The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is turning 100 next year, and it wants all of Baltimore to celebrate along with it.
The 2015-16 season, which the orchestra announced on Wednesday evening, is marked by the inclusion of Baltimore institutions and artists who have a particular relationship to the city and the orchestra.
There are long-time Baltimore natives and residents, like the violinist Hilary Hahn, the pianist Leon Fleisher, and Fleisher’s one-time student, André Watts. There’s Lang Lang, who made his American orchestral and Carnegie Hall debuts with the orchestra. There’s Yuri Temirkanov, who was the BSO’s music director for six years, and is now its Music Director Emeritus.
There’s Kevin Puts, who’s writing a new multimedia piece called “The City” (to be performed at Carnegie Hall), and a host of other Baltimore composers, from Philip Glass to Jonathan Leshnoff. There are institutions like the Baltimore School for the Arts, which is collaborating with the orchestra on a performance of “Appalachian Spring” with the original Martha Graham choreography, and the Folger Theater, which is providing actors for a performance of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” There are 10 short new pieces by Caroline Shaw, Joan Tower, Kristen Kuster, and seven others, commissioned for the centennial by Classical Movements, the travel agency and music presenter in Alexandria, as a gift to the orchestra and its music director, Marin Alsop.
Then, of course, there are musicians like Joshua Bell and Yo-Yo Ma who could be said to have a special relationship with every American orchestra, and who will be along for the celebration.
In a press statement, Alsop called the season — which includes a high percentage of big names and notable events (the orchestra’s first performances in 50 years of Bach’s b minor Mass; the Brahms Requiem under the BSO’s new principal guest conductor, Markus Stenz) — “more spectacular, meaningful and innovative than any other in our history.”
Hyperbole aside, there’s a lot here to sink your teeth into, whether your interest is more piqued by Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto with Denis Matsuev and Temirkanov; a new concert series, called “Pulse,” that brings together ensembles of musicians from the orchestra with indie bands; or a semi-staged performance of “Porgy and Bess.”
Marking the actual anniversary on February 11 will be a special gala concert led by Alsop and featuring Joshua Bell, who recorded “The Red Violin Concerto” with the orchestra in 2006 and here will appear in his own arrangement of excerpts from Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”
Slightly marring the celebratory tone of the announcement was the disgruntled note struck by the orchestra’s musicians, who announced on Monday that they had retained a publicity firm — usually a move indicating unrest and possible labor disputes ahead. At issue is the fact that the orchestra has a number of vacant positions and isn’t offering a base pay sufficient — musicians claimed in the Baltimore Sun — to attract top candidates.
The dissent is notable given that such things are usually aired in public only around the time of contract negotiations, and the orchestra’s contract isn’t up until 2016. The BSO has seemed to work well with its musicians in weathering some challenging financial periods by means of voluntary cuts that almost certainly helped keep the orchestra alive, but despite a certain amount of restoration — the orchestra’s annual budget is up to $27 million after a dip down to around $23 million — the musicians’ annual base pay of about $75,000 makes the orchestra far less attractive to applicants than, say, the National Symphony Orchestra, which, although no better an ensemble than the BSO, has a base pay of more than $126,000.
The musicians’ timing means they get exactly what the BSO didn’t want: a note of discord marring the announcement of this gala season. Nonetheless, Baltimore has plenty to be excited about in the year ahead.