BSO focuses on atypical candidate for president

Board expected to choose marketing chief, Glicker

April 07, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Continuing an effort to remake itself, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is expected this week to name an unconventional new president, a former Internet executive.

James Glicker, 49, who has little experience in the orchestral field, is the choice for the BSO's top administrative job, pending approval by its board of directors, orchestra sources say.

Word of Glicker's selection began circulating among musicians and staffers over the weekend, though BSO officials would not confirm the choice.

"Obviously, James is a candidate," said BSO board chairman and search committee co-chairman Philip D. English, "but we've still got a process to go through.

"There is a search committee meeting scheduled [today], and if we make a selection, we have to discuss it with [music director Yuri] Temirkanov and then present it to the board of directors."

That process is likely to be completed by Friday. Temirkanov is in California this week to guest-conduct the San Francisco Symphony.

Glicker's background is in distinct contrast to typical symphony administrators, who traditionally work their way up the performing arts ladder.

His appearance isn't traditional either - ponytail, pierced ear and preference for casual dress.

He has extensive experience in marketing Internet companies and consumer products, including a brand-name yogurt.

Glicker, who appeared before the BSO search committee Friday, said he was "not aware of any final decision."

"But if it happens, yes, I would accept it," he said. "It would be great. I think the staff is looking for a change. I think people realize the orchestra can't go on in the same old way."

He had not worked for an orchestra before being hired by the BSO in January for the newly created position of chief marketing officer.

While at Yale University, Glicker took music courses and directed that school's a cappella men's chorus, the Whiffenpoofs. His resume also lists senior administrative posts for a major record company, BMG (Bertelsman Music Group).

He would succeed John Gidwitz, who announced in November that he would step down at the end of this season after 20 years as BSO president.

Like many other major orchestras, the BSO has been attempting to develop fresh strategies to fight persistent deficits resulting from lackluster contribution rates, flat or declining ticket sales and increased personnel costs.

For more than a year, staff and musicians have been jointly involved in preparing a blueprint for rethinking all aspects of how the orchestra operates.

BSO principal trumpeter Andrew Balio said he welcomes the prospect of Glicker's appointment. "He really understands what needs to be done," Balio said, "that the orchestra needs to grow its way out to the next level, not cut back. Marketing has been so abysmal here, and James brings a lot of strengths in that area."

There will be considerable pressure on a new BSO president to help improve the long-range outlook for the institution, starting with finances. The BSO's accumulated debt from the past two seasons is about $1.2 million; by the end of the 2003-2004 season, that figure could top $3 million.

"Of course, we'll continue to go after the big donors," Glicker said. "But I think we can revitalize the $50-to-$1,000 donor base. Look at how much political candidates have raised without big donors."

Since joining the staff as chief marketing officer, Glicker has advocated increasing the orchestra's use of television and the Internet to attract more ticket-buyers.

"Studies indicate that a lot of people love the product, but few are going to concerts," he said. "Marketing can bridge that gap."

Glicker has also proposed new programming approaches that could be introduced by the 2005-2006 season. "These would be somewhat evolutionary moves, not dramatic," he said. "We might cut down on the number of traditional pops concerts and increase pops programs aimed at the baby-boomer generation. There also may be more innovative classical programs - concerts where you have conversations with the conductor explaining the importance of the pieces, or an `explorer series' that focuses on the politics and arts of the time a piece was written."

The Delaware-born Glicker, who has directed marketing for Dannon yogurt, 1-800- and other companies, has also suggested programs that would pair the BSO with stars from the rock music world and concerts that combine music and film.

But Glicker said the bulk of BSO programming would "remain pretty much intact." He has already done marketing research with focus groups that revealed "that standard classical concerts have pretty strong appeal, even among the younger demographic," he said.

Some BSO observers question whether Temirkanov, very much a standard-classical-concert music director, could develop as smooth a working relationship with Glicker as he has enjoyed with veteran orchestra insider Gidwitz. (Temirkanov could not be reached for comment.) For his part, Glicker sees Temirkanov's artistic leadership as a decided plus.

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