XM to play BSO concerts in 2008

June 15, 2007|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,sun music critic

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will return to the national airwaves for the first time in nearly a decade with a new series on XM satellite radio beginning Sept. 27, when Marin Alsop's first concert as music director will be broadcast live from the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.

XM, which has 8 million subscribers, will air seven more concerts between January and June 2008, all of them recorded in performances at the BSO's primary venue, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, and conducted by Alsop.

Her September program of music by John Adams and Gustav Mahler will be the first live broadcast from Strathmore, which opened in 2005 and serves as the BSO's second home.

"I think it speaks to the need to reach out to audiences not only inside a concert hall but outside," said BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham.

The radio deal with XM will bring even more exposure to Alsop's inaugural season.

An unprecedented subscription deal - $25 a ticket - has so far generated a 300 percent increase in new subscribers for 2007-2008 at Meyerhoff Hall. (Even without that price break, subscriptions are up at Strathmore as well.) And the BSO's first commercial recordings since 1998 are due to hit stores next season.

As the number of commercial and public radio stations with classical music formats has dwindled, satellite radio has generated increased attention. Sirius satellite radio carries live performances from the Metropolitan Opera, for example, supplementing the company's land-radio Saturday matinee broadcasts.

XM regularly offers performances by the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recorded live. But those shows are originally produced by a regular radio station for national syndication and picked up later by XM.

"The BSO broadcasts will be produced by XM, so it is all new material that we are generating," Meecham said. "And this won't be just a traditional relay of a concert, but a show with interviews and behind-the-scenes features."

The host for these customized broadcasts will be Martin Goldsmith, program director for XM Classics, one of three classical channels produced by XM from studios in Washington.

"It's a happy confluence of history and music," Goldsmith says of the XM/BSO project. "It is no small thing that an orchestra with the legacy of the Baltimore Symphony has hired a woman to be music director. And she's an international star. "

Alsop had been talking with Goldsmith for several years about doing a project together on XM. "I'm thrilled that it can be with the BSO - it shows that we're in the 21st century," Alsop said, although she added with a laugh that she doesn't yet have a satellite radio herself.

Although XM and rival Sirius announced in February that they were pursuing a merger, federal regulators have yet to approve it.

The BSO shows on XM "will be totally unaffected by what may or may not happen with the merger," Meecham said.

The XM broadcasts are planned only for the 2007-2008 season."We're beginning modestly with these eight concerts," Goldsmith said, "but we would love to continue after that. There is definitely interest on both sides."

The BSO had a 13-year National Public Radio program, carried by more than 150 stations, that featured the orchestra's Casual Concerts series with music director David Zinman, who left in 1998.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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