My International Initiation with the Baltimore Symphony
It was big news when it was announced that the Baltimore Symphony (BSO) would be going on its first international tour in 13 years, one that would include stops at some of Europe’s most exciting classical music festivals. When I was asked to join the orchestra on this adventure, and as its newest member, I was positively thrilled. An international orchestra tour is something of a rite of passage, and I felt privileged to have the opportunity to familiarize myself—musically and personally—with the members of the BSO in advance of my first season with them.
The BSO had not toured overseas since 2005. Planned tours to Europe were cancelled twice, “because of financial concerns,” said Players Committee Co-Chair Greg Mulligan. “Our board and management believe that the good publicity generated by this tour will encourage enthusiasm and increased donations,” he added.
Over the course of nine whirlwind days, we visited three countries and performed three different programs for exuberant audiences.
We had the most time to explore the city of Edinburgh, our first and longest stop of the tour. Our hotel was perfectly situated within walking distance of both our performance venue and the biggest tourist destinations in the city. We were there to perform as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, the world’s largest arts festival, and the city was buzzing with excitement. It felt especially significant to perform our all-Bernstein program on what would have been the composer’s one-hundredth birthday.
Celebrating one of the most famous American classical musicians under the fluent direction of his former pupil, Maestra Marin Alsop, was a memorable and proud moment for the entire orchestra.
From Scotland we traveled to London, a city I had not visited since childhood. We had the privilege of performing at the biggest venue of our tour, the Royal Albert Hall, as part of the BBC Proms summer festival. With 5,200 filled seats, cameras circling around us, and purple and blue lights coloring the boisterous audience below, it felt unlike any performance I have ever been a part of. We presented a challenging and politically charged program that included one of my favorite pieces to perform: Shostakovich’s colossal Symphony No. 5. The orchestra seemed to react to the energy of our surroundings, and we played with a tremendous sense of collaboration and passion. This performance was for me the highlight of our entire trip, and I was simply in awe of my colleagues for their extraordinary efforts in this huge arena.
Following the Proms, we enjoyed a much-needed day off in London, and many spent their free time visiting popular tourist attractions. I chose to tag along with members of the oboe section, taking a train to the cozy coastal town of Worthing, West Sussex. While they visited a well-known oboe factory, I happily ventured to the nearby beach and relished the fresh air and peaceful surroundings. Back in London after our day trip, I joined some other musicians and visited the famous Globe Theatre. We took our turn sitting in the audience for a performance of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, which made for a lively and diverting evening.
Dublin was our final stop of the tour, and our experience there felt like a celebration. The orchestra seemed to breathe easier after our performance at the Proms, and traveling between cities already felt more comfortably routine. We repeated our Bernstein program, and it seemed that the orchestra played with even greater exuberance and swagger. The hall was small but packed, and I was particularly enthusiastic that evening as my parents were in the audience, visiting all the way from Moscow to hear us perform.
Nine days have never flown by faster—the tour ended with a bang, and I enjoyed every minute of it. After our day in Dublin, many musicians continued to travel in Europe, myself included. I spent three days with my family, driving through Ireland and stopping to admire ancient castles and quaint towns. I was eager to return, though, to begin my new life in Baltimore. I look forward to many more adventures with this great orchestra, shared with my new colleagues.
Note: The Author is the piccolo player in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.