Hopkins Symphony Orchestra opens season with grand tribute to its former manager

The Hopkins Symphony Orchestra opens its 2014–15 season with a free chamber concert at the Homewood campus's Interfaith Center on Sunday, Sept. 28, performing Mozart's Idomeneo and Dvořák's Czech Suite, Opus 39. The program begins, however, with a few songs in memory of one of its own. Vocalist Margot Bos Stambler was the HSO general manager from 1992 to 2000, when she died from breast cancer at age 37. Gaylin, HSO's music director, knew Stambler when they were both at the Oberlin Conservatory, and when she moved to Baltimore, she came to work with the symphony. After moving to Baltimore, she worked at both the Baltimore Opera and Planned Parenthood and then became the HSO's general manager.

"She came with a singer's class and an understanding of production the way people in opera do," Gaylin says. "And she really knew nonprofit work up and down, and really helped the orchestra out."

After she died, Gaylin says, there was a great outpouring of support and generosity from the community and orchestra to honor Stambler, which the HSO did by dedicating a piano in her name at the Interfaith Center, to be used for chamber concerts. The HSO raised money and purchased a Bösendorfer upright, and "it has been used with great pleasure and love for the past 13 years," Gaylin says.

The Interfaith Center initially had asked for a piano with a smaller floor footprint, resulting in the upright, which, though a lovely sounding piano, isn't ideal for chamber performances. The high cabinet blocks a pianist's sightlines to other performers in a small ensemble. Over the summer of 2013 Gaylin and current HSO general manager Nicoleen Willson drew up a wish list for the orchestra that included a grand piano at the Interfaith Center, and set about securing funding.

"When the opportunity presented itself to bring in a baby grand that would even better accommodate chamber music and would project even more, we jumped at it," Gaylin says. He went shopping with the Peabody Institute's Stephen Stone, coordinator of the Peabody at Homewood program, who was also in the market for new pianos. And for the 2013–14 season, the HSO had a new Yamaha baby grand for its chamber music programming, moving the upright to the Interfaith Center's social hall for rehearsals and community use.

But the orchestra never had the chance to dedicate the new piano in Stambler's memory; hence this kickoff program. Gaylin invited soprano Sarah Berger to open the afternoon with a number of songs he thought Stambler would enjoy. That Berger is also an Oberlin alumna with ties to the Johns Hopkins community—she's a Peabody alum as well, and the stepdaughter of Homewood Art Workshops photography instructor Phyllis Berger—is a subtle, tender touch.

Gaylin will accompany Berger on the piano himself, opening with a Schubert impromptu before performing Schubert's "Gretchen am Spinnrade," Brahms' "Wie Melodien," and Richard Strauss' "Morgen." "This is all very vocal, lyrical music, songs that I thought Margot would love," Gaylin says. "She was very much a romanticist through and through, absolutely interested in singing anything from Beethoven, Verdi, Strauss, Schubert, and the German repertoire. It's all such beautiful, introspective music, and I think this concert is a really wonderful way to honor someone who is still very much in the minds and hearts of many people in the community at Hopkins and who made a lasting impression on the symphony."