Andrew Balio is best known around here for the gleaming sound and refined musicality he regularly provides as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's principal trumpet, a post he has held since 2001. Offstage, Balio devotes a great deal of his energies to strategizing about the future of classical music and the survival of orchestras.
The trumpeter has organized a forum where he and some high-profile guests will get to address these issues. The two-day Future Symphony Institute will be held next weekend at the University of Baltimore.
"I've been studying this subject since I got here 13 years ago from the Israel Philharmonic," Balio says, "making contacts, looking at the whole nonprofit arts culture and the culture of musicians' unions. And I've been looking at all those think tanks they have in D.C., which are very effective at distilling information down to something that can be turned into useful policy."
Balio sees the Future Symphony Institute as a first step toward creating a permanent orchestra think tank, perhaps sponsored by a foundation or university someday. Whether or not that happens, the Baltimore session promises to add fresh food for thought, starting with how the institute came about.
"I don't know another musician in our orchestra or any other orchestra who has created his own initiative like this," says BSO President and CEO Paul Meecham. "It's very unusual. I'm very proud of [Balio] for pulling this off."
The trumpeter put the institute together without assistance from the BSO. The event, co-hosted by UB's Integrated Arts Program, received support from the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics and the University of Baltimore Foundation.
The list of participants includes BSO music director Marin Alsop; veteran conductor Benjamin Zander, who leads the Boston Philharmonic and its youth orchestra; and Richard Bogomolny, former head of the Musical Arts Association, which oversees the Cleveland Orchestra.
The others coming to Baltimore for the conference — Balio says they "all possess a major piece of the puzzle" — may be less obvious choices: Luxembourg-born architect Leon Krier, a "neo-traditionalist" who will speak on "The Fear of Backwardness and its Consequences on Architecture and Art"; Rebecca Robins, co-author of "Meta-Luxury: Brands and the Culture of Excellence" and the European director for Interbrand, an international brand consulting firm; and James Matthew Wilson, a poet, literary critic and faculty member of Villanova University's department of humanities and Augustinian traditions, whose topic at the institute will be "The Trouble with Goodness."
Giving the institute's keynote address, "Music and the Transcendental," will be English philosopher of aesthetics Roger Scruton, who has written many books — the latest called "How to Be a Conservative" — and a couple of opera librettos.
The past is likely to get a lot of attention at the Future Symphony Institute. Its website is illustrated by artworks from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and includes an essay that references Virgil and Petrarch.
"Looking backward in time is what culture is about," Balio says. "I think most of us can agree that public education today is not just deprived of the arts. Our focus should be on restoring Plato, the 'great books,' Pythagoras, who has so much to do with music and art. What's missing today is classicism."
Balio envisions concerts halls as "homes for classical learning," where people can find what's missing elsewhere.
"The culture has gone so low-brow," he says. "But there's a backlash from people who think the culture has become narcissistic, very vulgar, immodest, and doesn't value the beautiful. We need to capitalize on that. The Meyerhoff [Symphony Hall] should be a refuge for people's souls."
Getting people to come into — and come back to — a concert hall is a common preoccupation for orchestras today.
"Not everybody is for classical music, and we're not going to be able to change that," Balio says. "But there are a lot of people on the cusp of being able to really enjoy classical music and support us, people we're not reaching. And there will always be some younger people who identify with the older set — 'young fogies' — and it's possible to get them, too."
Orchestras face continual operating expenses, which puts pressure on box offices and fundraising staffs. Any problem between management and musicians regarding contracts can have severe consequences on the organization, as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Minnesota Orchestra can attest.
Such pressures tend to make some analysts skeptical about the future for the traditional orchestra model and for classical music in general.
"It depends on which side of the telescope you're looking through," says Zander, who co-wrote the book "The Art of Possibility" and gives motivational talks to various businesses in between conducting. "This is a very exciting time for music. I definitely think there is a future for the symphony orchestra. But orchestras can easily get into a rut, thinking there is only one way to do things."
Balio sees part of the task in terms of marketing, which is one reason why the institute will include discussions about branding, psychographics and the like.
"Look at the Apple company," Balio says. "Steve Jobs created demand where there was no demand. Apple doesn't have a majority market share of anything, not even smartphones, but they are so solid in dominance of a group of people. We have to drive demand for classical music."
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