He joins recently elected Baltimore SO board chairman Michael Bronfein and conductor Marin Alsop, who begins her term as the orchestra's music director in the fall of 2007, at the helm of the talented but troubled orchestra.
Meecham succeeds James Glicker, who resigned in January of this year. Glicker left behind an orchestra facing low attendance, financial difficulties and poor morale among musicians and staff. This spring the Baltimore SO spent nearly one-third of its endowment ($27.5 million out of about $89 million) in order to pay down a $16 million accumulated debt and create a cash reserve to cover operations. The orchestra has had widely reported difficulties filling the house at Meyerhoff Hall, its main venue in downtown Baltimore; while attendance at the new Music Center at Strathmore, the orchestra's second home in the Maryland suburbs near Washington, D.C., was very healthy for the first concerts there in early 2005, administrators expanded programming there too quickly and had to cut back by the end of that year. The hiring of Alsop in 2005, which generated a lot of excitement in the US media, was greeted with a public rebellion from the musicians, while outgoing music director Yuri Temirkanov, who finished his term this past spring, cancelled a number of his final season's appearances and was widely suspected of caring less for his Baltimore band than for his other, hometown orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.
Meecham himself, a 49-year-old native of Great Britain, left the Seattle Symphony after only two years and under less than ideal conditions. There had been steady reports of a poor relationship between Meecham and the orchestra's longtime music director, Gerard Schwarz; the Seattle Symphony posted small deficits in the past two seasons after about a decade of surpluses; there had been several personnel brouhahas, including the firing of concertmaster Ilkka Talvi after 20 years and a lawsuit by section violinist Peter Kaman alleging harassment by Schwarz. Most significantly, there have been widespread reports of frustration among many SSO musicians and some board members with Schwarz's musical leadership.
Yet Meecham (who previously had successful terms in senior management with the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony) had some notable achievements in his two years in Seattle: the release of commercial recordings on the Naxos label; the launch of nationally syndicated radio broadcasts; successfully negotiating a contract with musicians; a plan to achieve financial stability by 2009 and increase the orchestra's endowment.
Alsop has now made peace with the Baltimore players, and most of the musical world is rooting for her to succeed as the first female music director of a major US orchestra. So with Meecham's arrival, perhaps things might be looking up for the Baltimore Symphony. The orchestra (www.baltimoresymphony.org) begins its 2006-07 season on September 29, with Temirkanov returning as music director laureate for two weeks of concerts to celebrate the centenary of Dmitri Shostakovich, whose music he conducts about as well as anyone alive.