Trumpeter has the right brass for Baltimore

Andrew Balio, the BSO's talented new addition, will share his gift with students and audiences at Towson University.

Classical Music

February 03, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,Sun Music Critic

Just about a year ago, during a performance of Stravinsky's prismatic Petrouchka, audiences had their initial encounter with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's new principal trumpeter. By the sound of the applause for his solo bow afterward, it was clear that Andrew Balio had made a very favorable first impression.

That impression has been consistently reaffirmed ever since, most recently with a dynamic account of a gnarly 20th-century piece at last week's "Symphony With a Twist" program. Tomorrow evening, the Ohio native will make his first local appearance outside the BSO as part of Towson University's day-long "Festival of Trumpet."

Joined by organist / pianist Henry Lowe, Balio will perform a representative sampling of the vibrant repertoire for the instrument -- works by the likes of Giuseppe Torelli, Arthur Honegger and Paul Hindemith.

"All the pieces display what I feel I do well and feel most comfortable with," Balio says. "It will give people a chance to hear what I have to say and play. I'll give a two-hour master class, too, during the day, and discuss my approach to classical music interpretation."

Balio, 36, hopes to do extra-BSO activity more often in future seasons. During an eight-year tenure as principal trumpet of the Israel Philharmonic, he frequently darted off to Europe between orchestral gigs to give recitals or appear as soloist with other ensembles.

Given his shining tone, impeccable intonation and artful phrasing, it's no wonder Balio had plenty of work then -- and it won't be surprising if he finds plenty throughout this region.

Developing lung power

Another Balio trait may also account for his success. It's the feeling of calm authority in his playing, an unmistakable sense of confidence. Such a well-centered personality isn't surprising when you discover that he once put the trumpet away for four years and spent a lot of time in a yoga monastery getting in touch with himself.

"I was a peace-loving granola-eater who meditated day and night," Balio says.

The trumpeter, who chose not to pursue a college degree in music, considered various options during their hiatus.

"I figured music was just a phase I was going through," he says. "But to my own surprise, I decided to give it one more try."

That try came south of the border, where Balio served as principal trumpet for the Mexico State Symphony Orchestra.

"I really sharpened my teeth on that job," he says. "It was a very good orchestra. The conductor-slash-drug-dealer had a lot of money. We were at 9,000 feet above sea level. At such a high altitude, I really developed lung power, which affected my approach to playing."

Balio, who first picked up the trumpet at 13, also participated in an international youth orchestra in Israel, working with noted conductor Lorin Maazel.

"He became a big mentor for me," the trumpeter says. "He can be a difficult guy, of course, but he has a huge mind. I learned a lot from him about the architecture of symphonic music and the trumpet's role in driving orchestral works -- how it is in charge of all the high points and has to come through at all the climaxes, how it can shift from sounding very noble to almost shattering."

Zubin Mehta soon heard about the young talent and signed Balio up for the Israel Philharmonic. It was an orchestra the trumpeter came to admire for more than its music-making.

"It had a real relevance to society," Balio says. "One of the things that attracted me to the Baltimore Symphony was the way it has also made great strides in becoming relevant. It's not an island or an ivory tower. It is bringing high-brow classical music at an excellent level to as many people in the community as possible. The orchestra is as much an educational resource as a cultural resource."

BSO 'rolled out the red carpet'

For BSO music director Yuri Temirkanov, Balio is a major musical resource.

"I am delighted that we were able to attract him," Temirkanov says by e-mail from Denmark. "He is an outstanding player, and his experience as principal trumpet of the Israel Philharmonic has made him a seasoned leader. Players like Andrew are rare."

Backstage, after that first contribution in the Stravinsky score last season, Temirkanov used only one word to describe Balio: "genius."

The appreciation is mutual.

"I really believe this orchestra is going through a zenith with Temirkanov," Balio says. "It will be like the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell or the Chicago Symphony under Fritz Reiner.

"I knew Temirkanov only from Russian works when he guest-conducted the Israel Philharmonic. A lot of what he's doing here -- the Germanic repertoire -- is not what he is known for. I've done all of that with conductors who are considered to own this music, and what Temirkanov is doing is every bit as good or better."

Balio recalls that it was Temirkanov's predecessor, David Zinman, who, while working with the Israel Philharmonic, first suggested to Balio that he consider trying out for the Baltimore job.

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