Baltimore Symphony prepares for West Coast tour

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will be jetting to the West Coast this week for a six-day, three-city tour — its first extended outing since Marin Alsop was named music director five years ago.

The tour, which begins Wednesday, opens with a concert in Orange County, Calif., and concludes with one in Eugene, Ore. Between those performances will be a three-day residency at the University of California at Berkeley.

"Artistically, it's great for the orchestra, because we get to play in a different hall every day," said Alsop. "It's a great morale booster, as well. It's kind of a bonding experience, always, to be on tour."

Going on tour should help spread the BSO's first-class reputation, said Paul Meecham, the orchestra's president and CEO. The cities where the BSO will be playing "are artistically very strong, they've got their own great orchestras," he said. "It's great to be playing in their backyards. Hopefully, their critics will come and review the concerts and measure us against those great orchestras in those cities."

West Coast promoters will pick up most of the tour's cost, Meecham said. Some money will also come from a portion of a $100,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant the BSO received for its 2011-2012 season.

Although the BSO has performed in New York and Washington since Alsop took over in 2007, this marks its first jaunt away from the East Coast. Plans were under way for a tour of Europe about two years ago, Alsop said, but the economic downtown effectively quashed them.

"We had many dates lined up and a lot of interest," Alsop said. "Then, of course, the economic crunch came. We just didn't feel that we could justify the tour in a fiscally responsible way."

The BSO will be performing pieces in keeping with its theme for the 2011-2012 season of saluting "Revolutionary Women." At the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Wednesday, Alsop will lead the orchestra in two contrasting but complementary pieces, Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and Joan Tower's musical response, "Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman."

"I've done a lot of her music," Alsop said of Tower. "This is a fanfare that was written as a companion piece to the Copland. It's the same instrumentation, brass and percussion, but a very different sound world, much more contrapuntal, a lot of mixed meter. It's really a nice companion piece."

In addition, the BSO in Costa Mesa will perform Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto, with solo percussionist Colin Currie, and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5. The same program will be repeated Friday at UC-Berkeley's Zellerbach Auditorium.

During the three-day Berkeley residency, the BSO will perform a students-only concert featuring Baltimore native Philip Glass' "LIFE: A Journey Through Time," accompanied by photographs by National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting. On March 31, it will also reprise its performance earlier this month of Richard Einhorn's "Voices of Light," accompanying a screening of Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 silent-film masterpiece "The Passion of Joan of Arc."

While in Berkeley, Alsop will hold a master class for conductors with the UC-Berkeley music department.

On April 2, the BSO will close its tour at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene, Ore., by reprising the Copland, Tower and Higdon compositions and adding Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5.

The Oregon stop represents a homecoming of sorts for Alsop, who was named to head the Eugene Symphony in 1989, her first job as a music director. She retained that post for seven years and in 1996 accepted the position of conductor laureate.

"It's a very nostalgic and also emotional connection for me," said Alsop, noting that her friends and supporters "put together all the funding to bring us there. ... They're really excited to meet the musicians and hear them."

Meecham said the BSO hopes to mount a European tour in fall 2014.

"I think we would have done more tours in the last few years, had it not been for the [economic] downturn," he said. "I think we're getting back to looking at doing tours every three years, or something like that."

Follow the BSO

Members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will be writing about their West Coast experiences on Sun classical music critic Tim Smith's "Clef Notes & Drama Queens" blog. Scheduled bloggers include percussion soloist Colin Currie (March 28), violinist Ivan Stefanovic (March 30), violinist Greg Mulligan (March 31) and Music Director Marin Alsop (April 2). Smith's blog can be found online at