A less-uncertain break for BSO


Critic's Corner//Music


Now that the final Oregon Ridge and Summer MusicFest performances are over, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra heads into its traditional August vacation.

Last year at this time, there was a lot for everyone in the organization to think about during that hiatus, what with Marin Alsop's appointment as music director having set off a messy dispute between management and musicians (a majority wanted to extend the director search), and oppressive deficits threatening the BSO's future. The level of uncertainty was of the so-thick-you-could-cut-it-with-a-knife variety.

A year later, things seem to have improved considerably.

Alsop and the players have had time to build bridges. Management has changed hands. There's a new board chairman and a new interim chief executive officer, so relations between the orchestra and administration can't help but be a little smoother. And a decision to withdraw millions from the BSO's endowment to pay off debts and provide a cash reserve for the 2006-2007 season means a lot easier breathing all around.

But there's still uncertainty in the air as this year's vacation starts. This time, the big question mark has to do with the musicians' contract, which expires Sept. 16 -- 12 days before the scheduled opening night of the new season.

Contract negotiations, which started several weeks ago, will be on hold during the summer break.

Asked to describe the process so far, W. Gar Richlin, the orchestra's interim president and CEO, and Jane Marvine, chair of the BSO players' committee, issued a brief statement through the BSO's press office: "To date, the talks have been constructive, with a shared emphasis on maintaining the artistic integrity of the orchestra while addressing financial challenges."

Working out a deal that preserves that integrity and successfully handles those challenges is going to be a tough business. Everything is riding on the outcome of these talks, which, the statement notes, "will reconvene in late August or early September."

If all goes well, this year's summer break will come to be seen as a productive energy-recharging period for both sides in the talks, and not the calm before the storm.

NSO at Wolf Trap

Things may look awfully quiet on the Baltimore classical music scene, but there's some major action just to the south. The National Symphony Orchestra winds up its summer season at Wolf Trap in Virginia with an enticing three-in-a-row this week.

Soprano superstar Renee Fleming joins the orchestra in a concert at 8:15 p.m. Thursday to sing the poignant Knoxville: Summer of 1915 by Samuel Barber, along with popular opera arias. The program, led by Emil de Cou, the NSO's associate conductor, also includes such orchestral favorites as Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice and the Suite No. 2 from Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe.

Fans of electronic entertainment will want to take note of PLAY! A Video Game Symphony, which combines music from such popular games as Final Fantasy, Battlefield 1942 and Sonic the Hedgehog with graphics displayed on screens. The Master Chorale of Washington teams with the NSO for this concert at 8:30 p.m. Friday, led by Arnie Roth, principal conductor of the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra.

Visuals will continue at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, when de Cou leads the orchestra on a nostalgic trip beyond the rainbow -- providing a live soundtrack to a complete showing of the film classic The Wizard of Oz.

All performances are at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Va. For tickets, call 877-965-3872.


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