BSO hits 90-year mark

Uncertainties cloud Temirkanov's final season as director

Classical Music

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

From a rather humble origin as a municipally-funded enterprise with $6,000 in seed money to a major league player with a $30 million budget and an endowment approaching $90 million, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has a lot of history behind it as it opens its 90th season this week.

There's a lot of history in front of it, too.

In July, the BSO made international headlines when the board of directors named Marin Alsop to succeed Yuri Temirkanov as music director in 2007.

But that historic appointment - Alsop will become the first woman to head a major American orchestra - was tempered by something nearly as historic: the public announcement that a majority of the musicians opposed the appointment.

Added to long-standing concerns over accumulated deficits, the music director dispute cast a cloud on the orchestra, even as it was still enjoying the bright afterglow of its first, hugely popular season at the BSO's second home, the Music Center at Strathmore, in Bethesda.

Fallout from the summer's drama also threatens to overshadow Temirkanov's seventh and final season, the end of a brief, but eventful era that witnessed substantial upgrading of orchestral personnel and exceptional intensification of expressive power.

The 2005-2006 season also marks the launch of new concert series and programming initiatives that reflect James Glicker's strongest influence to date on BSO products since he became president in 2004.

It's not clear how things will develop backstage this season, as musicians, administrators and board members sort through issues of artistic philosophy, planning, fiscal health and, above all, trust.

One possible indication of how difficult things might be is a persistent rumor that there are already plans for the BSO to shut down entirely after the musicians' current one-year contract expires in 2006. This doomsday prediction envisions either a work stoppage by the players or a deliberate cost-saving action by the administration, or both.

Asked his reaction to the rumor, Glicker said, "The last thing anyone would want to endure would be a suspension of operations." Jane Marvine, head of the BSO players committee, declined to comment.

As for the mood inside the organization, Glicker said "there have been some conversations between various board members and musicians, and that's very encouraging.

"And Marin has spoken to some musicians, board members and staff," Glicker said. "She's a human dynamo pushing us along, fostering the healing process."

Marvine declined to comment on current morale.

`Starting a new era'

She did, however, say in a prepared statement that the players "look forward to building upon the good working relationship that we have enjoyed with [Alsop] over the past several years. Under her leadership, we will be starting a new era that we expect will include diverse programming and a rekindling of our expertise with contemporary music."

Alsop is scheduled to make two guest appearances this season, in January and June.

Marvine said that the "musicians are energized about what is planned for our performances at the Meyerhoff and Strathmore and for our forthcoming European tour."

That 10-day, Temirkanov-led tour next month includes stops in Spain (Madrid and Barcelona), Italy (Parma and Torino), Slovenia (Ljubjlana) and Austria (Vienna).

As for the performances in Baltimore and Bethesda, they include the BSO's traditional series, along with a new Chamber Symphony lineup of smaller-scale classical repertoire.

There will also be a new Saturday morning presentation of even smaller-scale pieces performed in the lobby of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall by BSO players and some guest artists who appear with the full orchestra.

Glicker said he expects 150 to 200 people to attend these modestly priced ($15) chamber music concerts. Free pastries and coffee will be served at each.

Also new this season is the Explorer Series in partnership with the Baltimore Museum of Art. These programs will address connections between art and music, with projected slides and a narrative that will provide "a more immersive experience for the audience," said Karen Swanson, BSO vice president and general manager.

Younger audiences

Folks seeking their first entry into symphonic music can check out Classical 101, a package of four diverse programs from the regular concert series, pre-concert lectures and a printed "briefing guide" entertainingly written by Mark Mobley, who calls the series "speed dating for the ears."

Since his arrival on the scene, Glicker has often talked about pairing the BSO with rock stars. It happens in a big way this season.

The new Pops Rocks series offers Elvis Costello (the orchestra will play his recent ballet score Il Sogno on the program), Chaka Kahn and Ben Folds.

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