Now that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has returned from New York and its final Carnegie Hall concert with music director Yuri Temirkanov, questions about the BSO's artistic and financial future remain as they have been for several months now - unanswered.
Who will succeed Temirkanov, after he steps down from the podium at the end of the 2005-2006 season? And how will the BSO address its red ink, which could top $10 million in accumulated deficits by the end of the current season?
As for choosing Temirkanov's successor, "we're still looking," BSO President James Glicker said in a recent interview. "We are adding and subtracting names all the time. It is a lengthy process. And it is supposed to be secret."
Still, word on the musical street is that some members of the administration and board of directors had a preferred candidate early on, Marin Alsop, principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony in England and music director laureate of the Colorado Symphony.
"There have been wildly exaggerated rumors," Glicker said. "There has been no vote yet by the search committee. And I haven't endorsed anyone, in writing or verbally." Members of the committee took two out-of-town trips to conduct interviews in the past month, he said.
On the 21-member search committee are eight musicians, five staff and five board members, as well as three "community opinion leaders" (including Peabody Conservatory director Robert Sirota).
"The musicians on the committee have done a lot of research for this," Jane Marvine, head of the players committee, said this week. "We all know that the role of music director is absolutely key to building a bridge between the artistic product onstage and the community. We need someone who will be a real advocate for the art, on the inside and the outside."
During the search process, the BSO has solicited input from the public through pre-concert forums and questionnaires distributed at concerts. Results indicated that "the audience is looking for someone to be the face of the orchestra to the community, to be a presence in the community," Glicker said.
"But people voted very low on the question of whether the conductor should live in Baltimore or be an American; there was no groundswell of support for those ideas. People understand that conductors today have to be all over the place."
Glicker characterized opinions in the orchestra about potential candidates as "volatile."
In a memorandum about the search sent last week to board and staff members, musicians, donors and others, Glicker wrote: "We will hardly please everyone with our choice, whomever we select."
He also cautioned against "uninformed pressure from the community - `Don't hire him or I'll stop donating' - [which] only serves to polarize the process and make the eventual rally around our future artistic leader more difficult."
The hiring of a new artistic director and principal conductor (as the music director post will be renamed when it is filled) is not just about generating great concerts. Any public relations boost from the choice of conductor has the potential to translate into improved fund raising and concert attendance, areas where the BSO has been weak.
"The board recognizes the business pressures, but we don't want to make a mistake" rushing to engage an artistic director, Glicker said. "We are better off waiting for six months, if that's what it takes. But if we can get it right sooner, then we should get on with it."
While the BSO's concerts at its new second home in Montgomery County, the Music Center at Strathmore, have been attracting large audiences during this inaugural season, empty seats remain common when the orchestra performs at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.
Average attendance there slipped below 60 percent of capacity earlier this season, but Glicker said that the figure has risen to about 65 percent since February.
Ticket sales, of course, are only part of the story for a nonprofit organization; contributions are essential. The final audit of the 2003-2004 fiscal year indicates a substantial drop in the BSO's contributed income, from $5.3 million the previous year to $3.5 million.
The BSO had been used to seeing annual increases in contributed income. Glicker attributed $400,000 of last year's drop to "verbal pledges from donors that did not materialize."
The 2003-2004 deficit was $3.2 million, bringing the accumulated deficit to $4.4 million. The total operating budget for 2003-2004 was about $25 million.
A deficit of $4.1 million was initially projected for the current 2004-2005 fiscal year, which has an operating budget of about $30 million.
When added to $1.7 million in one-time, start-up costs associated with the BSO's arrival at Strathmore, this year's deficit figure would be $5.8 million. If that projection holds, the BSO's total accumulated red ink would reach $10.2 million.
Glicker said that an updated projection of the 2004-2005 deficit would be presented to the board by early June.
On the upbeat side, subscription sales for next season are 30 percent ahead of this time last year, Glicker said. "Next season we should have a much larger subscriber base, and that's a real good thing," he said.
Last September, Glicker and board chairman Philip English announced a mortgage-like plan involving the sale of Meyerhoff Hall to a separate corporation and the issuing of tax-free bonds as a means of financing the BSO's debt.
That plan was subsequently dropped after concerns raised by the Internal Revenue Service and some board members. A subcommittee of the board is considering alternate options.