Thursday, April 28, 2011

The BSO & The Economy

Imagine that you are in charge of a company during these hard economic times, and you are told by your financial advisers and colleagues that you have to make some tough cuts in order to keep it floating. Your responsibility is to bring down a 1.5 trillion dollar deficit, a bit over one-hundredth of one percent of your budget. And imagine knowing that such a cut would basically shut down what most people consider not a luxury, but a necessity, especially in hard times. Would you say, "Yeah, go ahead, do it"?

Well, that's what has recently been the talk of the town among our legislators, who make decisions for a "company" called USA, in regard to cutting down the National Endowment for the Arts. Now, you may say that the NEA sometimes uses its funds to support things you, or I, or just about nobody considers art and many other more concrete things in our life (like sports scores for example) is in the eye of the beholder. But, even if you say you don't care for art at all, you have no use for it in your life, and we need to make sure our cities survive these crises. So, if you don't care to feed not just the mouths but also the souls of our fellow citizens, let's just talk sheer numbers: the Arts are responsible for bringing hundreds of millions of dollars to cities in which they thrive, and lead to over $5.7 jobs annually. In the Baltimore area alone, all things put together, BSO's contribution to the region's coffers is estimated about $18 million!

On Wednesday, we had about 20 very special people on the Meyerhoff stage with us during our rehearsal of Brahms' Second Symphony. What makes them special is that they commit to the BSO not only financially (and very generously), but also in so many other ways. They are BSO's Governing Members, and they go out of their way and organize fun gatherings in order to meet us, get to know us personally, and help us stay afloat. They spread the word about what we do, bring people to concerts, and organize fun and lucrative fund raising events (see Bolt for the BSO, coming up this fall). They are the ones that really care about the music, many of them know it well, and also know that without them we wouldn't be here.

Dear Legislators, please don't let people like that be the alone in keeping our cities in the black. We all deserve better.

And now, let's forget the numbers and talk music: this week's concerts are sure to move your soul, with some great masterpieces led by a conductor new to the BSO, Cornelius Meister, who is bringing the best in us. The program includes Bruch's rarely heard Violin Concerto #2, with our great Concertmaster, Jonathan Carney. See you there.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Muse

Hello fans! We thought this would be a nice addition to our blog to include every Monday a quote from a Classical artist or about music. We hope this gets those creative juices flowing for the week! Please tell us what you think and share your responses to the quote.

Our concert this week features Brahms' Second Symphony who, besides being one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period, was a man of simple lifestyle who generous supported the causes of others. Learn more>>


"What would become of all historical biography if it was written only with consideration for other people's feelings?"
~ Johannes Brahms

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cathy McClelland: My First 5K

Beginning today, we will be welcoming some Guest Bloggers who will be sharing their experience from Bolt for the BSO 2010. Bolt for the BSO is to raise money and awareness of the BSO's mission to provide programs that educate, engage and entertain music lovers of all ages. To learn more about Bolt for the BSO, click here.

Our first guest blogger is Cathy McClelland. This is what she had to say about her experience:

In 2010 I did my first 5K and had the time of my life! Not only did I finish better than I could ever have imagined in the race, I had the best time raising money for the BSO. I not only walked/ran a race for the BSO but I ran a competition with other participants to see who could get the most donors and the most money. Our challenge was who could get the most contributions and from how many countries and states where involved. Everyday I would check to see where I stood in the totals. I hope that this year others will have the same great experience. Wouldn't it be great if we had donations from all 50 states? Staff from the BSO cheered us on and met us at the finish line. I know all of us who participated had a GREAT time. Please join us this year.

Want to help Cathy reach her goal this year? Support her here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Tale of Three Captains

Symphony Orchestras are, in so many ways, like ships. They sail many seas, endure numerous storms, enjoy colorful and calm sunrises and sunsets, and drop anchors in many different inlets-all under many different helmsmen turning the wheel and pulling the halyards. I have been privileged to enjoy the guidance of three such helmsmen (of which one happens to be a helms-woman). The latest one is, of course, the current one, Marin Alsop. David Zinman became the first one when he hired me a bit over twenty years ago. The one in the middle, Yuri Temirkanov, I had the pleasure of hearing and seeing at Strathmore Center on Tuesday night, as he steered and navigated the mighty ship named St. Petersburg Philharmonic, on their tour of the United States.

As I settled into an unfamiliar seat (the only ones whose feel I know were about to be occupied on stage by the orchestra members), realizing that I have never taken in a concert at Strathmore from that vantage point, I was pondering how many of my fellow audience members were wondering if the musicians' bus was running late. The stage was strangely empty, and it was about time for a downbeat. But this orchestra, like many orchestras outside of the U.S., makes a collective entrance that is as dramatic as it is, well, musically sensitive. There is something special about hearing the first piece of music in a concert emerge from a void of musical sound, rather than hearing most of the tunes from the program before the concert actually starts. As they quickly took their seats, that familiar figure of almost aristocratic poise but relatively quick pace emerged from the left, a slight but distinctive smile on his face as he greeted the audience.

The first sounds of Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter's Overture washed over the hall (all right, I'll now try to stop the maritime references) and reminded me and many of the BSO colleagues that traveled south for this concert of the type of sound Maestro Temirkanov drew from us when he was in town. Being of Russian origin, where choral tradition is strong and those deep, sonorous Slavic men's voices dominate the landscape of music, he always build his string sound from the ground up, that ground being thick and very firm underfoot (see, we're back on dry land). The basses in St. Petersburg Philharmonic are situated right behind the first violins, on the left side of the stage, and also behind the cellos, where are in the place familiar to us as reserved for second violins. The effect of this seating is startling and very, well, effective. The orchestra also seemed to sit more closely together, giving them a very cohesive sound that embraced the audience like honey hangs on a spoon. This was especially true in the Brahms' Fourth Symphony, which reminded me of a concert of, I think, his Second Symphony that Temirkanov conducted with the BSO years ago.

The great violinist Pamela Frank was a soloist in that concert, and, she chose, like only very few of her colleagues in the soloist circles, to join us in the second half, playing from the back stand of the Second Violins. As a very inspired and heart-felt reading drew to a close, Temirkanov bowed to the audience, then looked a Pam, in order to acknowledge her once more. I watched his face turn from a smile, to a display of puzzlement, then to maybe a smirk of self-satisfaction, as he seemed to manage to move her to tears. (Another explanation of her reaction is, I think, that as soloists, these incredible musicians sometimes miss out on the many joys of making and creating great music together with so many people on stage).

But I digress, though I really don't want to turn this into a review of the concert-that's better left for the professionals. The soloist in Tuesday's concert was a great cellist Alicia Weilerstein, who played a very deeply felt and energetic, virtuoso performance of Shostakovich's Cello Concerto. Right after, during intermission, Maestro Temirkanov was clearly pleased and touched to see so many of us there. Orchestras and conductors form a bond in every concert, at home and abroad, on tours, and that stays with us a memories never to be forgotten.

There are many such wonderful memories we share with David Zinman and there surely will be those that we'll recall once Marin Alsop leaves town. In the meantime, the ship sails on.

P.S. I understand there are only a few selected tickets left for our performances of Charlie Chaplin's movie The Gold Rush on Saturday night, and maybe a few more for Sunday afternoon. The music is absolutely beautiful and witty, and the movie is, well, Chaplin-definition of a genius. I strongly urge you to come and bring everyone you know. It's a rare movie that everyone in the family can enjoy, and, yes, it is very special when it is accompanied by a live orchestra.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Kids : Our Future

A couple of Saturdays ago I had an unusual break in my usual day-long teaching schedule at the Peabody Preparatory, where I teach violin and coach chamber music and the strings of the Peabody Youth Orchestra. My youngest son, who takes cello lessons and group cello class there, also had a break in his schedule, and, since he has been talking about his desire to repeat our summer trip on Baltimore's free downtown bus, the Circulator, I decided it was time for a fun ride. We walked a few blocks south on St. Paul, toward the Inner Harbor, turned east on Baltimore Street, then sat on a bench on Charles to wait for the Purple Bus to take us back to Mt. Vernon Square. He kept updating me on the bus stop display, alternately looking in the other direction to check on the street how accurate the sign is ("2 minutes away, 1 minute away, arriving"). It finally arrived (I had gotten a bit tired of the updates), and we boarded it. Even though he has been in many different modes of public transportation in his short life, including his favorite electric tramways in my native Belgrade, he still gets pretty excited when he gets the chance to use one. He looked around, wide-eyed, at his fellow passengers and the streets-cape that was passing us by, then, with great aplomb, pressed the "stop requested" button as we started climbing the small hill by Peabody. A half hour later he was all concentration, tongue slightly sticking out of a corner of his mouth, busily trying to match the speed of his teacher's bow in the group class, playing several pieces by memory, even advising his fellow students on proper technique.

Kids his age, some younger and some older, were also on the Meyerhoff stage on Thursday night and Sunday afternoon, playing their debut with the BSO in front of adoring Moms, Dads and siblings, as well as out regular audience. They come from areas of the city where even the free Circulator bus is not an option for a bit of fun because, simply, there may not be anyone available to take them downtown, as both parents might be working most of the day (and some at night). But that didn't stop them from attending the classes of the Bucket Brigade, a beginner percussion program, or later switching to cello, violin or flute, after their regular Elementary school classes, as part of BSO OrchKids program. For those of you that don't know, it's based on an extremely successful program in Venezuela, called El Sistema, which has by now created thousands of kids that play in hundreds of youth orchestras across that underdeveloped country. There are only a couple more such programs in the United States so far. And I say so far, in spite of the recent calls for cutting of public funding for arts in schools, non-profit organizations, and such. The fact is that arts bring millions of dollars to our cities' economies, and without them they could not survive. But, even if not a single of the OrchKids children ends up in the music field as part of their lives, or takes up an instrument to play it again, or even becomes one of our patrons, they will have developed life-long skills of team play, discipline, long-term work that pays off in small increments, patience, and too many more to mention here that they can't get any other way. Their brains will also develop in such way that will increase their success in other fields (and we don't need studies to prove that, OrchKids have the stats if you want to see them).

So let's stop and think where our efforts and money should go. More arenas and stadiums, so that we can subsidize multi-million dollar contracts that our sports teams demand, or concert halls and opera houses where orchestras are falling one by one with minimal support from our government.

Thank you all who have contributed to the BSO over the last almost 100 years of its existence, and let's help it reach its centennial with the musicians and staff on solid financial ground, so we can continue to entertain, and, yes, educate our children.

They are truly our future.

-Ivan Stefanovic