The Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Turns 40: Reflections On A Cultural Icon

The Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Turns 40:
Reflections On A Cultural Icon


September 16, 2022, marked the 40th anniversary of The Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s home.

A unique relationship started it all, and the Hall’s acoustical design conceived of a series of convex curves that avoided ninety-degree angles put Baltimore and the Orchestra in a new national light.

Follow along as we celebrate the Meyerhoff’s origin story, and 40 years of musical moments that have lifted hearts and nurtured young minds.

Beginning November 2022, local artists share their own interpretations of the unique architectural design of the entirety of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and this building’s cultural significance in Baltimore City.

1965

1965

Joseph Meyerhoff Assumes Baltimore Symphony Board Leadership

Initially appointed to a two-year term as president of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Association, Baltimore builder/developer/philanthropist Joseph “Joe” Meyerhoff would go on to serve for nearly twenty consecutive years until his death in 1985. While his name may have been most synonymous with the Orchestra, Meyerhoff’s participation and leadership in professional, religious, civic, educational, cultural, health and economic development groups on local, national, and international levels was truly astounding.

Pictured: A July 25, 1965, post in the Baltimore Sun announces Joseph Meyerhoff’s initial two-year appointment.

A July 25, 1965, post in the Baltimore Sun announces Joseph Meyerhoff’s initial two-year appointment.

1967

“We have come a long way… but only as a prelude for the future.“

Joseph Meyerhoff closed his 1967 President’s Report with, “We have come a long way – this year has been exciting – but only as a prelude for the future. Our goal is to have the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra become one of the great Symphony Orchestras in our country.” Equally to note, is the $1.04M budget – which today is equivalent to $30M.

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1969

Sergiu Comissiona Arrives and the Dream of a New Concert Hall Takes Root

Under Meyerhoff’s leadership, Sergiu Comissiona arrived as the Orchestra’s 9th Music Director in September. Shortly thereafter, he presented Meyerhoff with a “wish list” that he felt would move the organization forward: a larger orchestra, regular Carnegie Hall appearances, commercial recording contracts, international tours, and ultimately, a new concert hall. Meyerhoff tackled Comissiona’s requests, and in turn the two developed a unique relationship. He also asked for patience when it came to a new home for the Orchestra. It would take 13 years for their shared dream to become a reality.

Pictured: Mr. Joseph Meyerhoff (r.) and Mrs. Meyerhoff welcome Mr. and Mrs. Sergiu Comissiona to the reception given by the Meyerhoff’s at the Center Club following the Orchestra’s performance last week. Guest conductor for the evening, Mr. Comissiona will mount the podium as permanent conductor with the opening of the next season. The Morning Sun, December 18, 1976.

Source: Joseph & Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds

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1969

“…A Real Meyerhoff Party.“

Letter from Sergiu Comissiona to Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff following a welcome reception during his inaugural season as Music Director.

Source: Joseph & Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds

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1972

The Site at Preston and Cathedral Streets Is Acquired

After openly discussing the matter of a new concert hall and stating, “I’m liable to build one,” Joseph Meyerhoff purchased the Deutsches House at 1212 Cathedral Street, a building originally serving as the Bryn Mawr School until 1930. The Baltimore Sun called Meyerhoff’s purchase “a move that might be a prelude to a new home for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.” The Sun did not note that Meyerhoff had attended School 49, an accelerated junior high school for some of the City’s gifted (male) students – a building now home to MedChi, located on Cathedral Street directly opposite the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall’s stage door.

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1978

Construction Begins

In April 1974, the Symphony board approved plans to build a $15 million concert hall on the property at 1212 Cathedral Street. Joseph Meyerhoff engaged architect Pietro Belluschi, in association with Jung/Brannen Associates of Boston, and personally paid for the $200,000 design plans. Over the next four years, with an initial $2.5 million pledge from Meyerhoff and a $10 million funding bill passed by the Maryland General Assembly, construction moved ahead. Meyerhoff would ultimately provide $10 million, with the City of Baltimore contributing the final $2.5 million. As the new hall began to take shape, Meyerhoff kept his eye on construction, stopping by the site every day on his way downtown.  

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1982

The Maryland Concert Center Is Renamed

The Maryland Concert Center was nearing completion, and the Orchestra preparing for its final concerts at the Lyric. On May 21st, the Board of Public Works, on behalf of the state, city, and Symphony, formally renamed the center the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. At the inaugural Artscape, hosted on the doorstep of the Hall and featuring a performance by the Orchestra with the Morgan State University Choir and the Baltimore Opera Company, Mayor William Donald Schaefer named Meyerhoff the first recipient of the Mayor’s Award for Outstanding Support for the Arts by a Private Citizen.

May 29, 1982

BSO’s Final Performance at The Lyric Theatre

The Orchestra had performed at The Lyric since its 1916 founding but was a tenant with neither control of the schedule nor the ability to store even a piano on-site; by the 1970’s, the Lyric’s physical and aesthetic conditions intensified calls for a new home, purpose-built for the Orchestra.  

Pictured: Audience members gather inside the Lyric Theatre for the BSO’s final performance at its former home on May 29, 1982.

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September 16, 1982

Opening Night

Gil Sandler’s Baltimore Stories: Joe Meyerhoff

Pictured: A BSO-produced image of the September 16, 1982, opening concert shows concertmaster Herbert Greenberg tuning the orchestra while surrounded by television cameras.

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1985

Remembering Joseph Meyerhoff

Most people know, by now, that Joseph Meyerhoff – who died Saturday – was a generous, dedicated, energetic man. But do you know these things about him?

He was a modest man. One night, when he had invited by wife and me to be his guests at the Symphony, he said (during intermission), “Let’s go down and get a drink.” And there, in that long drink line, stood Joseph Meyerhoff – for whom the hall was name and who put up the lion’s share of the money – waiting (like everybody else) to get drinks for all of us. He didn’t ask to be first, and he didn’t ask for special service …

After a meeting at the Associated Jewish Charities offices a few years ago, he said to me, “Let’s go over and see my baby,” it didn’t take me long to catch on – his “baby,” as he called it, was the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, then being built, and we walked over and looked at it – he, with a fine-tooth comb … I just hope some of his enthusiasm and generosity has rubbed off on others – so that much of his great work can continue … in the years without him.”

Julius Westheimer, WBAL Radio News

Source: Joseph & Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds

Pictured: A BSO photograph of Joseph Meyerhoff shortly before the Hall’s September 16, 1982 grand opening.

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Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall 40th Anniversary Commemorative Auction


The Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall has been the owned home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since its opening in 1982. Ground was broken for the hall in November 1978 to provide the BSO with an exceptional concert hall befitting a world-class orchestra.

During the 2022-23 Season the hall celebrates it's 40th Anniversary as a cultural institution in the city of Baltimore. To commemorate this milestone, the BSO asked local artists to consider the unique architectural design of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the energy and benefit to our broader community, and the building’s cultural significance in Baltimore City.

Three artists - Yewande Kotun Davis, Jaz Erenberg, and Natasha Fray - created pieces that will be on display in the lobby of the hall until February 2023. During that time all pieces will be available for auction, and a portion of the proceeds will support the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Interested in owning a piece of cultural history? Click below for details on our ongoing auction!


View Auction

Image

Title: The Hands Speak in Volumes

Artist: Yewande Kotun Davis

Media: Acrylic on canvas

Image

Title: Symphonic Rays

Artist: Jaz Erenberg

Media: Image transfer & acrylic on canvas

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Title: Delightful Waves

Artist: Natasha Fray

Media: Acrylic on canvas