By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 17, 2009 2:00 PM
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is going to the circus.
The orchestra's 2009-10 season, details of which were announced this morning, will culminate in a four-week circus festival involving actual circus performers such as the Cirque de la Symphonie.
"I started thinking about shared musical traditions," said Marin Alsop, the orchestra's music director. "That led me to think about circuses. It's a shared festival, the community coming together and celebrating the strange and bizarre."
Hence "BSO Under the Big Top" next March, which will transform the concert hall into a three-ring arena for one pops concert and three classical programs. The latter will include John Corigliano's third symphony, called "Circus Maximus," and an evening of concert operas by Barber and Gershwin and Stravinsky's ballet "Pulcinella." Coming in the wake of the demise of Baltimore's opera company, the operas mark an interesting new collaboration; they will be performed by members of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program of the Washington National Opera.
"One of my big things is trying to create very high-quality partnerships and collaborations," says Alsop. "It's such a win-win when you can work together on that level."
There's also a huge new perk for subscribers, who are already benefiting from the $25-$50 ticket prices which the orchestra is offering for a third consecutive year: free access to the Naxos Music Library. This online service, which usually costs $150 a year, makes available a catalogue of more than 30,000 CDs, with hundreds of new recordings added every month, for streaming on a home computer. The orchestra will create playlists corresponding to each concert; it will also make its own concerts available on-line through the service.
The circus is only the focal point of a season-long focus on ethnicity and tradition. Alsop worked with the Maryland Historical Society to identify different immigrant communities in the region. This theme is reflected in a program juxtaposing Brahms's Hungarian Dances with the hoe-down in Jennifer Higdon's "Concerto 4-3," written for the genre-busting young trio "Time for Three." Or in a program that contrasts Bartok and Tchaikovsky with Harmonia, a folk ensemble specializing in the music of Eastern Europe.
Jessye Norman will bring the new multimedia cycle "Ask Your Mama," based on poems by Langston Hughes, which premiered at Carnegie Hall this weekend; Kathleen Battle will offer an evening of spirituals and hymns centered around the Underground Railroad. The orchestra has commissioned or co-commissioned new works from Jonathan Leshnoff, a Baltimore-based composer; the venerable Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara; and Dave Brubeck, who with his son Chris Brubeck has created a multi-media piece about the photographer Ansel Adams.
Part of the orchestra's musical tradition, of course, is classical music, and the more contemporary offerings -- like the MacArthur-award-winning violinist Leila Josefowicz playing John Adams's violin concerto with the conductor Robert Spano -- are counterbalanced by programs of classical orthodoxy. Louis Langrée, the music director of New York's Mostly Mozart festival, will return in a program of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, with Simone Dinnerstein making her BSO debut in Mozart's 23rd piano concerto. Alsop will continue her Mahler cycle with the 4th symphony. The season opens with Lang Lang playing the Tchaikovsky 1st, and concludes with Brahms's "Ein deutsches Requiem."
Alsop is also continuing to emphasize the theme of education, expanding the orchestra's pilot OrchKids program, which gave regular music instruction to inner-city first-graders, to encompass pre-K through second grade, and introducing a new BSO-Peabody conducting fellow who is only 15 years old. "I try to take real talent and give them the opportunities I wish I had had," she says.