The Grammy Award-winning Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led by Marin Alsop, is one of the most prestigious orchestras today. The orchestra was established in 1916 as a branch of the Baltimore municipal government, the only American orchestra with such ties. In 1942, the orchestra became recognised as a private institution. Their connection to the Maryland community, however, is still of utmost importance. The mission of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is ‘To make music of the highest quality and to enhance Baltimore and Maryland as a cultural centre of interest, vitality and importance’.
The orchestra’s rise to fame began in 1965, with the appointment of Joseph Meyerhoff as president of the orchestra. During his 18 years as president, Meyerhoff appointed the Romanian-born conductor Sergiu Comissiona as Music Director in 1969.
After Comissiona, followed David Zinman (1985-1998), Yuri Temirkanov (1999-2006) and the 12th music director, Marin Alsop (2007-present). With Alsop’s appointment as Music Director, she became not only the first female music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, but the first female to a head a major American orchestra. Temirkanov holds the position of Music Director Emeritus, while Jack Everly serves as the Principal Pops Conductor. As of 1 February 2017, the President and CEO of the orchestra is Peter T. Kjome.
The orchestra has called the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore home since its opening on 16 September 1982. The hall, which was made possible by the financial support of the late Joseph Meyerhoff, has undergone a number of renovations since its opening and has a capacity of 2,443.
In 2005, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra became the first American orchestra to have year-round venues in two metropolitan areas when 1,976-seat Music Center at Strathmore opened in North Bethesda, Maryland.
The orchestra performs 130+ concerts annually at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, its principle home, and about 35 annually at The Music Center at Strathmore. More than 350,000 people attend the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s concerts each year.
In addition to performances in Baltimore and Bethesda, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performs regularly at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills and in Frederick, where its longest continuing run-out concert series takes place. In addition to its classical and run- out concert series, the orchestra performs Family Series, SuperPops and Off the Cuff.
The orchestra has made a number of tours, including to Europe and the Soviet Union in 1987 with Music Director David Zinman. Their appearance in the Soviet Union was especially important as they were the first American orchestra to tour the Soviet Union in 11 years. Also under Zinman, they toured East Asia in 1994, 1997 and in 2002 with Temirkanov.
In addition to standard repertoire, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra often performs new music, having given 89 premieres and commissioning 42 works. Notable works that they have premiered include Christopher Rouse’s Symphony no. 1 (1988), Steven Stucky’s Son et lumière (1989), Stephen Albert’s Cello Concerto (1990), John Harbison’s Symphony no. 3 (1990), Philip Glass’ Overture for 2012 (2012), John Adams’ Saxophone Concerto (2013) and Johnathan Leshnoff’s Guitar Concerto (2014). They also premiered Steven Mackey’s percussion concerto Time Release in 2008 at Carnegie Hall with soloist Colin Currie.
Recent collaborations between Naxos and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with Marin Alsop have resulted in a growing selection of critically acclaimed recordings. For instance, between 2007 and 2009, they recorded Dvořák’s symphonies six through nine, releasing them on three discs.
In 2009, the orchestra recorded Bernstein’s Mass, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Classical Album category and ranked number six on the Classical Billboard Charts.
Additional recordings include Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra together with Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (May 2012) and Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 ‘Titan’ (September 2012).
They also recorded Gershwin’s famous Rhapsody in Blue along with his Piano Concerto in 2010 with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet on the Decca label.
Other highly praised recordings under Alsop’s direction include John Corigliano’s The Red Violin Concerto with soloist Joshua Bell (2007, Sony Classical) and Bernstein’s Symphony no. 3 (2015) in the American Classics series of Naxos. In January 2017, they released a follow-up album of Bernstein’s Symphonies no. 1 and 2, also featuring mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
Several recordings with Yo-Yo Ma were also made under David Zinman’s direction, including The Protecting Veil & Wake Up...and Die, which was remastered and released in 2014 on the Sony Classical label and an album featuring Barber’s Cello Concerto and Britten’s Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, which was also remastered and released by Sony Classical (2013).
Outside of recordings and regular concerts, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is extremely active in community outreach and education projects. These include the Midweek Education Concert series, during which they give daytime educational concerts for young students throughout Maryland. They also formed BSO on the GO and the OrchLab. With these programmes, they give side-by-side performances students from local public high schools. The award-winning afterschool programme OrchKids was founded in 2008 to provide all children with the opportunity to learn music, free of charge. They hope to create social change within the Baltimore communities.