At the BSO, an essential assistant

THE BALTIMORE SUN

One of the hardest-working contributors to Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's musical health for the past year is one of the least familiar to the public. Not that Andrew Constantine, the BSO's assistant conductor, is complaining. In fact, he's just signed on for two more seasons.

"I'm going to stay, I'm afraid," the British-born Constantine says with a sly grin. "And after they get sick of me here, I'll move on - hopefully to another American orchestra, and as music director."

Next season, his BSO title will be upgraded to associate conductor, and he'll be getting more opportunity to expand beyond his primary duties of leading educational concerts and some pops programs. He'll be on the podium for one of the orchestra's popular Symphony With a Twist nights, for example, in April 2006.

Meanwhile, you can catch Constantine in musical action with the orchestra on Saturday in two separate, very different programs.

In the morning, he'll lead a rich sample of classical works in a BSO Casual Concert - Elgar's Cello Concerto, Boccherini's Grand Duo Concertante for violin and double bass, and the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 for eight cellos and soprano.

In the evening, Constantine and the orchestra will switch gears for international pop songs and opera favorites with Greek crossover star Mario Frangoulis. (Despite his Greek-sounding surname, Constantine says he doesn't share ethnic roots with Frangoulis. "There's some Russian in there, but not Greek," the conductor says.)

The post of assistant or associate conductor at any orchestra is a pivotal one, providing support for the music director and, especially, the organization's educational activities.

Constantine, 43, who succeeded associate conductor Lara Webber last year, seems unfazed by having to spend most of his time leading dozens of concerts for schoolchildren, instead of higher-profile engagements.

"I thought I would end up feeling like I was going stale at this," Constantine says. "But I really see the education concerts as the future of this whole business. It's all about how to get enough kids through the door, and literally leave no child behind. This is where we should be investing our enthusiasm."

As for a British conductor having to face unfamiliar American pops music, as he did straightaway last summer at Oregon Ridge and then at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, "that was scary," Constantine says. "Very intimidating. I was the one who should've known best what was going on, and, actually, I was the one who knew least what was going on. This was the steepest learning curve of my life."

Winner of the first Donatella Flick/Academia Italiana Conducting Competition in 1991, and a student of noted Russian pedagogue Ilya Musin in St. Petersburg, Constantine guest-conducted orchestras throughout Europe for a decade or so before deciding on the move to Baltimore. It was, in some ways, a costly decision.

"I took a 40 percent cut in salary to come here," he says. "But I wanted to learn how an American orchestra worked. I already knew the work of [BSO music director Yuri] Temirkanov and the BSO, which I got to hear rehearse with [former music director] David Zinman."

Temirkanov, who calls Constantine "the real thing, a serious conductor," is due to step down as music director at the end of the 2005-2006 season.

"I hope over the next couple of years that the work I do will complement what Maestro Temirkanov has been doing," Constantine says, "and provide a link to whoever comes in as music director, a consistency during any an interim period."

Although the prospect of joining the BSO was attractive to the conductor, there was the little matter of a wife and two children to consider. "The family came kicking and screaming," Constantine says, but that's just his Brit wit popping out.

What really happened, he adds, is that "we thought it would be a fascinating and challenging opportunity to come explore a different country and culture. The family has pretty well settled into life here now."

So has Constantine. "I'm the only one who has been back to England," he says, "and after two or three days, I found myself thinking it's time to go home now.

"I love this orchestra and working with the musicians as individuals. They have such a strong desire to develop. Nobody is here just to collect a paycheck. Everybody wants to make this orchestra better."

Andrew Constantine conducts the BSO in a Casual Concert at 11 a.m. Saturday. Tickets are $20 to $47. Mario Frangoulis, backed by the BSO and Constantine, performs at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $55 to $100. Both events are at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Call 410-783-8000.

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see Page 36.

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