Maestro, theater too fine to forget

January 29, 1997

Tim Rowland

Herald-Mail columnist

BALTIMORE - Every horn player in the world moved up a chair last weekend, when Barry Tuckwell's last buttery note of Mozart floated out over Meyerhoff Hall.

That was John Wates' way of characterizing Tuckwell's status in the realm of international horn players. First chair, all world. None better.

Wates, a member of the International Horn Society's advisory council, joined a classy group of people - PBS' Jim Lehrer, New York Times legend Johnny Apple and the extraordinary jazz pianist George Shearing - wishing Tuckwell a happy retirement in a warm, humorous and touching post-concert party overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor.


Tuckwell's closing performance, a performance he wanted to give right here in his home town, was noted prominently in all the East Coast's big newspapers. These breathy write-ups spoke glowingly of Tuckwell - and each contained a paragraph of puzzlement, noting Hagerstown's own Maryland Symphony Orchestra board declined to host Tuckwell's farewell because it would have been "too much work."

Not that I can claim any high ground myself. Now that he's retired I think about all the Tuckwell performances that I missed. How many times I simply failed to cross the street to see a legend. Of how late I was to realize what a treasure we could claim as our own.

As he retires we thank Barry Tuckwell, both for his priceless music, his help establishing and nurturing the Maryland Symphony and hopefully for serving as a wake-up call for us to appreciate what we have - even if it means putting our complacency or our egos in our pockets once in a while.

Which brings to mind another endangered treasure, The Maryland Theatre.

Last summer, after executive director Kelley Gilbert was forced out for unspecified reasons, the theater's reins were taken over by Pat Wolford.

The good thing you can say about Wolford is that she is driven. The bad thing you can say is that she often tends to drive in the wrong direction - and over anyone who disagrees with her.

The most recent fiasco involves the county Gaming Commission, which distributes gambling money to non-profits. Some on the Gaming Commission were determined to give the Maryland Theatre $15,000.

But, gaming officials say, Wolford's application wasn't in order, financial statements weren't up to date and she left the distribution meeting early, not waiting to make the theater's pitch.

Consequently, the theater got nothing. Wolford's heated and confrontational response left a very bitter taste in the gaming commissioners' mouths; the theater will be lucky to get a dime of this ready source of funding so long as Wolford is in control.

So the theater is $15,000-and-counting poorer for - for what? Pride? Ego? Control? Call it what you will, it happens far too often in this county.

It's so hard to criticize a volunteer. Wolford stood up and took on a demanding job as few would have the time and initiative to do. That's commendable. But the theater needs a professional, executive director and it's hard to see the volatile Wolford getting along with any director who has the proper qualifications - starting with a pulse, and working all the way up to having strong, independent ideas about how a theater ought to be run.

The group of lenders which hold the theater's note apparently understand this. Publicly it may sound as if the banks are being hard-hearted by not renegotiating the loan. Actually they are being smart and community minded by not renegotiating, as long as the theater is led unchecked by a person who would lose $15,000 for no good reason.

Whatever Wolford's merits, she has offended far too many people in the community to be effective. She has kept too many financial records secret, has killed too many funding sources, has failed in theater-management techniques as basic as sending out press releases and scared off too many potential contributors.

Wolford took over at a difficult time. And to my knowledge her love for the theater and her dedication is unquestioned. I'm sure she believes every action she's taken is in the best interest in the theater.

But many people in positions to know disagree. And the theater is too precious and too vital to downtown Hagerstown to take chances with. Wolford's term ends in June. No later than that, Wolford should step aside, with a nudge if necessary, to make way for an experienced, professional director.

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