BSO Academy open to adult amateurs

These campers won't have to endure any singsong routines with marshmallows around a fire, but the 120 or so participants in the first BSO Academy will still have a packed schedule of group activities when they gather at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in June.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's latest project is aimed at amateur adult musicians who would like to step not just onto the concert hall stage, but into the thick of orchestral music-making itself.

For a week, beginning June 13, participants in the academy - tuition starts at $1,650 - will work intensely with BSO players and music director Marin Alsop.

"This is another way for us to try to reach out and connect with people," Alsop said Wednesday by phone from Japan.

"This will be a little like a fantasy camp for people. I really believe we're changing from a passive consumer society to a more active, participatory one, and people are looking for a real visceral participation," she said.

The idea of launching a BSO Academy "seemed to play very well into that situation," said the orchestra's president and CEO Paul Meecham. "It's really a further extension of how the orchestra can reach out more to people who love music."

People like Kristine Strecker, a self-described "advanced amateur" French horn player who got a music degree in the 1980s but didn't end up in a music career.

"I realized it's very difficult to make a living, even for a good musician," said Strecker, 45, a tax accountant in Owings Mills who plays in a community orchestra at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The BSO Academy "seems like a really good opportunity," Strecker said. "I'm never going to reach New York Philharmonic level, but the more you play with players better than yourself, the more you can improve."

Even a brief musical encounter with orchestral professionals can attract keen interest from amateurs.

When the BSO announced a few months ago a "Rusty Musicians" venture at the orchestra's second home, the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, more than 600 amateur players signed up for a chance, at a nominal fee, to work with Alsop and BSO members on two pieces of music. The response to the project has energized BSO players about prospects for the academy.

"What we discovered is that there is a wealth of dedicated amateur musicians we were not aware of," said Jane Marvine, the orchestra's English horn player. "Our ability to connect with them onstage, making music together, is quite powerful."

The idea for an academy originated years ago among BSO musicians, but the players initially envisioned a summer camp for students and young professionals. Alsop introduced the adult-education angle. "It's really lucky for us to have someone like Marin who is looking for the next possible way to put ourselves out there and be a great resource to this community," said BSO percussionist Brian Prechtl.

At the Meyerhoff in June, the "campers" will spend a week in coaching sessions and master classes with BSO players and also rehearse for a side-by-side public concert with the pros, conducted by Alsop.

The first three years of the academy will be made possible by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Steve Harsch, 63, a retired businessman in Catonsville and regular BSO concertgoer, is thinking of applying. He has played the tuba since school days in his native Texas and now plays in several community bands in the Baltimore/Washington area.

"The BSO is one of the top orchestras in the world," Harsch said. "I'm pretty much self-taught, so to have an experience with these professionals could really help me to be a better player."

The tuition for the academy did give Harsch pause.

"But I have enough money on hand to splurge on something like this," he said. "And if I didn't do it, I would look back and think, 'Darn, I should have paid the money.' So I just can't pass this up."

There's a nonrefundable $35 application fee. Applications are available at For more information, call 410-783-8051.

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