The BSO’s New Music Festival strikes a potent chord

As I approached Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Saturday night for the final event in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s inaugural New Music Festival, my usual skepticism kicked into high gear. I mean, really — contemporary music in Baltimore in July in a 2,400-seat hall? Please. I was bound to see one big, empty place.

Well, shut my naysaying mouth.

Whatever the reason — a decision, made by the BSO a week earlier, to scrap a $25 ticket price and make the concert free; a previously unsuspected base of folks crazy for new music; the dreadful Orioles season — a sizable crowd chose to check out the action. An enthusiastic crowd, too, one that got to experience vivid compositions and first-rate music-making.

I am sure there will be lots of analysis inside the BSO in the months ahead to determine whether a second festival can be attempted, whether it could afford free ticketing again, whether more performances could be planned, etc. (While such matters are being discussed, I’d suggest coming up with a catchier name than New Music Festival.)

One thing is sure. BSO music director Marin Alsop had a great idea and saw it through, giving Baltimore a little taste of what she presided over so successfully for 25 years in California as music director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, which packs numerous world, U.S. and regional premieres into a couple of weeks.

We might not be able to support that much new music here, but it ought to be possible to grow this venture beyond the two concerts — one chamber-sized, one orchestral — and an informal jam session at a nightspot that constituted the BSO’s first festival. The appetite has certainly been whetted.

Saturday’s intermissionless program provided a followup showcase for Agata Zubel and Kevin Puts, who were on Thursday’s lineup.

It was good to get a reprise of “The City,” the remarkably effective piece Puts created with filmmaker James Bartolomeo, premiered by…

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