Sense and sensibility

March 01, 2007

Clever, inspired, inclusive.

That's the minimalist take on the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 2007-2008 season that will inaugurate the tenure of conductor Marin Alsop, the musical director-designate, celebrate the silver anniversary of the BSO's sonorous hall and expand its audience.

Baltimoreans should get in on it.

The BSO has eased the way by dropping the subscription price to $25 a seat for any concert, Beethoven, Berlioz or the Beatles, which would put a six-concert series at $150. The idea originated with the BSO's new president and CEO, Paul Meecham, and it follows the free-for-all move by two other cultural institutions in the city, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum. But a $1 million donation from the new bank behemoth in town, PNC Financial Services Group, made it affordable for the patron and feasible for the BSO, which has struggled to get its finances in order.

It was inspired because it should help fill the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall during Ms. Alsop's first year at the podium, an opportunity to promote her and the orchestra's prowess. The partnership with the Pittsburgh-based PNC was clever because it gave the bank, which bought the venerable Mercantile Bankshares, a visible way to make good on its commitment to the community. And the subscription price cut should usher in a more diverse and younger crowd.

Toward that end, the BSO will be playing to Ms. Alsop's command of contemporary music, her interest in promoting new composers and mentoring the next generation of conductors, and her regard for engaging audiences, young and old, aficionado and novice. This is a conductor passionate about Beethoven, hooked on CSI and with the business savvy to pair the two.

It's been a trying couple of years for the orchestra as debt accumulated and its management floundered. But in the past 10 months, the organization has put its financial house in order (with some pain), revamped its leadership ranks, capitalized on the talent and genius of Ms. Alsop, secured a favorable contract with its musicians and unveiled an eclectic program for the coming season.

Now, that's the BSO with a twist.

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