- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — Sergiu Comissiona, the Romanian-born conductor who transformed the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from a little-known ensemble into a nationally respected orchestra, died March 5 in an Oklahoma City hotel room. He was 76.

Mr. Comissiona apparently died of a heart attack hours before he was to serve as guest conductor for the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, officials said.

Mr. Comissiona, who led the BSO from 1969 to 1984, was known for the spontaneity and flair that he brought to the orchestra’s playing.

“He elevated this orchestra to a level that had never been aspired to, and he created the platform from which to build a world-class orchestra,” said John Gidwitz, former BSO president.

During his tenure in Baltimore, Mr. Comissiona laid the groundwork for the symphony to take its place among the nation’s foremost orchestras.

“They were talking world class when he was around. That had not happened before,” said Melissa Zaraya, a BSO violinist for more than three decades.

The maestro led the symphony on its first international tour — of Mexico in September 1979 — and on a tour of East Germany and West Germany in May 1981. The BSO was the first American orchestra to be invited to the renowned Dresden Music Festival in Germany, said Rheda Becker, who documented the tour for National Public Radio.

The orchestra also made its first recordings under Mr. Comissiona. He also is credited with persuading Baltimore philanthropist Joseph Meyerhoff to build the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, a $23 million concert hall that opened in September 1982.

Mr. Comissiona became dizzy Friday evening as he was conducting a rehearsal with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, said Joel Levine, music director of the philharmonic and a longtime friend of Mr. Comissiona’s. Mr. Levine dropped off Mr. Comissiona at his hotel: “He said, ‘Joel, don’t worry. You won’t be conducting tomorrow night. Would you turn out the lights, please?’ ”

A hotel worker found the conductor dead the next morning.

Mr. Comissiona was scheduled to lead a concert with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma this week in Puerto Rico, said the maestro’s niece, Jeanne Schayes.

Although he toured the world, Baltimore was where Mr. Comissiona said he felt he had been reborn as an American citizen.

“These have been the most wonderful years of my life,” he told the Baltimore Evening Sun in 1982.

He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, the former Robinne Florin; and a sister, Milly Barbalata of New York.

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