New executive director of Shriver series upbeat about his gig


For its 40th anniversary, the Shriver Hall Concert Series programmed a typically classy roster of soloists and chamber ensembles and a high-profile piano festival for extra celebration.

Then, shortly before the 2005-2006 season started in October, the organization faced an unexpected hurdle - the departure of its popular and successful executive director, Sel Kardan.

The resolution of that last little matter was likewise unexpected.

"We had a fairly large search and some good applicants for the job," says Jephta Drachman, president of the Shriver board of directors, "but no one had unanimous support. I was losing heart."

Kardan, who left to become president of the Music Institute of Chicago, then came across a promising prospect - David Baldwin, director of the London office of ICM Artists, one of the world's leading artists management firms.

"We spoke to him on a conference call," Drachman says, "and he came over for a weekend. None of the other candidates came anywhere near him. Everyone we talked to seems to think the world of him."

Baldwin, who starts the job next week, sounds upbeat.

"I knew it was a good concert series," he says from London, where he has been packing up the last of his things for the move to Baltimore. "I had been looking at the possibility of getting out of management and into the presenting side of the business. Shriver Hall is a great organization. I love the people there. Jephta is fantastic."

The New York-born Baldwin brings an impressive resume to the job - all the more impressive given that he is only 34.

During a decade with ICM, he worked with top-drawer artists. At the London office, where he spent the past six-and-a-half years, Baldwin has managed the European engagements of pianists Leon Fleisher, Yefim Bronfman and Garrick Ohlsson; cellist Lynn Harrell; conductors Christoph Eschenbach, Stewart Robertson and Robert Spano; and jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

With a diploma in piano accompaniment from the front-rank Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. from Columbia University, Baldwin is about as well-rounded as an executive director of a classical concert series could be.

"I never had an interest in being a professional musician," he says. "I didn't like the uncertainty of it. I wanted to get an academic degree, but an English lit degree won't give you the most stability in the world. I was somewhat naive about that one.

"My M.B.A. is heavily skewed to not-for-profit businesses, and that was invaluable for my experience, particularly in London, where I was thrown into needing to understand British tax laws and all that fun stuff."

Baldwin takes a positive view of the music business in England.

"There are definitely changes afoot over here," he says. "The trend is toward more Americanization of funding, with private and institutional money. Things were 100 percent funded by government before, but they don't have the money to do that anymore. There are problems with the laws, which don't give any tax benefits for donors, but that's going to change in a few years."

In this country, angst over declining interest in and support for classical music is constant. Is it much different in Britain?

"Classical music is so imbedded in the culture, in a way unlike America," Baldwin says. "When you look at something like the BBC Proms, packing 6,000 persons into the hall for 60 nights of concerts in the summer, something's right, something's working.

"When you have a quality product, people are going to go. The same holds true in America. If you put a quality product out there, you can gain the trust of your audience."

The Shriver Hall series, which was originally sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University but has, in effect, been an independent operation on the campus for many years now, offers evidence of that quality and trust. Threatened by a severely dwindling subscriber base not too many years ago, the series, which has an annual budget of about $500,000, now enjoys a sizable, loyal audience.

Well, mostly loyal. When vocal recitals or contemporary music programs are offered, subscribers have been known to stay home.

"I really love the vocal music repertoire and would love to do more of that, but Baltimore doesn't seem to have a public for it," Baldwin says.

The new director is also contemplating jazz events to supplement the regular subscription concerts (the series will try jazz for the first time as part of this spring's separate piano festival, planned by Kardan).

As for classical artists, Baldwin might "introduce some people who have very good careers [in Europe], but who may not be as well known in America. That could be interesting," he says.

Baldwin won't be adding or changing things at Shriver right away. "Next season is already done and contracted, so I will not have anything to do with the programming until '07-'08," he says. "And I need time to get my head around the organization, to see what it needs. My goal is to keep the level high, if not make it even higher."

Would that possibly mean a preference for using his old ICM connections?

"No, no, no, no," Baldwin says. "This is going to be about the music, not friendships."

It's safe to assume that someone giving up a high-level job in one of the world's greatest cities for a modest-scaled organization in a medium-sized city will be thinking about moving up before long, but Baldwin doesn't sound like a man in a big hurry.

"I told them I wouldn't consider committing to anything less than three to five years," Baldwin says. "I need time to go through trial and error, and see what works."

That's fine with Drachman.

"We are all quite thrilled," she says. "He's a really wonderful person. I feel very lucky that we found him."

David Baldwin

Age: 34

Born: New York

New job: Executive director, Shriver Hall Concert Series

Former job: Director, London office, ICM Artists, managing European bookings for pianist Leon Fleisher and other notable musicians

Education: Curtis Institute of Music, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University

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