The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) is internationally recognized as having achieved a preeminent place among the world's most important orchestras. Acclaimed for its enduring pursuit of artistic excellence, the BSO has attracted a devoted national and international following while maintaining deep bonds throughout Maryland with innovative education and community outreach initiatives.
The BSO made musical history in September 2007, when Maestra Marin Alsop led her inaugural concerts as the Orchestra’s 12th music director, making her the first woman to head a major American orchestra. With her highly praised artistic vision, her dynamic musicianship and her commitment to accessibility in classical music, Maestra Alsop’s leadership has ushered in a new era for the BSO and its audiences.
Since 2006, the BSO has flourished under the dedicated leadership of first Michael Bronfein and now Kenneth DeFontes, Jr. as Board Chair, and President and CEO Paul Meecham. Joining Maestra Alsop on the BSO conductor roster are Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly, noted for his creative pops programming and BSO Music Director Emeritus Yuri Temirkanov, who led the BSO from 2000 to 2006 and is regarded worldwide as one of the most distinguished conductors of his generation.
A Long, Rich History
Founded in 1916, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is the only major American orchestra originally established as a branch of the municipal government. Reorganized as a private institution in 1942, it maintains close relationships with the governments and communities of the city and surrounding counties, as well as with the State of Maryland.
The BSO's modern history dates from 1965, when Baltimore arts patron Joseph Meyerhoff became president of the Orchestra, a position he held for 18 years. He appointed Romanian-born conductor Sergiu Comissiona as music director, and together the visionary philanthropist and the charismatic conductor ensured the development of an artistic institution, which has become the undisputed leader of the arts community throughout the State of Maryland.
Maryland’s Musical Ambassador to the World
With the appointment of David Zinman as music director in 1985, the BSO's reputation for musical excellence and high artistic achievement spread far beyond the shores of the Chesapeake to a new and devoted international audience. In 1987, the Orchestra conducted a critically acclaimed concert tour of Europe and the Soviet Union. The BSO holds the distinction of being the first American orchestra in 11 years to tour the Soviet Union after cultural relations resumed towards the end of the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
Under Music Director David Zinman and joined by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the BSO’s first visit to East Asia in 1994 was described as the hit of Tokyo’s star-filled concert season. The newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun proclaimed the BSO as “the best of all the overseas orchestras” that performed in Japan during that year, in a field that included the Berlin, Vienna and New York philharmonics. An invitation to return to Japan was promptly extended, resulting in a second tour during the fall of 1997 with legendary violinist Isaac Stern as soloist. Yuri Temirkanov and the BSO embarked on a European Tour in 2001, accompanied by Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and a 20-member trade delegation to enhance exchange opportunities in the areas of business and economic development, higher education and trade. A third tour to Japan followed in 2002 and the BSO returned to Europe in 2005.
The BSO maintains a regular performance presence at Carnegie Hall. In February 2008, Marin Alsop made her Carnegie Hall debut in a BSO program that featured the New York premiere of Steve Mackey’s Time Release with Scottish percussionist, Colin Currie. In October 2008, as part of Carnegie’s year-long festival to celebrate the legacy of Leonard Bernstein, the BSO under Alsop performed the late composer’s large scale work, Mass: A Theatre Piece for Players, Singers and Dancers. On November 13-14, 2010 Alsop and the Orchestra performed two concerts at Carnegie which featured pianist Simon Trpčeski on Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and New York City high school students performing Too Hot To Handel: The Gospel Messiah. As part of the BSO’s 2011-2012 season celebrating revolutionary women, Alsop led the BSO, soloists and massed choruses in Honegger’s dramatic oratorio, Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher at Carnegie on November 19, 2011.
Through year-round performances at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore and since 2005 at its second home, The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, the BSO serves as a cultural resource to the entire State of Maryland. The BSO regularly performs at the Weinberg Center in downtown Frederick, the BSO’s longest continuing run-out concert series, as well as at Chesapeake College at the Weinberg Center in Wye Mills. Through a number of partnerships and performances throughout the state, the BSO is extending its reach into new communities and remains a cultural resource for all Maryland residents.
Under Music Director Marin Alsop’s leadership, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has rapidly added several critically acclaimed albums to its already impressive discography. In June 2006, the BSO collaborated with then-Music Director Designate Marin Alsop and legendary violinist Joshua Bell to record John Corigliano's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, “The Red Violin.” Based on the Academy Award-winning score for the film The Red Violin, the concerto is the completion of a dramatic piece requiring technical virtuosity and deep expressiveness. Since its world premiere with the Orchestra in September 2003, this BSO co-commission has earned the distinction of being the most performed concerto composed in the last quarter century. It was the BSO’s first major label recording project in eight years and was released on the Sony/BMG Classical label in September 2007.
In August 2009, the BSO and Marin Alsop released Bernstein’s Mass. Featuring baritone Jubilant Sykes, the Morgan State University Choir and the Peabody Children’s Chorus, the album was recorded following three sold-out shows in Baltimore. London’s Telegraph noted, “enthusiasts need look no further for a first-rate recording." The album rose to number six on the Classical Billboard Charts and received a 2009 Grammy nomination for Best Classical Album.
In 2008, the BSO and Maestra Alsop partnered with the Naxos label to record a three-disc Dvořák symphony cycle. The first disc, which includes Symphony No. 9, “From the New World” and Symphonic Variations, was released in February of that year. BBC Music Magazine nominated the album as the best new classical CD of the year, praising, “…there’s no sentimentalizing or excessive deference to the lyrical moments to rob the work of its essential freshness…It is rare to be able to say that a performance forces one to listen to a work anew, but this is exactly what Alsop’s reading achieves. Excellently recorded.” The second disc in the cycle features Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8, was released in June 2010, and the third disc featuring Symphony No. 6, Nocturne in B major, and Scherzo capriccioso was also released in 2010. Following the success of the BSO’s cycle of Dvořák recordings, the BSO will release two new recordings in 2012. The first features Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and the second, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, “Titan.” The BSO and Maestra Alsop also recorded for release on the Decca label a recording of Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue & Piano Concerto in 2010 with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
The BSO made its foray into online distribution in April 2007 with the release of a live-concert recording of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring on iTunes. Maestra Alsop led the January 2007 concerts, which featured members of the Peabody Symphony Orchestra performing alongside the BSO. Hailed by The Washington Post as a “thunderous, full-throttle, rip-roaring performance,” the BSO recording quickly became the number one classical music download on iTunes.
The Orchestra and David Zinman won their first Grammy Award in 1990 for a Sony Classical recording of cello concertos by Barber and Britten with soloist Yo-Yo Ma. The BSO's stature as one of America's most admired orchestras was further enhanced in 1994 when The New York Album, recorded under the direction of David Zinman and again featuring Yo-Yo Ma, won two Grammy Awards. The BSO continued to add to its extensive discography, adding three new recordings in 1997: a London recording featuring symphonic dance works of Leonard Bernstein; an Erato Disques recording of the piano concertos of George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel, featuring pianist Hélène Grimaud; and a Grammy-nominated London recording of violin concertos by Samuel Barber and William Walton with violinist Joshua Bell. In 2000, the Orchestra was again nominated for a Grammy for its recording of Bernstein’s Serenade and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Baltimore-born violin phenomenon Hilary Hahn as soloist.
Early in 2000, the Orchestra released I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes, a commemorative recording to honor the tenth anniversary of its community outreach initiatives. The CD includes the works of the prominent African-American composer Adolphus Hailstork and was featured in a special National Public Radio “Performance Today” national broadcast during Black History Month in 2000.
Giving Back: Education, Outreach and Partnerships
For more than 80 years, the BSO has maintained a vibrant educational presence throughout the State of Maryland, supporting the local community not only through concerts and recordings, but also through its commitment to actively giving back with its education, outreach and mentorship programs.
The BSO performs approximately 30 education concerts and open rehearsals each year for more than 60,000 area students in pre-school through 12th grade. Cornerstone initiatives include BSO on the Go, a program that brings small groups of BSO musicians into schools for interactive music education workshops at no cost to the schools, and Side-by-Side concerts, which allow student musicians to rehearse and perform a full-length concert alongside BSO musicians.
The 2012-2013 season marks the fifth year of OrchKids™. Under Music Director Marin Alsop’s artistic leadership and direction, this year-round during- and after-school program is designed to create social change and nurture promising futures for youth in Baltimore City’s neighborhoods. Modeled after Venezuela’s El Sistema, the music program that in 30 years has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, OrchKids™ provides music education, instruments and tutoring to Baltimore’s neediest youngsters at no cost. Since its start in 2008, the program has grown from 30 students to nearly 400 student participants, and is now in four schools throughout Baltimore City.
In addition to its comprehensive youth outreach initiatives, the BSO serves adult music lovers through audience education programs such as pre-concert lectures and post-concert discussions, as well as adult-performance opportunities with members of the BSO. In February 2010 at Strathmore and September 2010 at the Meyerhoff, the BSO invited more than 400 amateur musicians onstage to perform alongside members of the BSO in a two-night “Rusty Musicians” event that captured international attention. In April 2011, the Rusty Musicians concert again returned to Strathmore. In June 2010, the BSO held its first-ever BSO Academy, an intensive, weeklong program of master classes, lectures and public performances with BSO members led by Music Director Marin Alsop. The third BSO Academy will be held in June 2012.
BSO on the Go Outreach Expanded in Montgomery County
Under the banner BSO on the Go, the education outreach programs of the BSO at Strathmore continue to thrive and grow. Designed to take music beyond the auditorium, BSO on the Go brings small groups of BSO musicians into the classroom for highly interactive experiences in a relaxed and informal setting. Offered to all public and private elementary and high schools in Montgomery County, BSO on the Go now reaches more than 2,000 students annually.
BSO on the Go musicians’ Theme & Variations residency will continue into the 2012-2013 academic year. Geared to students with a year of recorder-playing experience, these residencies provide two annual opportunities for students to collaborate with members of the Orchestra’s double-reed woodwind section both as performers and composers.
For the fourth school year, the BSO’s partnership with high school orchestras in Montgomery County will continue. The centerpiece of this partnership features BSO players mentoring school musicians in orchestra rehearsal techniques. In addition to leading daytime in-school rehearsals, selected BSO musicians also are engaged in teaching sectional master classes to school orchestra members. A highlight of the program involves side-by-side participation with student orchestra members and BSO musicians in a rehearsal directed by Maestra Marin Alsop.
The success of the original Wheaton High and A. Mario Loiederman Middle School programs has led the BSO at Strathmore to investigate new relationships with other County High Schools, whose students stand to substantially benefit from engagement with BSO musicians of the highest professional caliber. As a result, the BSO at Strathmore has recently established a series of mentoring partnerships with the orchestra programs at Rockville, Walter Johnson and Winston Churchill High Schools.
The BSO also reaches out to younger musicians through the dynamic synergy offered by our presence on the Music Center at Strathmore campus. Working with our Strathmore education partners, the Maryland Classical Youth Orchestra (MCYO) and the Levine School, BSO musicians and featured soloists conduct master classes throughout the year—all of which are open to the public. In addition, BSO Concertmaster Jonathan Carney will continue to serve as MCYO’s artistic advisor.
National and Local Broadcast Series
Throughout its history, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has attracted a devoted nationwide following as a result of its prominent radio presence.
Currently, Maestra Alsop may also be heard nationally on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” with Scott Simon, where she is a frequent guest with her segment “Marin Alsop on Music.” In recent years, BSO concert programs have been heard on NPR’s highly regarded music program “Performance Today” and on American Public Media’s “SymphonyCast,” both broadcasted in more than 200 cities across the United States. From 1986 to 1999, the Orchestra’s highly successful 13-season Casual Concerts broadcast series, featuring former music director David Zinman, was heard on more than 150 radio stations across the country and was acclaimed for its innovative and insightful presentation of orchestral performances.
The Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
The Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall has been the home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since its opening on September 16, 1982. Among the most recognizable structures in Baltimore, the unique, circular building instantly became the artistic and cultural hub of Baltimore, serving as a world-class performance space for the BSO. Named for the late Baltimore philanthropist and former BSO President Joseph Meyerhoff, the 2,443-seat hall has been hailed for its pristine acoustics and versatility. As one of the city’s premier cultural venues, the Meyerhoff has played host to international classical stars such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Emanuel Ax, and popular performers including singer-songwriter Harry Connick, Jr., bluegrass singer Alison Krauss and comedian Jerry Seinfeld.
The Music Center at Strathmore
The 2012-2013 season marks the eighth full season of the Orchestra’s second home, the 1,976-seat Music Center at Strathmore, located in North Bethesda, Maryland. With the opening of the Music Center at Strathmore in February 2005, the BSO became the nation’s first orchestra with year-round venues in two metropolitan areas. As the founding partner and resident orchestra of the Music Center, the BSO presents approximately 30 performances in the concert hall annually.
The BSO is actively involved in giving back to Montgomery County and the Greater Washington, D.C. area, building upon the Orchestra’s tradition of high-quality education programs for audiences of all ages. The BSO collaborates with the Levine School of Music and Maryland Classical Youth Orchestra to present lecture series and master classes for area youth. The BSO also offers the education initiativeBSO on the Go, which brings small groups of BSO musicians into Montgomery County schools to present interactive music education workshops.