Regardless of which euphemism one uses – "starting a new chapter," or "one door closes, another opens" – I always find endings difficult.
As music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for the past 14 years, I have grown deeply rooted to this community of wonderful people while building profound connections with the musicians and patrons of the orchestra. It's impossible not to feel the pain of loss that will inevitably manifest when I leave, but it is also a moment to reflect upon, and celebrate, the amazing things we were able to accomplish together.
When I arrived at the BSO in 2007, the orchestra had not made a recording in over a decade. By the end of this year, we will have completed 16 album projects, including an acclaimed recording of Leonard Bernstein's MASS, a piece that embodies and symbolizes so much of what I hoped for when I took on this position as music director. MASS is a work that defies categorization; it's a piece that embraces many styles and genres of music; a piece about community and collaboration; a piece about inclusivity and unity; and, above all, it's a piece about joy.
When I first arrived, everyone asked me about my goals for the BSO. I wanted to focus on improving the orchestra's artistic and technical excellence, touring to Carnegie Hall regularly, taking the orchestra to major international venues and building audiences and awareness. But my genuine answer was: "I want to create a culture of joy around the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra."
Joy, for me, is connecting. Music, for me, is connecting. This has been my primary goal as the leader of this great orchestra: create joyful connections.
Connecting to the younger community was also very important to me. We started Orchkids, an intensive after school music program founded in West Baltimore. Beginning with 30 first graders in 2008, we now have over 2,000 kids in West and East Baltimore playing musical instruments. These children are an inspiration to me and I am so proud of each and every one of them. What joy it brought, when they created a composition and dedicated it to me.
To connect with a broader musical community, we started the "Rusty Musicians and BSO Academy," programs to connect with non-professional musicians. By opening our doors to people who share our deep love for classical music and for whom our BSO musicians are true rock stars, we have built a community of non-professionals who love and support our efforts. Watching the BSO musicians receive the adulation they deserve and giving back so generously to these new fans has also been a source of joy.
Connecting our listeners to the "Beethovens of today" has been an important part of my mission to support contemporary music. Beethoven's music was once "new music" and it's vital to connect people to that creative process through today's composers. During my tenure, we premiered 35 new works and created a New Music Festival.
Yet another connection must be made to the people who don't feel comfortable accessing classical music. I started a series called "Off the Cuff," where I teamed up with the orchestra to dissect a piece of music and share some behind-the-scenes gossip about the composer, followed by a complete performance of the piece. Thanks to the enthusiastic reaction, this series has been a huge hit and will continue well past my tenure. Another source of great joy.
I may be leaving the BSO as its music director, but I won't be a stranger. I'll stay connected to the BSO and Baltimore for the foreseeable future returning, as music director laureate, to conduct three weeks every year, plus continue to teach at Peabody and check in for extra joy and inspiration from our amazing Orchkids!
So while I may be "starting a new chapter," the doors of the BSO and my beloved Baltimore remain wide open.
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