Keeping sound

June 11, 2006

When Maestro Yuri Temirkanov gives his final performance as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra today, he will end as he began, conducting Mahler's powerful Symphony No. 2. What may seem like a nostalgic embrace (Mr. Temirkanov conducted the same at his inaugural concerts in 2000) is actually an inspired choice. The conductor's selection gives the orchestra the opportunity to display its strength, mastery and style. And the performance showcases the orchestra's virtuosity and artistic growth under Mr. Temirkanov's baton - and its premier value to Maryland.

As one of the top orchestras in the country, the BSO doesn't disappoint. But as a cultural institution, it is an organization in conflict. While its musicians are sounding their best notes ever, the BSO can't generate the financial heft to support its major-league status. It possesses distinguished talent, notably incoming music director Marin Alsop, but the BSO's off-stage directors have failed to successfully manage its operations.

It remains without a president, general manager and development director. Tomorrow, the board is expected to appoint venture capitalist Michael Bronfein as chairman. A longtime board member, Mr. Bronfein appears to possess the personal passion and professional know-how to energize and elevate the BSO's outreach to patrons.

The BSO is at a critical juncture. Its future - artistically and financially - is tied to negotiations under way with the musicians. After using its endowment to wipe out a more than $16 million deficit, the BSO needs a resurgence of serious and committed donors, who will have to be wooed by top orchestra officials, including Ms. Alsop. And that takes time.

The orchestra may have to cut expenses, which could gravely affect its stature and reputation. Can a leaner orchestra that performs less often retain the talent assembled and inspired by Mr. Temirkanov? Can it offer the range of programs that will keep its two houses filled, lure new diverse patrons and sustain its well-earned reputation?

There is no one fix for the BSO, even if it were showered with largess - no one benefactor that can ease its financial concerns. Each aspect of the organization must be focused on enhancing the BSO's bottom line; the board must begin to fill the leadership void in the BSO offices so that the accomplished orchestra that has evolved under Mr. Temirkanov's illustrious hand can engage with and deliver for Ms. Alsop.

Every player must sound the right note.

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