Artistry + New Music = Excitement in Baltimore


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A short time ago I talked (locally, in person) about the need for real talent – artistic and managerial – to revive the mostly moribund state of orchestral music in this country. And also that contemporary music could use a bit of both as well.

Today, Anthony Tommasini writes in the New York Times about the revival of the Baltimore Symphony under its new artistic director, Marin Alsop. The article notes that during the two years Ms. Alsop was director designate, the orchestra returned to recording, and has pushed its attendance levels from a low in the 60% range, to the upper-70% range.

She also opened the season with a pairing of John Adam’s “Fearful Symmetries” with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Neither work is easy listening. The Adam’s work is not one of his concert-opening crowd pleasers (see “A Short Ride in a Fast Machine”), with Tommasini calling the 30-minute(!) work “harmonically gritty,” and most symphony-goers really don’t want to put in the effort to follow the long trajectories of a Mahler symphony, no matter what they say about the beauty of Mahler.

Some notable quotes:

Paul Meecham, the orchestra’s president and chief executive, has said Ms. Alsop was the impetus for the turnaround, proving that dynamic artistic leadership is the obvious answer to the troubles facing American orchestras.

[....]

Starting her tenure with Mr. Adams’s work was a statement of purpose for Ms. Alsop and an invitation to adventure. Before the performance, an older woman sitting in front of me sounded dubious about “Fearful Symmetries.” After the performance, she was on her feet, shouting and waving her program in the air at Mr. Adams and Ms. Alsop.

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