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Posted at 8:55 AM ET, 03/ 2/2011

BSO does strong woman number in 2011-12

By Anne Midgette

The good news is that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is focusing its 2011-12 season on women. The bad news, which the orchestra is tacitly trying to address with this good season, is that women are still enough of a breed apart in classical music that they count as a theme rather than, well, 50% of the offerings.

If anyone's aware of this, it's Marin Alsop, the first woman to serve as music director of a major American orchestra (though JoAnn Falletta, of the Virginia and Buffalo orchestras, would contest the definition of "major"). Alsop is using her podium cannily, extending the initial buzz around her appointment in 2007-08 with canny programming that helps get the orchestra exposure. The upcoming season sees both a West Coast tour and another Carnegie Hall appearance -- the orchestra's fourth since Alsop took over -- with a semi-staged version of Honegger's "Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher," a Joan of Arc oratorio that's a centerpiece of this year's "woman" theme, coinciding with the 600th anniversary of Joan's birth in 2012.

Richard Einhorn's choral-orchestral hit "Voices of Light" is the season's other Joan highlight; it will be played as live accompaniment to Carl Dreyer's magisterial silent film "The Passion of Joan of Arc," its original inspiration. The orchestra has also commissioned a new "women's work" from a local composer: James Lee III has written "Chuphshah! Harriet's Drive to Canaan," about Harriet Tubman.

Other featured women include Joan Tower (with her ubiquitous "Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman"), Jennifer Higdon (with her percussion concerto), and Carmen -- Sarasate's "Carmen" Fantasy, that is, but performed by a woman, Madeline Adkins.

Because it's a women's season, the BSO can make a virtue of introducing new female soloists: Olga Kern and Lise de la Salle on piano, Arabella Steinbacher on violin, and sopranos Joyce El-Khoury and Layla Claire. Hilary Hahn (both local and a woman) will play the Mendelssohn concerto at the season-opening gala on September 10, and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg will play the Tchaikovsky concerto at the season's last subscription concert on June 7-10.

Alsop has developed a number of programming elements at the BSO which continue as a feature this season. There are four "Off the Cuff" concerts, in which Alsop discusses and parses a single significant work (this year's focuses are Copland's "Appalachian Spring," Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra," Prokofiev's 5th symphony and Shostakovich's 7th). There is also a focus on living composers (Kevin Puts's 4th symphony, James MacMillan's "The Confessions of Isobel Gowdie," a new work called "Charm" by David T. Little); there are more multimedia performances (Philip Glass's LIFE: A Journey Through Time, as well as the "Voices of Light" concert); and there are more circuses ("Holiday Cirque de la Symphonie" in December).

One thing missing from the focus on women: although Alsop is certainly conducting the lion's share of this season's programs, there are no other female guest conductors.

By Anne Midgette  | March 2, 2011; 8:55 AM ET
Categories:  national, news  
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Any idea when the Kennedy Center - and by extension the NSO - will announced their season? I don't see anything on the web site.


Posted by: cicciofrancolando | March 2, 2011 9:15 AM | Report abuse

50% of the offerings? Why does everything have to meet a quota? There is bad music, good music, and great music. There are bad performers, good performers, and great performers. Ditto for composers and conductors. All of the world's great composers have been men. (Do not ask me why - I have no clue.) Why muddy the waters with mediocre music just because it was written by females? Would you also program mediocre performers because they are female? If so, I have an aunt who has been playing violin for five years and is almost ready to play the Bruch concerto. She could be part of your 50%. Everyone knows that the greatest contemporary violinists are now female. Why would anyone deny that and try to level the playing field by offering less-than virtuosic male violinists? No, no, no. Anne Midgette, you have been in Washington too long. I do not pander to gimmicks - that is what this idea is, a gimmick.

Posted by: pronetoviolins | March 2, 2011 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Ciccio: I believe that would be March 8.

proneto: I was not at all suggesting a quota, merely pointing out that in women should make up a greater percentage of the average classical season than they do.

Posted by: Anne Midgette | March 2, 2011 5:39 PM | Report abuse

There already is one too many female conductors at the B(alt)SO.

Posted by: wallyf | March 3, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I was trying to figure out why Hilary Hahn was mentioned and depicted in the email announcing the season when she was nowhere in the schedule I was looking at: of course, I was looking at the Strathmore schedule, and she's only showing up in Baltimore.

I was impressed with the season's lineup. Most of the time I have to stretch a bit to fill out a six-concert subscription; for 2011-12 I saw four must-attends and another four or five that I'm seriously interested in.

Posted by: kevinwparker | March 3, 2011 5:31 PM | Report abuse

I, too, was pleasantly surprised by their programming. We ordered tickets for 9/17 Mahler Second, 1/28/ Beethoven Pastoral and Glass, 2/16 Wagner, Mozart, Strauss, 2/24 an off the cuff about the Prokoviev 5th, 5/26 Bruckner's Te Diem and Beethoven's 9th, and 6/9 because of the Rite of Spring. Given the shaky financial situation with the BSO, I want to do all that I can to support it.

Posted by: richardmelanson05 | March 3, 2011 8:57 PM | Report abuse

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