Hopkins Symphony gets an athlete as its conductor


Robert Black is a red hot Texas chili-cooking third baseman in a Manhattan softball league, a poet, a Dallas Cowboy fan, former high school fullback and swimmer and, when he wants some extra excitement, a scuba diver at Grand Cayman Island.

Baltimore will soon know the 41-year-old amateur athlete as someone else -- the new conductor of the 80-member Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, a director who likes to play works of living composers and someone ready to move the orchestra "to a higher level."

Black hopes in the next few years to:

* Play "two or three" summer concerts starting in 1992 (reviving an earlier HSO tradition) and increase the four annual concerts by doing double concerts and adding separate programs.

* Explore more 20th century American music, especially new works rarely heard, "as David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra did with composers like Michael Torke, Richard Danielpour and Christopher Rouse."

* Add "real symphonic orchestra programs such as Tchaikovsky's No. 2 and Shostakovich's No. 5."

* Expose Baltimore-area audiences to composers rarely heard, such as Jean Barraque and the Poles Henryk Gorecki and Andrzej Panufnik.

After studying the HSO's programs the past four years, Black said the orchestra, composed of Hopkins, Peabody and community players, "has been in flux, renovating, doing lots of short pieces, movements. Over the next two years, I'd like to do real symphony orchestra programs.

"I see any music directorship as a challenge to fulfill the orchestra's own potential, not that this hasn't. I'm willing to take it to a higher level.

"I'm happy doing the old music -- Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Stravinsky, Dvorak and I love the Russians, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsikov." But he said there is always new music "of great interest."

Black replaces Eric Townell, who was acting music director. Black will hold auditions by appointment Friday, Sept. 6, and Saturday, Sept. 7, in Levering Hall. Musicians are asked to prepare a concerto or sonata and will be asked to sight read. Call 338-6332 for more information.

Some Baltimoreans already know the Dallas native's work here. He has conducted the Tidewater Festival Chamber Ensemble in St. Mary's and the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Fernando Jimenez, a Peabody graduate student, will assist Black in conducting this year.

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