By missing chance to shine at Artscape, BSO hits a flat

July 26, 2005|By MICHAEL OLESKER

If the river was whiskey

And I was a diving duck

I'd dive to the bottom

I never would come up.

WELL, SWELL. Down there in front of the old Mount Royal train station, a blues group called the Archie Edwards Heritage Foundation offered good-natured lyrics about a comic diving duck. Cole Porter or Stephen Sondheim, it wasn't. Dylanesque, or Springsteenesque, it wasn't. Beethoven, it certainly wasn't.

FOR THE RECORD - Michael Olesker's column yesterday contained incorrect information from a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra official. The BSO has performed at Artscape. Karen Swanson, the BSO's vice president and general manager, said she misspoke when she said it hadn't.
The Sun regrets the errors.

What it was, was Sunday afternoon at Artscape 2005, which offered a surround-sound of free outdoor musical genres, minus one. You wanted jazz, there was jazz. You wanted bebop, hip-hip, Cajun or zydeco, reggae or rhythm and blues, they filled the air. You wanted soul or folk, blues or Latin, Celtic rock, roots rock, post-rock or acoustic rock, they were part of the ozone. You wanted a musical alcoholic duck, they billed him, too.

But, across the long weekend, not a note from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra wafted across the massive crowds getting a free, zesty taste of Baltimore's musical smorgasbord at Artscape. Roll over, Beethoven. Tell Tchaikovsky the news.

In the same week that the BSO made news around the nation by selecting its first female conductor, and had a sweet moment of opportunity to build on that attention before some of the weekend's Artscape crowd swarming delightedly all over Mount Royal Avenue, the BSO was silent. They played Friday night, inside the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, strictly for paying customers. But those estimated 1.5 million folks who drifted through Artscape didn't hear a note. Imagine the lost possibilities for making a lot of them fall in love.

Last week, at downtown's Hyatt Hotel, the BSO introduced Marin Alsop as its new leader. She'll take the baton next year from Maestro Yuri Temirkanov. She'll be the 12th music director in the BSO's 90-year history, and she accepted the job after some highly publicized grumbling from orchestra members, who weren't questioning Alsop's abilities (or faulting her gender) so much as the process that picked her. They feel they weren't fully consulted.

But Wednesday morning, just hours before the Hyatt introductory luncheon, Alsop met with many of the musicians. This lady is no wallflower, musically or otherwise. In a post-lunch interview, she said, "I needed to look them in the eye. I don't think there was anything personal about this, but I didn't want any kind of antagonism. I needed to feel that we can work together. I wouldn't have taken the job otherwise."

But music's only part of it. Alsop called the BSO one of the nation's great secrets. "It's world-class," she said. "But you've got to get the word out, you've got to let your community know about you. Everybody's competing for the entertainment minute, everything's going so fast. Television puts everything in your lap. This music lets you pause for a little bit, and put your imagination to work."

The entertainment world's a terribly cluttered place, and you cannot love what you do not know. At Artscape, the Baltimore Jazz Alliance had a booth strictly to tell people where they can find jazz around the metro area.

"A city with such a rich heritage of jazz," said composer-vocalist-guitarist Earl Wilson, of Phase One Music, "it's ridiculous that people don't know where to go. So goes the culture of a place, so goes its neighborhoods. Music survives from struggle. But the struggle is trying to get people to know where they can find it."

"We're great at creating, but not at letting people know about it," said singer Karyn Oliver, president of the Baltimore Songwriters Association, which had an Artscape booth.

"There's a lot of great music around Baltimore, but how do you promote it?" added musician Ken Gutberlet. "The radio stations are all owned by out-of-town conglomerates. They aren't interested in promoting local artists."

What distinguishes these local musicians from the BSO, though, is that their kind of music was out there, abundantly, all weekend long. Friday, the BSO had its paid indoor concert. Saturday, they played out at Oregon Ridge as part of its regular summer series.

"There just wasn't time available for Artscape," Karen Swanson, the BSO's vice president and general manager, said yesterday. But she noted that the BSO has never performed at Artscape.

Maybe it's time. The BSO is one of Baltimore's treasures, but also one of its great secrets. The radio airwaves are filled with music of the moment. Symphonic music is timeless. Today's culture is mostly hard edges and frantic pace. Symphonic music lets us slow things down, and look inside ourselves.

It's time the BSO took another look at Artscape. There are so many friendships waiting to be made; so many fans, if only they knew such sounds existed.

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