BSO recording makes iPod hit parade

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last week released its first live downloadable recording -- and, for a brief time at least, was included in the list of top 10 classical downloads on iTunes.

The recording, of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps), was culled from concerts in January at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Music director-designate Marin Alsop led the performance, part of a program that celebrated the Peabody Institute's 150th anniversary and featured the BSO and members of the Peabody Symphony Orchestra.

The enlarged orchestra also performed a work by Richard Strauss on that program, but the iTunes download, which costs $5.99, covers only the two movements of the 34-minute Stravinsky piece. (This performance involved 78 BSO and 27 Peabody musicians.)

Three days after its unpublicized release, the Rite of Spring recording was ranked in the top 10 on the classical list. As of yesterday, it was No. 9.

Although several of the BSO's commercial recordings made years ago with music director David Zinman are available on iTunes, the Stravinsky item marks the orchestra's entry into a growing field of orchestras making live performances available for download.

Commercial recording opportunities have become prohibitively expensive for most ensembles during the past decade or so, due to recording fees mandated by the American Federation of Musicians. New technology has changed the options and the musical environment. Several orchestras now routinely make performances available for downloading, in some cases through their own Web sites.

The BSO's iTunes release was made possible by the orchestra's participation in the musicians union's Internet Agreement, which contains a revenue-sharing component for musicians of the BSO. Alsop, who starts her official tenure as music director in September, has made the use of innovative technology a priority at the BSO.

The downloadable Rite of Spring easily reveals Alsop's affinity for the technically challenging score, one of the monumental masterpieces of 20th-century music. And she gets tightly disciplined, often strikingly potent playing from the enlarged orchestra, captured in faithful, richly resonant sound. There is little audience noise, except where it should be -- the applause at the end.

On Saturday, as part of a continuing series on National Public Radio, Alsop will discuss The Rite of Spring with Weekend Morning Edition host Scott Simon. Excerpts from the BSO's recording will be included on the show, and the full discussion is scheduled to be available within a short period after that broadcast as a free iTunes bonus track for those purchasing the download.

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