The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s 2021-22 season will feature live audiences and a search for the successor to musical director Marin Alsop.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s 2021-22 season will feature live audiences and a search for the successor to musical director Marin Alsop.

When the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced its 2021-22 season today, it gave its patrons more than a robust schedule of concert dates and a list of artists and composers. It gave them the joy of in-person concerts.

The new season, “A Season of Discovery,” begins in September, and will mark the
return to performances for live audiences at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and The Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, if all goes as planned.

The season will feature eight works commissioned by the BSO and three world premieres, highlighting the work of artists and composers and the stories of repressed voices in history.

Throughout the season, concertgoers will be introduced to numerous guest conductors as part of an international, multi-year search to replace Marin Alsop, the director who will step down in August after 14 years. She will assume the title music director laureate.

“We look forward to responsibly welcoming audiences back to our concert halls and showcasing rising and world-class conductors as we begin the exciting process of searching for our next music director,” said BSO President and CEO Peter Kjome. “In this multi-year process, we are committed to selecting an artistic leader who is not only an extraordinary musician but also a passionate advocate of the BSO’s vital role in the community.”

In welcoming audiences back to its concert halls, Tonya McBride Robles, BSO vice president and chief operating officer, said there are no plans for social distanced seating, but the organization is implementing COVID-related safety measures and adhering to government protocols and mandates.

She said the BSO has earned the cleaning industry’s outbreak prevention, response and recovery accreditation for facilities.

The BSO will continue to offer ticket exchanges and refunds and expand its pandemic-curated digital platform with new accessibility through live-streamed performances along with its popular docuseries “BSO Sessions,” which showcases the stories of BSO musicians, conductors and collaborators in a documentary-style narrative. Live-streamed performances for most of the BSO pops and classical series subscription programs from the Meyerhoff stage will be available free of charge to subscribers and for a fee for non-subscribers.

The BSO’s resumption of live performances is part of a national trend. Since the start of COVID-19, the League of American Orchestras has surveyed members on the impact the pandemic has had on orchestras and on inviting audiences back to concert halls. About 43 percent of respondents anticipated resuming concerts with live, in-person audiences in the early fall, with 17 percent in September and 26 percent in October.

Overall, programming next year will continue to be weighted toward chamber orchestra and small ensembles. Orchestras are expecting halls to be on average at 42 percent of capacity when audiences return in person.

BSO performances will sound different, as officials said diversity, equity and inclusion play a central role this season – from investments that build the capacity of BSO stakeholders, to the elevation of underrepresented voices, including composers and artists of color.

“We came together – management, musicians, board, elected officials, community and national thought leaders – in 2019 to develop a plan to energize the institution, grow audiences and revenues and increase efficiencies and effectiveness,” Kjome said. “The 2021-22 season’s paradigm shift in equity and representation advances that plan and is the right thing to do in terms of fostering collective action and supporting progress in the classical music field at large.”

Kjome said the BSO is also working to improve diversity within its own ranks, which currently has only one Black orchestra member. “While the diversity reflected in the 2021-22 season is exciting and expansive, there is a great need to increase the diversity within our own orchestra complement. Thanks to our historic five-year collective bargaining agreement, we are actively reevaluating orchestral hiring procedures and the audition culture in collaboration with musician leadership and with national partners such as Sphinx with an intentional view of increasing the diversity within our orchestra.”

Classical Performances

In his first season as artistic advisor, James Conlon will bring his Recovered Voices mission to the BSO with programs that elevate music by composers suppressed by the Holocaust.

In a season that has 11 programs exploring untold stories, Conlon’s programs also bring attention to works by American composers of color neglected in the past – a theme to be expanded throughout his term – including Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony, a piece that earned short-lived acclaim after its premiere in 1934.

Alsop returns to the BSO in three programs, each featuring BSO-commissioned works by Reena Esmail, Anna Clyne, and Angélica Castelló. Alsop also will reimagine Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in a 21st-century call for unity, justice and empowerment. Additional BSO (co-)commissions include a world premiere by James Lee III, in collaboration with BSO Artistic Partner Wordsmith, that amplifies the voice of Maryland native and abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Christopher Theofanidis’ Drum Circles with The Percussion Collective; Wynton Marsalis’ Fanfare; and new concertos by Conrad Tao and Jessie Montgomery.

The season opens with renowned violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman and includes notable guests Renée Fleming, Rod Gilfry, Christine Goerke, Nicola Benedetti, Ray Chen, Benjamin Grosvenor and Anne-Sophie Mutter in performance with Sir Andrew Davis.

Committed to presenting the world’s top musicians of today and tomorrow, 16 soloists make their BSO debuts, including Randall Goosby, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Chloë Hanslip and Beatrice Rana.

Pops, Family, Specials and Symphony in the City

New this season, the BSO Fusion series crosses multiple genres through music mash-ups.

Created and conducted by Steve Hackman, concerts include Skull and Bones, remixing orchestral showpieces with vocal stems of Post Malone, Muse, Drake, and Kanye West; Brahms v. Radiohead, interweaving OK Computer with Brahms’ Symphony No. 1; and The Resurrection Mixtape, combining Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony with the music of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac. Other specials include a Christmas performance with Leslie Odom, Jr; the return of the gymnasts and aerial artists of Troupe Vertigo in Cirque Nutcracker; Toy Story in Concert; and two installments of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi – In Concert.

Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly returns with a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, a celebration of John Williams, and a reinterpretation of Bizet’s Carmen with Troupe Vertigo. An expansion of the Pops series, André De Shields returns to his hometown to tell Charm City’s story and Byron Stripling showcases ragtime masters Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton.

Introducing the orchestra to Maryland’s youngest listeners, Assistant Conductor Jonathan Rush presents a family series of fun and educational concerts, including Unsung Heroes, sharing the stories of overshadowed or overlooked heroes and Through the Telescope, a collaboration with the Space Telescope Science Institute.

In addition to the subscription season, plans continue for an expansion of free, community-based Symphony in the City series in Baltimore City, Montgomery County and beyond that, orchestra officials said.

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Walinda West

Walinda West is an experienced communications professional who has served a variety of clients at the local, state and national level and is a longtime writer for Baltimore Fishbowl.