A New Key

As James Glicker prepares to take over as BSO president, he's confident he can orchestrate higher levels of success.

April 10, 2004|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,SUN ARTS WRITER

James Glicker was appointed president-elect of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on Good Friday, when half the staff had the day off and the office was a tomb.

There he was in his most appropriate tie - the brown one with the violin pattern - but no one was on hand with congratulatory bagels. There were no balloons or banners. No staff members lined up to pump his hand when he emerged, excited and relieved, from an early-morning meeting with the board of directors. (Glicker's appointment still must be confirmed at the BSO's annual meeting in June, but that vote is considered a formality.)

Wasn't it a wee bit anticlimactic?

Glicker laughed. "We'll celebrate later," he said.

He is confident that there will be plenty of occasions to break out the bubbly. Sure, he's facing formidable challenges, but nothing he can't solve. He's done the impossible - or at least the extraordinarily difficult - before.

Glicker, 49, will succeed John Gidwitz, who announced in November that he would step down after 20 years as BSO president at the end of the season if not earlier. It was widely rumored that Glicker, who had been brought in by the BSO in January as chief marketing officer (a newly created post) was the man to beat for the orchestra's top administrative job.

But there were no guarantees. "I told the search committee that if they got God to take the job, I'd be happy to work for Him," he said. "Luckily, God was busy."

That's how Glicker comes across: energetic, irreverent, self-confident, whether he's peddling yogurt, flowers or Bach. He is used to a business culture that moves swiftly and is always on the lookout for the newest thing, and he admits to the fault of impatience. When he talks, one foot twirls continuously.

A twice-divorced father of three, Glicker lives in Bolton Hill, "just a 12-minute walk" from his new office. (You get the feeling he's timed it.) With his long, curly ponytail and earring stud, Glicker's personal style could not be more different from the symphony's music director, the Russian-born Yuri Temirkanov. A key to the success of the Glicker Administration may be determined by how well the two men get along.

The elegant Temirkanov is the essence of understated European good taste. He speaks limited English, and has little enthusiasm for modern classical music, let alone most of American popular culture.

When Temirkanov, who leads the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, became the BSO's top baton in 1999, it was considered a coup. Perhaps because he is a stranger in a strange land, personal friendships with the symphony's leaders are important to him. He suffered one blow when Calman J. "Buddy" Zamoiski stepped down last fall as the BSO's chairman of the board of directors, and Gidwitz's resignation was another.

Orchestra insiders are eager to keep The Maestro happy - and in Baltimore.

Temirkanov, who is in California this weekend, could not be reached directly for comment. But his response in a news release to Glicker's promotion was polite, though not effusive.

"I fully trust the judgment of the Search Committee and the Board," he said. "Their decision to appoint James Glicker as the new president of the Orchestra likewise has my support."

Glicker said that he has taken steps to establish a bond with Temirkanov, including a dinner attended by both men and Jonathan Carney, the BSO's concertmaster. The dinner went well, he said. Both share a deep love of music - including jazz - and have mutual friends.

Nor is Glicker surprised that Temirkanov is unlikely to embrace some of the president-elect's less traditional ideas, including having the BSO perform occasionally with rock stars, or concerts that might combine music and film.

"All the great conductors in the world do not like the things that Yuri does not like," Glicker said. "If an orchestra wants to retain a great conductor, you have to compromise. There's a delicate balance."

Others say that Glicker, who as a top business executive drastically increased profits for Dannon Yogurt, BMG (Bertelsmann Music Group) and the Internet site GeoCities.com, has the smarts and creative problem-solving skills essential to any symphony president.

They say that Glicker's ability to demystify a complicated product and make it appealing to consumers are exactly the talents he will need to help the BSO attract younger audience members and erase a projected $3 million deficit.

Among those enthusiastic about Glicker's appointment is Henry Fogel, president of the American Symphony Orchestra League, a trade organization.

Fogel doesn't think Glicker necessarily will be handicapped by his lack of experience in the orchestra world; Fogel's background was in radio before he became an orchestra administrator. Yet, his tenure heading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was widely praised.

"It's a very intriguing appointment," Fogel said.

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