The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra began life in 1916 as a branch of the Baltimore City government, the first major American orchestra that was formed in this way. However, it was privatized in 1942 and fell under the brilliant leadership of philanthropist Joseph Meyerhoff, who was President of the orchestra for 18 years. Probably his most important contribution to the Baltimore Orchestra was to appoint the Romanian Sergiu Comissiona as musical director. Comissiona's amazing musical talent coupled marvelously with Meyerhoff's vision for the orchestra and together they formed the backbone of an outstanding music tradition that continues to this day.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed its first international tour in 1987, touring Europe and the Soviet Union. It was the first American orchestra to visit the USSR after the end of the Afghan war. Unfortunately, the BSO's credibility was seriously damaged a short time after this tour when the players went on a strike.
The Orchestra first visited Eastern Asia in 1994 on a tour that included a visit to Japan with several other internationally acclaimed orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Vienna Philharmonic. Out of these, the Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri Simbun named the Baltimore Orchestra, or BSO, the best. In fact, the BSO was invited to return in 1997 along with Isaac Stern, the legendary violinist playing as a soloist. The BSO was also accompanied by Kathleen Kennedy Townshend, the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, along with a trade delegation from that state. This second performance was renowned, like the first, as the best one of the season in Tokyo.
Recording and Broadcasting Success
The BSO's discography includes major labels such as Sony Classical, Telarc, and Argo/London. Its recordings have received three Grammy awards and have been nominated for two others. The first one was for its performance in concert with David Zinman in recordings of cello concertos by Barber and Britten featuring the soloist Yo-Yo Ma. The other two Grammies were again awarded under the direction of David Zinman and featuring Yo-Yo Ma as a soloist, this time for its "New York Album." The first Grammy nomination came for a recording of the violin concertos of Samuel Barber and William Walton. The second was for the BSO's recording of Bernstein's "Serenade" and Beethoven's "Violin Concerto" featuring Hilary Hahn as a violin soloist.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra had its first radio broadcast series in 1986 called "Casual Concerts." It was broadcast on more than 150 radio stations nationwide. Currently, the BSO's concert programs are heard on National Public Radio's music program "Performance Today," which reaches more than 200 cities across the US.
Community Outreach Programs
Because the BSO began as a part of the municipal government, it has always played an active role in the Baltimore community. In 1989, it established the Community Outreach Committee with the goal of developing and implementing a plan to address the musical needs of the local African-American community. This included involving them in the entire music process, from management to volunteer work. It also has begun an innovative program called Arts Excel. In it, musicians from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are involved in aspects of local schools' curriculum development and teaching in order to bring a more balanced and musical approach to learning.
In addition to these other activities, the BSO, in conjunction with the county and state governments, is building a new concert hall in a nearby Washington, D.C. suburb. This new hall seats 2,000 and will be named the Strathmore Hall Performing Arts and Education Center. It is expected to be completed in 2004. The BSO along with other internationally acclaimed musical groups, has pledged to perform there throughout the year.
- Gustav Strube (1917-1930)
- George Siemon (1930-1935)
- Ernest Schelling (1935-1937)
- Werner Janssen (1936-1939)
- Howard Barlow (1939-1942)
- Reginald Stewart(1942-1952)
- Massimo Freccia (1952-1959)
- Peter Herman Adler (1959-1968)
- Sergiu Comissiona (1968-1984)
- David Zinman (1985-1998)
- Yuri Temirkanov (1998-present)
- Thanks to Gorgonzola for telling me about the strike.