I stood in the press box in October 1991 and watched dozens of men who had played for the Orioles over four decades emerge from the home-team dugout and take their old positions. The last game at Memorial Stadium had just ended and, melancholic as the moment was, I remember thinking how lucky I was to have been there for that emotional roll call of old Birds.
It was an ingeniously orchestrated farewell to baseball on 33rd Street.
Earlier that year, I had had a similar lucky-to-be-alive feeling when I sat in the Meyerhoff to hear the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra perform Mahler's enormous 8th Symphony, the "Symphony of a Thousand." David Zinman, who was the music director back then, had put the orchestra and four choruses through 13 rehearsals. At the time, it was the biggest production in the BSO's 75-year history. It's not just the enormity of the thing that sticks with me, but the perfect execution and the symphony's awesome, overwhelming beauty.
We used to call those years of classical music in Baltimore "the Zinman years." Now we're well into "the Alsop years."
Friday night at the Meyerhoff, Marin Alsop conducted the BSO in two spiritual works of her mentor, Leonard Bernstein — his Symphony No. 1 ("Jeremiah") and the Chichester Psalms — followed by Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. To say the concert was excellent probably won't mean much to you — excellent is relative, after all — so I'll put it this way: I felt lucky to have been alive to hear it, especially the Beethoven.
That concert goes into my personal registry of lucky-to-be-here Baltimore moments — Alsop and her orchestra clicking with such energy and bliss that you wished the music would never end. I mean, it was epic.
I hear people say of Alsop: "We're lucky to have her," as if only by chance did such a smart and talented conductor end up in Baltimore. But such things don't happen by luck. People work to make them happen. Alsop is here because, for one thing, the people who run the BSO are striving for excellence — and imagine that, in Baltimore.
We could shift back to sports and say the same thing about Buck Showalter, the Orioles' manager. Or Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens general manager. Or Freeman Hrabowski, the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. And there's a long list of people in our area — in business, health, the arts, academe, law, science and tech — who have planted themselves here and who always are striving to be excellent in what they do.
It's Thanksgiving week, and I thought it would be good to point some of this out. The BSO concert got me thinking about it.
I'm not trying to gloss over anything. Baltimore has plenty of problems, including a reputation for heroin and homicide.
There's a lot we'd rather forget, a lot we'd rather not think about. Baltimore has been through an epoch of drug abuse and gun violence, population loss and neighborhood abandonment. The city has been trying to claw back from a long period of decline — one step up, two steps back — and we're still not sure if there's a tipping point ahead.
But I look around and I see a lot of good happening, a lot of excellence, and a lot of surprises.
We're lucky to be here as the Station North arts area comes to life, to see young people discovering the city (and the Circulator bus), attending college in Baltimore and staying here after graduation.
I could come up with a long list of institutions (with their familiar abbreviated names) that have been in place for so long the natives take them for granted — the Peabody and the Pratt, the Walters, the BMA, Great Blacks in Wax, the Charles and the Senator. I mean: Center Stage, the Hippodrome, the Everyman, and now the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in the old Mercantile building.
Medical care and emergency medicine? Is there a better place in the country for that?
It took a long time, but we have neighborhoods that seem to have stabilized — Hampden, Canton, Federal Hill, Locust Point, Hamilton, to name a few — and some that seem to be on the verge of renaissance. I was in Highlandtown the other day, and the old retail strip looked better than it has in a long time. Have you seen the renovated houses on North Broadway or those in Barclay?
I could go on, but I realize that there's really too much to cover. I haven't mentioned a single restaurant or bar or hotel, or the tall ships, or Under Armour, or the new ice rink at the Inner Harbor, or all the tech entrepreneurs, or the farmers' markets or lemon sticks at the Flowermart. ... Please don't hold it against me if I stop here.
It's really too much, come to think of it. Come to think of it, we're luckier than we think.