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Baltimore Symphony in Jeopardy

Also on Ionarts:

Alsop and the BSO III (July 26, 2005)

Alsop After All... (July 19, 2005)

Marin Alsop in Baltimore... or Not? (July 18, 2005)

Sizing Up Strathmore (February 23, 2005)

Hilary Hahn at Strathmore [with the BSO] (February 21, 2005)
Disturbing news reached my desk recently, that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is so strapped for cash (we had already heard this through the grapevine) that it has cancelled a number of its appearances at Strathmore. I read about this first in an article (Baltimore Symphony Scales Back Concerts at Strathmore, November 8) by Philip Kennicott for the Washington Post:
Faced with a deficit at home and unable to sell tickets for an ambitious new schedule in Montgomery County, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has cut back on this year's season at the Music Center at Strathmore. The orchestra began contacting ticket buyers last week about the scrubbed events, including a series of three Saturday family concerts; two performances of Handel's holiday favorite, "Messiah"; a midday chamber orchestra program; several educational concerts; and a "Soulful Symphony" concert aimed at African American audiences. The orchestra's decision, reported yesterday in the Baltimore Business Journal, means scaling back to 42 events at Strathmore from a projected 53, with most of the cuts coming in educational and community oriented concerts.

"Nobody is happy about this outcome," said Michael Mael, vice president for the BSO's operation at Strathmore. "In a perfect world, we would have done this before the concerts were announced."
The fault, according to Mael, lies with the Washington area audience. After booming attendance numbers initially, the BSO's Strathmore sales have dropped off dramatically, and projected sales for the rest of this season look equally bad. Tim Smith's article (BSO cancels some concerts, November 9) for the Baltimore Sun was published today. I notice with some glee that Messiah is one of the events expected to underperform. All musicians know that this work, as excellent as it is, is overprogrammed to an outrageous degree. I am happy to see that the market is going to correct that bias.

My sense is that the BSO was overconfident in programming so many concerts at Strathmore this season. With an overall budget deficit, estimated to be not insubstantial, this is surely a smart move to cut back a little on expenses. Parents in the Maryland suburbs are the ones who lose out, since most of the concerts lost are for kids. However, not enough parents were apparently planning to go to them anyway. Suburban parents, if you do not take advantage of these things, they will go away. Mini-Critic is a city kid: we go to the Kennedy Center.


Mark Barry said...

I never liked the idea of expanding with Strathmore, it seemed like a budget buster at the time.

Charles T. Downey said...

Apparently the BSO musicians were thrilled at the reception they received at Strathmore, which made the hassle of the bus trip down to Montgomery County worth it. Well, fewer concerts means fewer bus trips.

Anonymous said...

It's especially surprising that not enough parents take their children to NSO concerts because as I recall, children are admitted free! So it's not only the parents losing out -- it is also the kids.

Charles T. Downey said...

Anonymous, you are probably thinking of the National Philharmonic concerts, where children are indeed admitted free. Most of the BSO and NSO children's concerts are ticketed but not very expensive. In fact, attendance at NSO children's concert events has risen this season. It is the BSO concerts that are apparently underattended.

jfl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jfl said...

is that the same cranky anonymous? i can't believe me eyes...

the bso had phenomenal numbers at strathmore... but no more, apparently - which is too bad, really. then again, the 'hipsterized' and 'educational' events were probably ill-thought out... and i have mentioned elswhere already: where are the kids (or tween-audience for the 'symphony with a twist') supposed to come from in the county with the highest average age? or, for that matter, the black crowd. someone must have misread a map and placed soulful prince george's county next to stogy-white-as-starch montgomery county.

the idea at strathmore itself was and remains to be great - it is a huge boon to the greater metropolitan arts-loving community and resulted into a lovely concert hall. with attendance what it is, no wonder the BSO needed the publicity stunt of Marin Alsop, though. hope it works, too.

Anonymous said...

Just want to add some insider info, having had an opportunity to have a job interview with someone at the heart of the BSO organization recently. And some serious food for thought it is, really.

It seems that the days of orchestras being run or directed by the Conductor are *over*. From what I heard and witnessed first hand, we might as well get used to saying "The Baltimore Symphony directed by [fill in the blank with the name of the Marketing and PR Department Director's name], instead of Temirkanov or Alsop, for instance.

I cannot tell you all how immensely sad and disappointing that conversation was, with said "hip" Marketing/PR person and his twentysomething Danny Partidge lookalike minion, neither of whom every played an instrument or sung a note in their lives.

One might even call it an ominious converstion, too, ominous for the future of the orchestra and orchestras around the country.

Basically he let me know in no uncertain terms and in tones one uses for beloved but misbehaving little children that, although he had alot of sympathy for "artists" (refering to the members of the orchestra) based upon his like 3 Art Courses in college (drawing, painting and perspective), for all intents and purposes and BY MANDATE, *he himself* and *The Twin Gods Marketing & PR*, were firmly in charge of the day to day decisions, financial recovery and general artistic direction of the orchestra.

Indeed, it is difficult to resist the temptation to speculate that Marin Alsop's more pliant and people-pleasing (as well as "younger") persona are tailor made to being "run" by the Marketing/PR guys.

In fact, "Mr. PR" spelled out a carefully crafted and *already approved* five and ten year plan for financial recovery of the BSO which involved EVEN MORE EXPENDITURE, going EVEN FURTHER INTO DEBT, by expanding into newer and trendier markets, in order to EVENTUALLY make the orchestra solvent again. Again, this plan is already in place and in process.

Furthermore, and, he literally bragged (I am not exaggerating), he said with great pride that the BSO is spearheading this approach, taking a leadership role, to show other orchestras how to do the same.

And BTW, he told me, in so many words, the orchestra members were due up for contract renewal in the Spring of '06, and if they were that unhappy, perhaps they'd [do everybody a favor and just] leave!

(I'll stay anonymous #3 for now, if you don't mind, but if you want to know who I am you can ask).

Anonomous #3

Charles T. Downey said...

Curiouser and curiouser... there's fascinating news coming out of the BSO. We like to hear about what's going on behind the scenes, so keep the insider viewpoints coming. My e-mail address is open (ionarts at gmail dot com) and strictly confidential, if you so desire.

jfl said...

hello anonymous #3 - or andrea, as most people know you. the person you are refering to does not even work with the BSO any longer. must update that insider information, my dear!

#2 down and going. beware original anonymous... I am on your trail!

jfl said...

p.s. being bitter about not having gotten that job has nothing to do with it, does it?

Princess Alpenrose said...

Thought you yourself were the nasty anonymous, dear jens.

(But yes, you caught me).

That person not being there has nothing to do with it. I find this trend disturbing, it's definitely out there, and in the final analysis I cannot help but keep wondering ...

Who's calling the shots at the BSO?

jfl said...

'inneresting'. i am nasty in public, apparently :) i perefer sitting in the rafters, though, and not get dirty. as long it doesn't happen in comments on my reviews, i am enjoying the biting and scratching of the various characters.

Princess Alpenrose said...

[A voyeur who enjoys watching others biting and scratching? That's a little too much information for me, there, Jens!]

Can we please get back to the *music*, gentlemen?!!

Where were we? Oh, yes, I asked:

"Who's calling the shots at the BSO?"

Princess Alpenrose said...

This afternoon, Drew McManus replied to my SOS re the Baltimore Symphony. I posted his astute reply on my blog.

This sure is interesting!

Princess Alpenrose said...

And it gets even more interesting, as now a member of the BSO itself has contacted me, "off the record"!

PS re Drew McManus, did you guys read his blog posts about the SymphonySim program he uses at Eastman?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the mention about my Eastman lecture. Although the BSO certainly isn't the mysterious hidden identity orchestra, the overall points expressed in the lecture certainly apply at that organization.