Trying new ideas for BSO's 90th year

Online peek offered of season's lineup

February 23, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will mark its 90th anniversary season - which is also Yuri Temirkanov's seventh and last as music director - with two new series, a good deal of fresh repertoire, a decidedly promising lineup of guest artists and, for some subscribers, substantially reduced ticket prices.

In an innovative move, subscribers will be given an early, online chance to check out the 2005-2006 season's offerings, from a one-act opera by Bartok to the local premiere of a Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy-winning work by John Adams commemorating the victims of 9/11; from Mahler's monumental Resurrection Symphony to a holiday concert with superstar soprano Renee Fleming.

Snail-mail letters will start going out by the end of the week to subscribers, providing information on a dedicated URL - an Internet address - that will link them directly to season information well before regular brochures are sent out. "They will be able to download an order form before they even get the brochure in the mail," says Beth Mealey, vice president of marketing at the BSO.

Given that the average age of BSO subscribers is in the mid-60s, the idea of providing them with a Web link may seem something of a stretch.

"We don't know what percentage of subscribers has Internet access at home," Mealey says, "but we do know that the 60- plus age group is the fastest growing online segment of the population nationally."

The online sneak peek approach is the latest example of using the Web more interactively with BSO audiences, reflecting the Internet- and marketing-oriented background of BSO president James Glicker, who was hired last year.

Earlier this season, the BSO started experimenting with Internet ads on Yahoo and The Sun's Web site. And, after learning from a recent Knight Foundation study that teachers and health care workers are likely to be classical music fans, "We've been working with the Baltimore Teachers Union and reaching out to local health care workers with mostly Web-based offers for special ticket pricing," Mealey says.

Not that more traditional advertising has been abandoned - this month, the BSO will unveil a billboard on Interstate 83 to promote the 2005-2006 season. "I don't think we've done that for a number of years," Mealey says. "We'll be going up against our direct competition - recorded music. The line on the billboard is, `Cheat on your I-Pod.' We're just having a little fun."

Folks willing to leave their personal music-delivery systems at home should find plenty of diversion at the live Meyerhoff Symphony Hall scene.

In nine programs, Temirkanov will offer a cross-section of his tastes and strengths, from Mozart and Beethoven to Sibelius and Prokofiev. The conductor, who began his tenure in January 2000 by leading Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, will end it in June 2006 with the same work and the same soloists, soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme and mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby, and members of several local choruses.

Temirkanov will open the season with an American theme - Dvorak's New World Symphony and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, with pianist Fazil Say, and An American in Paris.

American music will appear throughout the season. Of particular note is the local premiere of Adams' 9/11 memorial, On the Transmigration of Souls, led by Carlos Kalmar.

Several American items next season, including pieces by Christopher Rouse, Steven Stuckey and John Corigliano (the Red Violin Concerto, with violinist Joshua Bell and conductor Marin Alsop), are BSO commissions being reprised to mark the 90th anniversary.

The season will see plenty of standard fare but will include more contemporary music than in recent years, from Bartok's vivid opera Bluebeard's Castle (Kwame Ryan, conductor) to Bernstein's bracing Symphony No. 2, Age of Anxiety (James Judd). The latter will be featured in the new Explorer Series - three programs that will offer historical and social context for the music, as well as visual reference points (in conjunction with the Baltimore Museum of Art).

Also new: three chamber orchestra programs, devoted to smaller-scale works by Bach, Haydn and others.

Claire Braswell, executive director of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, welcomes the series. "I don't think it will draw subscribers away from us," she says, "and if the BSO succeeds in creating more interest in chamber orchestra music, so much the better."

Kenny Rogers, John Pizzarelli, Bebe Neuwirth and Patti Austin are among the guests for the SuperPops series.

For the holidays, Renee Fleming will join the BSO in seasonal favorites, and the orchestra will produce a music/dance extravaganza modeled after the Indianapolis Symphony's popular Christmas show.

Shortly after joining the BSO last year, Glicker said ticket pricing had "gotten out of hand." To address that, prices are being cut by about 40 percent in the side and rear sections of the main floor at Meyerhoff.

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