May 15, 2020
Dear Friends of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra,
We hope that you are well and miss seeing you during this time of social distancing. All of us look forward to the moment when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra can return to the stage, and we will continue to share great music with you until then.
The pandemic that we are facing together may have changed our world, but it has not changed our resolve. At the BSO, it has brought new urgency to our charge to innovate, collaborate and respond quickly to our community’s need for the comfort and solace that only music can provide.
After taking action to help protect the health and safety of our musicians, staff and patrons, our team is embracing the challenges of our new reality with unprecedented creativity. Your support continues to be instrumental. Outright gifts and donating the value of your tickets from cancelled concerts have allowed us to innovate and pursue the numerous initiatives described in this letter.
Wherever we are, even apart, we are your BSO. We will create joy, connection, inspiration and provide relief in every way we can. So much has happened since our January announcement of over $9 million in transformational funding to stabilize the BSO. We wanted to share with you the story of what is unfolding so far, and what you can expect with continued philanthropic support.
Our Response to Social Distancing: BSOoffstage.org
“This has made my evening. With all the problems in the world, you and your music have made it a better place. Thank you so much.”
We believe that our world needs every note that we can share. That’s why we are passionate about providing unprecedented access for free during this difficult time.
What began as a few YouTube videos has blossomed into BSO OffStage, a digital collection of exciting musical experiences, curated with the BSO’s signature charm, excellence and creativity. Today, you can access numerous videos and other resources, and the number is growing by the day.
The demand for this exciting content increases as our library does. This platform, together with live events hosted on social media, has already garnered hundreds of thousands of views.
A Spark of Inspiration: Mahler’s Third Symphony
The heartbreaking but necessary cancellation of Mahler’s Third Symphony performances beginning on March 14 spurred BSO musicians to share the piece virtually. Principal Trumpet Andrew Balio played the famous post-horn solo on a video from the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, performing with his colleague René Shapiro. Within hours, our bass and horn sections arrived to record their own arrangements.
The project took off and shortly thereafter and we were among the first orchestras in the country to create a virtual performance, reviewed by The Guardian as one of the best, highlighting “the glorious, final coda” of the Mahler. More than 60 musicians recorded their individual parts at home, and BSO violist Colin Sorgi combined the individual recordings to produce the video.
At the height of its popularity, the Mahler 3 finale video was seen 150 times an hour — around the clock, and around the world. By mid-April, it had more than 150,000 views, and the positive response of our audience helped to further accelerate the momentum.
Bringing Audiences Behind the Scenes
In addition to virtual performances, the Virtual Governing Members Lounge is a place to continue the special connections and artist conversations that usually happen at concerts. Each Thursday at 5 p.m., BSO Vice President of Development Allison Burr-Livingstone hosts a happy-hour style conversation and live Q&A (please join us, and your questions are always welcome!).
If you regularly tune into podcasts, you might be familiar with the BSO’s Classical Insights podcasts with WBJC 91.5 FM Program Director Jonathan Palevsky. Not only have we made these available, we’re thrilled to add a new Off The Cuff podcast each Tuesday. Each episode features Marin Alsop leading the BSO and embodies her commitment to demystifying classical music and making it accessible for all.
A “Symphony in Space” Digital Festival
In April, the BSO OffStage project came full circle with a weeklong thematic celebration featuring BSO Associate Conductor Nick Hersh in honor of a special Maryland milestone: the Hubble Space Telescope’s 30th birthday celebration.
The week kicked off with a Facebook Watch Party of “Through the Telescope,” a digital realization of the BSO’s originally conceived Midweek Education and Family Concert programs featuring a conversation about space and music with Astronomer Dr. Michelle Thaller. On Tuesday, the inaugural Off The Cuff podcast featured Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Students could tune in and make alien hand-puppets on Wednesday’s Crafts in a “Minuet,” and Thursday’s Virtual GM Lounge guest was Dr. Antonella Nota, Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. Culminating our first digital festival was a live watch party of a BSO recording of The Planets paired with awe-inspiring images and video from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. On our education page, parents and teachers could also find accompanying guides exploring outer space and music.
At Home with BSO Musicians
One of the unique opportunities of our new reality is seeing BSO musicians presenting music that inspires them, in their own homes. We are extremely proud and grateful to be able to support world-class artists who contribute to our community’s spirit in such personal and meaningful ways.
Performances and recitals have popped up, live and directly from the homes of Principal Cello Dariusz Skoraczewski, Associate Concertmaster Audrey Wright, Principal Oboe Katherine Needleman and many more. Some of our musicians are even making music with their families.
Reactions are pouring in from friends and fellow musicians. A request from the Johns Hopkins Center for Music and Medicine for a live-streamed musical interlude has become a weekly event for 175 physicians and scientists from the JHU Neuroscience and Neurology departments.
BSO OffStage also brings our viola section into the spotlight, with the Lunch Bachs series, every Wednesday at 1 p.m. Not only do members perform movements from Bach’s Cello Suites paired with a piece that has inspired them that week; but they also share what they’re cooking up in their kitchens.
Bassist Jonathan Jensen penned one of his many jingles for which he is famous: a 20-second alternative to “Happy Birthday” for hand washing. “Don’t be a dope, use lots of soap…” he advised, to the tune of “Les Toreadors” from Carmen. The moment of levity was welcome.
Thousands of people are tuning in every day and discovering even more reasons to appreciate the incredible musicians of the BSO.
Without current ticket sales, we can only continue presenting such amazing talent because of the generosity of friends like you.
Upholding our Commitment to Youth
Among the BSO’s top priorities is our role as a leading music educator, even as schools remain closed.
For the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestras, like our own musicians, music-making is an essential practice during this time of social distance, and we have created a space for them to safely share, collaborate, and learn.
We’ve watched young performers bloom in BSYO Sunday afternoon recitals where they’ve shared the pieces they’ve been practicing at home. Additionally, the hangouts that they’ve had with each other and BSO Assistant Conductor Nicholas Hersh have brought out a completely new side of the orchestra. The gatherings underscore the significance of having a program that breaks down social barriers that classrooms can create, placing a common passion at the center of school-age relationships.
The BSO OrchKids program also continues to provide daily support and instruction for many students in our city who live in communities hardest hit by this pandemic. Within 10 days of schools being closed, the OrchKids team was not only able to give students the ability to tune in to their lessons and social interactions online; but also, they were able to pair families with the technology to ensure they could participate.
Supporting Lifelong Learning
The BSO has made a national mark for its commitment to supporting students of music at any level, from aspiring to advanced. The BSO’s musicians are highly sought after for private lessons, and they are continuing to provide instruction through virtual chats. Our new Learn from the Pros series also provides focused, high-level masterclasses on specific topics related to their instruments, presented by BSO musicians.
In Associate Concertmaster Audrey Wright’s new project, “An Excerpt a Day,” she begins each episode with a performance of an important excerpt from the violin repertoire, and then walks through tips to master it for auditions. Guidance at this world-class level, provided without barriers, is truly rare.
The BSO at The BBC Proms: A Gala Celebration on Maryland Public Television
You could describe our response to COVID-19 as creating a new world to share with you, where the highest quality musical experiences take people to places they cannot otherwise be. People all over the world now have access to the great state of Maryland, and beyond, through our music.
It seemed only fitting to celebrate another way in which the BSO was featured on the world stage, calling on previously unseen footage of our debut performance at the BBC Proms in August 2018. In keeping with our commitment to share powerful music via our annual Gala, we were able to make this special celebration available to everyone for free on Maryland Public Television stations on May 9.
Viewers from across the region, from Virginia to Pennsylvania, were able to enjoy an evening connected to thousands of others who were tuned in to share this special celebration. We were especially pleased to partner with nursing and retirement facilities across the state to bring joy during a particularly lonely and difficult time.
Through these times, music reaches where people can’t. This is why music matters.
Even at a distance, the BSO’s light shines as brightly as ever; excellent, accessible, inspiring and relevant.
In the 2020-2021 season, we will celebrate the conclusion of Marin Alsop’s incredible tenure as Music Director. We will not miss this moment to celebrate with you in a meaningful, yet still safe, way. We also look forward to additional improvements to the hall that will enable us to continue and expand our robust digital presence. A new set of high definition cameras made possible by a generous donor will enhance the experience both inside of the hall and give access to people beyond it.
Whatever the coming months bring, we will do our very best to continue to innovate and respond to our community’s need for music that touches and connects our souls.
There’s Still a Part for You to Play
We are deeply grateful to many who have already donated your canceled tickets and have made generous donations. Your gifts have enabled vital work during a moment that has changed the course of the BSO forever.
What makes the BSO worthy of support at a time when our world has so many needs?
The arts give our hearts and minds the tools to meet life’s challenges. Music can inspire, revive, and sustain us through fighting a pandemic as an essential worker; dealing with the loneliness of social distancing; finding business solutions in a new reality; or, raising a family. We’ve seen how profoundly people have been touched by what we’ve shared so far, and with your support we’re just getting started.
Every member of our BSO family is fully committed and deeply engaged in making the most of every resource available to reach out and touch people with this essential service.
Without concerts, the momentum will continue only with philanthropic support. Please help us expand our service and reach by giving whatever you’re able. We will come through this moment stronger and more united with you by our side.
All of us at the BSO look forward to seeing you once again in the hall, and until then, at BSOmusic.org. Our best wishes for your health and safety.
Peter T. Kjome
President and CEO