BSO names music director despite musicians' protests

Alsop picked, but players wanted longer search

July 20, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Despite pleas by its musicians that it consider other candidates, the board of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra formally offered yesterday the post of music director to Marin Alsop, the principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in England, who would become the first woman to head a major American orchestra.

The dispute between the BSO's administrators and musicians poses an immediate challenge to Alsop, 48, who is scheduled to sign a contract here today but faces daunting problems in winning the loyalty of the roughly 90-member orchestra. The appointment will be effective in 2007.

"We believe greatly in Ms. Alsop's leadership and her ability to move us into the next era of excellence," said board Chairman Philip English. The vote was made "with great enthusiasm," he said, reading from a statement about four hours after the board meeting began yesterday.

Alsop declined to comment.

Describing Alsop as "a world-class conductor," English said she would play "an integral part in shaping the future of the BSO."

The New York-born Alsop, former music director of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, has guest-conducted a long list of prominent orchestras in the United States and abroad and has made more than 30 recordings. Next year, she is scheduled to become the first woman in more than a century to conduct the famed Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam.

Without addressing the request by the musicians to continue the search for a successor to esteemed Russian conductor Yuri Temirkanov, English said that the board "held their opinions in high regard" and predicted the players would rally around Alsop.

Questions declined

English was accompanied by BSO President James Glicker and Decatur Miller, board and search committee member, as he addressed the press from the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall stage. All three men declined to answer questions.

Moments later, backstage in the hall, a delegation of musicians gathered around Jane Marvine, head of the BSO players committee, who read a terse statement:

"The musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are disappointed in the premature conclusion of the music director search process. However, this will not dampen our enthusiasm and zest for music-making. We will work together with Marin Alsop and every other conductor to present the inspiring performances our audience has come to expect."

The musicians, too, declined to comment further.

"It is a great occasion and a landmark for one half of humanity, no less, to begin with," said former Annapolis Symphony music director Gisele Ben-Dor, who is music director for the Santa Barbara Symphony. "For the music field, it speaks volumes for the significant changes in the past decade, particularly in the U.S."

Henry Fogel, president and chief executive officer of the American Symphony Orchestra League, said, "It's great for Marin and great for Baltimore. She's exciting. And I think she'll be a wonderful presence in the community."

News conference today

A news conference with Alsop and symphony officials is scheduled for today. Alsop also is expected to meet today with the full orchestra for the first time as the future music director. The BSO will be rehearsing for this week's summer festival concert.

Temirkanov will step down from the post at the end of the 2005-2006 season. Alsop will become music director designate during the 2006-2007 season and officially begin her tenure in the 2007-2008 season.

Musicians had clearly hoped to sway the outcome by going public with their objections to what they considered a "premature" conclusion to the search process.

Fogel said there is no model among U.S. orchestras for choosing a music director, though representation of musicians on search committees averages from 25 percent to 40 percent. BSO musicians had seven of 21 seats on the BSO search panel.

"In some cases, if the conductor doesn't get support from a majority of the orchestra, he won't be hired," Fogel said. "But in the end, as long as it is the board that has the legal and final risk and responsibility for the organization, they have to have the final authority."

Although the musicians avoided criticizing Alsop by name in statements released last weekend by the players committee, they objected to what they viewed as a one-sided search, with some BSO staffers and board members appearing to back Alsop exclusively from the official start of the search seven months ago, if not before. All seven musician members of the search committee and about 90 percent of the orchestra were in favor of extending the search process, according to a statement released Sunday.

Musicians decided to go public with their views when word spread that a deal with Alsop was imminent.

At yesterday's meeting, musicians who served on the search committee presented their reservations about Alsop and the search process. Afterward, there were "spirited discussions," according to BSO spokeswoman Laura Johnson, before the board went into executive session and held the vote.

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