Alsop's staff initially thought she was a little crazy. Major international orchestras work hard to be the best at what they do and be admired by their audiences, not mingle with them. Would amateurs be good enough to play with professionals? Would anybody be interested in such a scheme? The answer to the second question rapidly became clear. "Within 24 hours," Alsop said, "we had 400 people sign up."
What resulted was part orchestral concert, part exercise in troop movements for the BSO staff. "I want every single person to have the experience," Alsop said. But no one wanted the amateur musicians to dominate the BSO players. The solution: Alsop and orchestra members performed the same two excerpts -- the finale of the Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony and "Nimrod" from Elgar's "Enigma Variations" -- four times in a row on Tuesday night, between 6 and 10 p.m., with four different groups of "rusty" players. They will do the same thing on Thursday, with four more groups, in front of an informal audience (tickets are $10). By the end of the night, more than 400 amateur musicians will have gotten their taste of life with a professional orchestra.
Many of these amateurs, like Micozzi, are accomplished professionals -- but in different fields. The "rusty musicians" included everyone from students to retirees; from M. Jamal Foster, a Baltimore-based minister and avid percussionist who teaches church leadership around the country and played the triangle on Tuesday night, to Merle Biggin, a retired government employee who plays his tuba in four or five community ensembles. One unifying factor: They were all pretty good musicians. The level of performance "was higher than what I thought it would be," said Kristine Strecker, a French horn player.
That's because many of the musicians were, like Strecker, former music majors who thought of pursuing professional music careers before they decided, as Strecker said, "to do something a little more lucrative." Strecker's job at Black and Decker means "I can afford my hobby," she said. Since moving to the Baltimore area two years ago, she has been playing with the student orchestra at the University of Maryland's Baltimore campus.
Alsop, who tried a similar "rusty musicians" experiment when she was principal conductor in Bournemouth, England, was targeting people like these. Like all musicians, she knows plenty of people from her own student years who were highly talented but ended up doing other things for a living. As a result, the "rusty musicians" included a plethora of highly motivated professionals.