Musicians ask BSO to delay decision

Expected vote on music director should wait till fall

July 18, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

In an extraordinary challenge to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra board of directors, symphony musicians intensified their opposition yesterday to naming a new music director. After holding an emergency meeting over the weekend, they made public a plea for the board to delay its decision for several months.

The board, which is scheduled to meet tomorrow, is expected to appoint New York-born conductor Marin Alsop as the successor to Yuri Temirkanov, who is stepping down at the end of the 2005-2006 season. If heeded, the musicians' request would derail what would be a historic first -- the appointment of a woman to lead a top U.S. orchestra.

"Man or woman, Marin Alsop is a remarkable choice, one of the finest conductors of her generation," Robert Sirota, director of the Peabody Conservatory and a member of the music director search committee, said yesterday.

According to the statement released yesterday by the BSO's players committee, "approximately 90 percent of the orchestra musicians believe that ending the search process now, before we are sure the best candidate has been found, would be a disservice to the patrons of the BSO and all music lovers in Maryland."

On Friday, the musicians had issued a statement calling the end of the search "premature."

Alsop, principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony in England and former music director of the Colorado Symphony, could not be reached for comment.

Yesterday's statement by the players, like Friday's, did not mention Alsop by name. "It's not about her," Jane Marvine, head of the players committee, said in an interview, "but about the process."

The new statement, issued jointly by Marvine and Robert Barney, a musician member of the search committee, asked the board to delay a decision until Thanksgiving, to "allow the orchestra to work with and consider several additional conductors who are scheduled to appear this fall."

"It is a clear fact to me, as president of the BSO, that Marin is the best choice," said James Glicker. Months ago, he added, officers of the board issued a July deadline for hiring a music director.

Karen Swanson, vice president and general manager of the BSO, said that "moving ahead quickly in making a decision is more desirable, given the other challenges the orchestra faces."

The symphony, which opened a second home at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda this year, faces an accumulated debt approaching $12 million.

Barney said the search committee, which included board members, staff and musicians, disbanded this month "without reaching a consensus. No vote was taken," he said, "because it was clear that the musicians had a view that was different from the rest of the committee." Seven musicians sat on the 21-member group.

For months, Alsop's name has surfaced repeatedly as a leading candidate. "Marin was an obvious person to look at from the get-go," Swanson said. "But that does not mean that other options were not pursued."

Glicker reiterated yesterday that no contract has been signed with Alsop, although such details as the number of weeks she would conduct in Baltimore have been discussed. That total "remains up in the air" he said.

Musicians representing the orchestra are scheduled to speak at tomorrow's board meeting. But comments made by Glicker reinforce "our view that a decision has been made without the full participation and agreement of the BSO musicians," according to the players committee statement.

Glicker took exception to that view. "Whenever you are going to present a candidate to the board, you've got to have a rough idea of what the contract would be," he said. "It would be irresponsible of us to go to the board without preliminarily going over some of the contract issues."

Though saying that the appointment was still under discussion, Glicker acknowledged that board members had been invited last week to a reception scheduled for tomorrow evening at which they would meet the new music director. "If we chose one," he said.

"Under the best circumstances, this would happen. But the board is able to do whatever it wants to. And the musicians will absolutely be heard at the meeting."

For his part, Glicker has no reservations about moving forward. "The qualities we were seeking are very well met by Marin in many, many respects."

Sirota, one of two search committee members drawn from outside the BSO, said all along "there were differences of opinion, but the intensity of opposition wasn't as clear."

"I have difficulty reconciling what I know about Marin with the orchestra's objections," Sirota said. "I really feel that she would be a welcome addition to the musical community"

Glicker said he had discussed the current situation with Alsop. "She and I are convinced that she has the personality to lead the orchestra," he said, "and for them to be enthusiastic about her leadership."

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