signs of personnel shake-ups under Temirkanov.

But it really doesn't make a lot of difference what has motivated the former music director to take a cheap shot at the current one. There's nothing quite so distasteful as an artist behaving in an inartistic manner.

With or without Zinman's name attached, the Baltimore Symphony will survive and thrive. The Temirkanov era has just begun.

An assured program

Baltimore's music season continued to unfold over the weekend, sending a signal of normality in these now hideously abnormal times. The third annual High Zero Festival, an ambitious celebration of improvised experimental music, took place as planned. And on Sunday, Community Concerts at Second opened its 2001-2002 Chamber Music by Candlelight series, featuring members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and other artists in free concerts.

It was encouraging to see a sizable turnout at Second Presbyterian Church for the chamber event, and encouraging to hear such thoughtful music-making. There was Bach to start, a sarabande for unaccompanied cello, offered as a memorial to the victims of last week's terror and played with considerable warmth by Dariusz Skoraczewski.

Following a moment of silence, the previously scheduled program began. Skoraczewski and pianist Michael Adcock effectively explored Beethoven's forward-looking C major Cello Sonata, Op. 102, No. 1, and then had a field day with David Popper's Dance of the Elves. In the latter, the cellist had a moment or two of drooping pitch, but his nimble scampering through phrase after lighthearted phrase was delectable. And the pianist proved no less sure and subtle.

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