BSO aiming to fix what's wrong, keep what's right

March 07, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,Sun Music Critic

When music director Yuri Temirkanov returns to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Tuesday after a three-month absence, he will find a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra still coping with a projected $1.5 million deficit and a search still going on for a successor to BSO president John Gidwitz who, after two decades, will step down at the end of the season.

He'll notice a new vacancy: Lucinda Williams, the tireless, personable vice president of education and community relations, is leaving later this month after seven years. Musicians have started a petition asking management to convince her to stay.

But Temirkanov, whose last scheduled appearances in January were canceled due to illness, will also spot a newcomer, James Glicker, in the newly created position of chief marketing officer. His hiring is the first of what are expected to be several concrete signs of the BSO's professed determination to "reinvent itself."

How these developments, along with persistent stories about flagging morale at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, will shake down in the months ahead is far from clear. "The industry is going through pretty dramatic change, and we're no exception to that," says board chairman Philip English.

"Just because there are [staff] departures, and will be more departures in the future, doesn't mean it isn't an opportunity for us to continue to grow. Nobody is irreplaceable. But the leadership remains committed and involved."

With the orchestra operating on a solid, exciting level these days, there certainly are things to be upbeat about. "Offstage, morale needs addressing," concertmaster Jonathan Carney says. "But onstage, I'd say morale is very good, even though we just came through a very difficult period when Temirkanov was ill. With guest conductors James Judd and Andrew Litton, we made the best of a bad situation. Those were some of the best concerts we played all year."

Carney and English are co-chairing the committee seeking the next president. The list of qualifications, English says, "not only includes some familiarity and experience with the classical field, but also some business skills to help solve the financial problems orchestras face."

"There's a lot of talent out there, Carney says. "We have looked at a lot of resumes, but have only seen a few candidates, some of them invited back more than once."

English would not say if Glicker is being considered for the top job; for his part, Glicker says he is "not concerned with that now." But the chief marketing officer has the kind of extra-musical resume the committee has been open to -- marketing of products from yogurt to flowers, venture capitalist for Internet companies, and upper management posts in the classical division of a major record company.

With a ponytail and pierced ear, Glicker makes a decided departure from stereotypical orchestral administrators. "What attracted me here was that they said, 'We want to reinvent the orchestra.' Two-thirds of the orchestras in this country are in denial. They haven't recognized the problems," he says.

Those problems include an aging, dwindling audience. "Orchestras keep mailing brochures that look the same year after year to the same small group that is declining, instead of reaching out to new groups, including other ethnic groups," Glicker says. "They're preaching to the converted."

As for targeting the elusive younger market, Glicker points to the BSO's concert-plus-film presentation of Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky as one useful direction. "An audio / visual element is a key," he says. "People are used to being overstimulated these days. Aural-only experiences are not interesting to younger audiences. And TV is an area we need to be involved in. And when was the last time you got an e-mail about a classical music event? The Internet is the future of marketing."

Glicker, who says his idea of a marketing "home run" is the BSO playing The Who's Tommy with Pete Townsend, also envisions adding Latin American and Asian repertoire and increasing the dose of contemporary Western music.

Still, Glicker adds, "The BSO's main purpose remains to present great works of classical music with Yuri conducting."

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