The tuba players sat in wooden chairs before the altar, where the trombonists, horns and trumpets jostled for space. They closed with Wagner’s “Gathering of the Armies from Lohengrin.”
Performers from Washington and Pennsylvania joined brass musicians with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on Tuesday night at the Baltimore Basilica for a concert meant to rally support at a time that many see as a crisis for the city’s more than century-old orchestra.
Last year, BSO management proposed reducing the orchestra’s current status as a 52-week ensemble to one with a 40-week season. Musicians and ticket holders say that would transform the BSO from a “world-class” orchestra to a merely regional orchestra.
“It’s a tradition among brass musicians [to help one another] when other orchestras run into times of trouble,” said Blair Bollinger, a trombonist with the Philadelphia Orchestra who drove down for Tuesday’s concert. Also performing were members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra and Semper Fi Brass.
“It’s amazing we have all these colleagues here to rally with us,” said René Shapiro, a trumpet player with the BSO.
Martin O’Malley, who introduced himself as “the artist formerly known as the mayor of Baltimore,” served as the keynote speaker, and received a standing ovation for his remarks.
“Sometimes Baltimore suffers from a self-inflicted poverty,” O’Malley said. While Baltimoreans denigrate their city as “minor league” and second-rate, he said, “Baltimore is a major league city.”
Audience member Katie Oppenheim-Smith, a musician whose husband is a violinist with the BSO, agreed. “I’m disappointed in the [BSO] management’s position that Baltimore can’t support a full-time orchestra,” she said, as crowds pushed their way out of the Basilica at the end. “This event shows that we can.”
The concert was free, but organizers collected donations to benefit My Sister’s Place, a shelter for women and children run by Catholic Charities that stands next to the Basilica. In addition to Wagner, musicians played other brass-heavy pieces, such as Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and John Williams’ “Superman” theme.
Baltimore Symphony President and CEO Peter Kjome, who attended the concert, said in a statement: “It was wonderful to see our community come out to support music in Baltimore, and for musicians to come together to support a great cause like My Sister’s Place.”
Former Baltimore resident Linda Shopes came from Carlisle, Pa. “I wouldn’t miss it,” she said. “Within the context of these contract negotiations, it brings attention to what a wonderful, world-class orchestra this is.”