BSO packs its bags for 7-city tour in Europe

October 19, 2005|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

A few months after the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra made global headlines about its future, the ensemble heads to Europe today to remind audiences of its present.

This marks the BSO's fourth visit to the Continent since 1987, the second with its Russian music director, Yuri Temirkanov, now in his seventh and final season with the orchestra.

The BSO's recognition factor may be higher than ever this time, thanks to the extensive coverage of the historic appointment in July of Temirkanov's successor, and the unexpectedly public objections by musicians to the appointment process.

Marin Alsop, who will become the first woman music director of a major U.S. orchestra when she officially takes the reins in 2007, is already considering her first European tour with the BSO, tentatively set for the 2008-2009 season.

Meanwhile, audiences in Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Austria - most of the concerts appear to be sold out - will get to hear the ensemble that Temirkanov has steadily developed, one with a rich sound and a remarkably intense way of expressing music.

"It's a more confident orchestra now," Temirkanov said before heading to Europe on Sunday in advance of the BSO. "I think the musicians are psychologically more self-assured."

Financially, the BSO is not quite as assured. The orchestra, which has an annual budget of about $30 million, continues to be dogged by a deficit of about $10 million.

Last week, in a cost-cutting move, BSO president James Glicker reduced the orchestra's 62 administrative personnel by about 20 percent through firings and the elimination of currently vacant positions.

Under the circumstances, how can the orchestra afford to take off on a European trip that has a price tag of about $1.1 million?

"We get $550,000 or so in performance fees from the tour," Glicker said. The BSO received roughly $100,000 in corporate underwriting from Verizon, AEGON USA and Lockheed Martin.

As in the case of past BSO tours, government grants also figure into the budget. The 2005 trip has support from the City of Baltimore and, especially, the State of Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development, which allocated $450,000 to the BSO.

"This is income dedicated to touring," Glicker said. "The BSO represents Maryland outside the state. It's not like we're shifting money out of the annual fund or our ticket income here."

Nearly 7,000 pounds of equipment - non-carry-on instruments and other items - was shipped out over the weekend and is in Madrid, awaiting the orchestra.

The 90-member ensemble, plus a retinue of staff members and guests, arrives there tomorrow (via Frankfurt) and will spend that day and the next freshening up for a hectic schedule that starts Saturday - seven concerts in seven cities in four countries in eight days.

"I think everybody's really excited about going on the tour," Jane Marvine, the BSO's English horn player and head of the players committee, said yesterday.

"It's our first time in Spain and Slovenia. Of course, being in Italy is always fantastic. And in Vienna, we'll be playing in a different hall this time, so that will be fun," she said.

Although the flap over the Alsop appointment suggested that the relations between musicians and management could be rough for a long time, the tour may prove a welcome distraction.

"I think that to get away and spend time together will be helpful," said BSO general manager Karen Swanson. "I think everyone will feel better. I know the musicians are relishing their time with Yuri."

For the first time, folks back home can follow the tour action directly from the musicians on a Web site they launched today: bsomusicians.org. The orchestra's administrative staff have set up its own: bsotour.org.

"I see ours as a companion site," Marvine said. "I think there will be a lot of excitement and energy in what we're going to send back."

Several musicians have signed on to write entries in a tour journal; others will be downloading their photographs from the trip.

The musicians' Web site, created and maintained by volunteers from the orchestra, will have a permanent Internet presence after the tour. It will provide a forum for backstage news and views, as well as interactive features, including one called "Everyone's a Critic."

On the orchestra's trip to Europe with Temirkanov in 2001, a couple of months after 9/11, the focus was on European music - Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Debussy, Ravel - with a single, brief American work by Samuel Barber.

For this visit, the BSO offered concert presenters a choice of two programs, a traditional one with high-drama pieces by Beethoven and Sibelius, and another featuring two bright, jazzy works by George Gershwin and a popular symphony by Dvorak.

"Six out of seven presenters took the Gershwin program, and very enthusiastically," Swanson said. "I think Europeans want to hear an American orchestra play American music."

A familiar presence in Europe, where he tours frequently with his other orchestra, the famed St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Temirkanov is known primarily for conducting Russian music and standard repertoire there.

"I don't think many people are aware that Yuri is such a Gershwin devotee," Glicker said. "And he's fantastic at it."

Temirkanov said he was "very proud to go with an American orchestra to play Gershwin in Europe, because, as you know, I believe this is great music.

"I'm absolutely sure the reception will be wonderful," the conductor said. "The only thing that might happen is that too-clever critics will say this is music is not serious enough. But that won't matter."

tim.smith@baltsun.com

BSO on Tour

Concert stops: Madrid, Murcia, Barcelona in Spain; Torino and Parma in Italy; Ljubljana in Slovenia; Vienna in Austria

Follow the tour online: bsomusicians.org and bsotour.org

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