Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Chiaki Kawajiri, for the Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's recent announcement of its 2015-2016 centennial season included news of an intriguing concert series that will bring together ensembles of BSO players and indie rock groups. This week came the news of key funding for the new series.

As part of an extraordinary initiative launched by the Wallace Foundation titled Building Audiences for Sustainability, the BSO will receive $400,000 for the classical/rock series, dubbed Pulse, a collaboration with WTMD-FM.


"This will support the first year of what, hopefully, will be a multi-year program," BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham said in an interview Thursday. "The series is geared to 25- to 39-year-olds. Baltimore has a large proportion of millennials, and this is the demographic we need to be engaging with."

The BSO is one of 26 performing arts organizations in the country chosen by for the Wallace Foundation initiative, which, over the course of six years, will involve $52 million in funding.

Meecham said that four concerts are likely for the inaugural Pulse season, held at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

"Every aspect of the concert experience will be re-thought," he said, "from the lobby on into the concert hall."

BSO musicians will share the stage with the rock bands. Programming for the classical portion of these performances has not yet been finalized. Meecham said he doubted there would be Mozart and Beethoven on the bill, but more like music of the 20th and 21st centuries that will have a connection in some way to the music of the indie artists being featured.

Feedback will be sought from audiences throughout the season. Ideas that prove popular at Pulse events may be adapted for other BSO programs, Meecham said.

In a press statement, foundation president Will Miller said that "attracting and engaging new audiences is challenging for arts organizations because, even as the number of arts groups has grown, national rates of participation in the arts have declined, arts education has waned, and competition for ways to spend leisure time has increased."

Miller said that he expects that the "26 organizations selected from a pool of more than 300 identified by leaders in the arts nationwide will provide new insights that will ... [help] to bring the arts to a broader and more diverse group of people."

Among those on the list of grant recipients: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; La Jolla Playhouse; Los Angeles Philharmonic; Lyric Opera of Chicago; New York Philharmonic; Opera Philadelphia; Opera Theatre of St. Louis; Pacific Northwest Ballet; Seattle Symphony; and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington.

A statement from BSO music director Marin Alsop noted that the orchestra is "immersed in a vibrant community of young professionals  who have not yet been drawn into attending the BSO concerts in the numbers we would like to see."

Alsop said the Wallace Foundation grant provides an "opportunity not only to try new artistic initiatives, but to gather data on why this community has not been coming to our performances and how we can better engage them. We are eager to share what we learn with our colleagues across the country and look forward to hearing and learning from the other Wallace partners."