The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's second home in North Bethesda has been approved for construction by the Montgomery County Council.
By unanimous vote, the nine-member council agreed Wednesday night to share evenly with the state the $89 million cost of building a 2,000-seat concert auditorium at Strathmore Hall, an 11-acre historic estate on Rockville Pike. The state agreed in April to pay its half of the Strathmore Arts Center, which will include the concert hall and a performing arts school.
"The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has had a mandate to serve the state of Maryland for many decades," said BSO president John Gidwitz. "We are delighted that this concert hall will make it possible to serve Montgomery County."
The BSO has regularly performed at various sites around the state, and for years orchestra members have performed in small concerts at the Strathmore Hall mansion. The mansion is not large enough now to accommodate the entire 100-member orchestra. Gidwitz says the orchestra anticipates performing about 30 times a year in the new hall, which is planned to be completed by fall 2004.
Although the vote was unanimous, the months leading up to it were marked by much debate over the project. Opponents charged that the new arts center would worsen traffic congestion on Rockville Pike and that the plans were poorly coordinated with the nearby Metro stop. Overshadowing all other concerns was the question of whether public funds should be used to build a concert hall that might be better spent on public schools and libraries.
While emphasizing that the BSO is "first and foremost" a Baltimore institution, Gidwitz said he hoped the new concert hall would help mitigate underlying tensions between Baltimore and Montgomery County.
"As we look toward the future, the tightly defined and narrow geographical boundaries are no longer defining our cultural and civic life to the extent they used to," he said. "I would like people to recognize that we are all part of one state."