A Pioneer Pilot Still Travels Solo (Released 2021) (2023)


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When Marin Alsop leaves the Baltimore Symphony after 14 years, the field takes a step back: 25 great American orchestras, no female music directors.

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A Pioneer Pilot Still Travels Solo (Released 2021) (1)
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BALTIMORE — On a warm Saturday night here, June 5, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed a small, socially distanced concert to commemorate two milestones.

It was a start: the orchestra's first performance in front of a live audience in 15 months and a long-awaited "return to what we're here for," as Marin Alsop, the ensemble's musical director, told the audience.

It was also a conclusion: the first of three farewell shows that will also end his 14-year tenure. During this time, Baltimore brought artistic success and probably the most impressive educational program of any ensemble in the country.

Despite the orchestra's financial and employment difficulties before and during the pandemic, Alsop leaves the orchestra with flying colors. But there are also reasons for despair. When she took office in 2007, she was the first music director of one of America's greatest orchestras. She was, it seemed at the time, the avatar of a new generation of women on the highest podiums; In 2002, she helped found what is now knownTaki Alsops Regency-Stipendto support future drivers.

But when she leaves this summer, the field will be back to what it was before she arrived: 25 big bands, Group 1 of the biggest ensembles in the League of American Orchestras, with no female conductors. Alsop and her Baltimore appointment are often credited as pioneers, but so far she stands alone on this particular path.

It's true: there are a growing number of outstanding female directors. "But they haven't changed upstairs," says Alsop with a touch of resignation in "The Conductor," anew documentary about herwill premiere on Monday, June 14 at the Tribeca Film Festival. “The old friends network has been around for centuries. We need to build the network of old ladies, you know, so that we can really be there for each other and support each other."


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Alsop Record - A series of commissions and recordings; ambitious tours; the founding of the innovative educational program OrchKids, all the more impressive considering how controversial his time with the Baltimore Symphony began. In 2005, when his appointment was announced, the seven players who had served on the selection committee issued a highly unusual statement, calling for the decision to be postponed.

"About 90% of the musicians in the orchestra",saying"We believe that ending the search process now, before we are sure the best candidate has been found, would be a disservice to the BSO's patrons and all music lovers in Maryland."

Although Alsop was not mentioned by name, he wasa clear rebuke.

“What should have been a moment of great joy turned into the worst nightmare of my entire life,” Alsop recalls in the new documentary.

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The problem was not with his credentials. A regular guest of major American and European orchestras, she has worked for the past two decades with engagements at institutions of ever-growing size and importance, including the Eugene Oregon Symphony, the Cabrillo California Festival of Contemporary Music, and the Colorado Symphony. When she started out in Baltimore she was also Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in England.

It is likely that part of the resistance came from theenduring fascination with the mystical master: the idea that great conductors are dominant, male, often European masters of traditional works, like Yuri Temirkanov, who had been music director of the Baltimore Symphony since 1999 and resigned at the age of nearly 70. Temirkanov delivered impressive reports on the main repertoire and colorful Russian scores, but he showed little interest in American music and had no real profile as a cultural leader in the city.

Alsop, a generation younger, seemed his less imposing opposite; maybe too casual for some; he's not really "cool". Additionally, she has been open about being a lesbian, and her relationship would be hers with Kristin Jurkscheit, a trumpeter, and hers her son Auden, on What Remains.predominantly heterosexual profession. Was homophobia a factor along with sexism?


"Who knows?" Alsop said recently during a break in rehearsals at The Juilliard School, where she was working with students in a songwriting program by Jessie Montgomery, Joan Tower and Alberto Ginastera. "I think all the phobias in the book were probably part of that."

"But," he added, "I would say it was all unconscious. I can't say it was an overtly discriminatory response." At the time, he explained, the Baltimore Symphony was having a hard time financially and the musicians felt left out.

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"I tried to interpret the reaction, although some days it was difficult," he said, "it was like the manifestation of a really dysfunctional institution." The musicians "were so mad at management; everyone was yelling at everyone. What could I do to ease your pain? I've decided that success is the best medicine."

Brian Prechtl, a percussionist with the orchestra since 2003, agreed that the opposition of the musicians to Alsop was more their frustration with the government and the feeling of being left out of a process that they considered "just screwed up", he said in an interview. Alsop was anxious to rally the troops before the start of her term and her first job as music director.it was a triumph, with a brilliant rendition of John Adams' "Fearful Symmetries" and a clear and colorful rendition of Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

Prechtl said that the musicians consistently followed Alsop's artistic vision and leadership style. "She really wants to change the orchestral world and we really enjoy being a part of that," she said.

"The rest of the world has caught up," he added. “At the moment an accounting is being carried out. Without a doubt, Marin was ahead of the curve.

A year after his arrival, Alsoporchids, a program that provides free music education, instruments, instruction, and meals to children in Baltimore public schools, preschool through high school, during and after school hours; also paidgave the projecta boost through MacArthur's $100,000 "Genie" grant he received in 2005. OrchKids started with 30 children; Today it serves approximately 2,000 students from 10 public schools, the vast majority black and Hispanic.

Many traditional institutions, long associated with wealthy whites, have outreach programs targeting underserved communities. OrchKids, Prechtl said, stands "far above the efforts of any other orchestra when it comes to making an impact on social change in Baltimore."


Born in 1956, Alsop grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the only one of two busy children.professional string players; she was drawn to the violin from an early age. At the age of 9 she had an epiphany when her father took her to one of Leonard Bernstein's youth concerts at the New York Philharmonic.

"That's what I want to be," he recalls of the new documentary.

she saidmargaret pardee, her beloved violin teacher in the prep department at the Juilliard School, about her new crush, but was told "girls can't do that." Alsop earned a bachelor's and master's degree in violin from Juilliard University. But when she auditioned, three times, for the school's prestigious directing program, she was rejected each time. (That was then. This year is Alsopthe featured speakerat Juilliard graduation, where he receives an honorary doctorate).

Alsop realized that if the established routes to a podium were off limits, he would have to take matters into his own hands. In 1981, with a group of colleagues, he formed String Fever, a small ensemble that plays string arrangements of swing classics.

Looking back, he sees the company primarily as "a discovery, like, 'Let's drop all the rules.'" -Member orchestra specializing in 20th-century American music, including jazz scores. (Taki later financed theTaki Alsops Regency-Stipend.)

A turning point came in 1988 when the 31-year-old Alsop received a conducting fellowship at the Tanglewood Music Center, where he worked closely with Leonard Bernstein; He returned the following summer to continue training. Bernstein, already her hero, became her mentor. In the summer of 1990, a few months before her death, she invited her to travel with him to Japan for the opening of the London Symphony Orchestra's Pacific Music Festival. (His eight-disc set of recordings of Bernstein's works includes some formative performances, including a theatrical yet exploratory rendition of "Mass" and a ravishing, restless symphony of "Age of Anxiety.")

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After the musicians and Alsop got over "their initial tension" in Baltimore, critic Tim Smith, reporting on his years with the Baltimore Sun Orchestra, said that the musicians and Alsop brought out the best in each other.

"I found his performances increasingly interesting and moving, full of character that I didn't always hear at the beginning," said Smith, adding that the orchestra was "definitely in better technical shape than when he arrived."

“Temirkanov was interested in the soul,” Smith said, while Alsop “was interested in the ancient fundamentals of precision and balance. He could achieve fabulous results; I have listened to great Schumann, Shostakovich".

One of the most crucial periods of his tenure came to an end: in 2019, when the orchestra's management ran into problemshome problemsIn the summer he blocked playersto try to get them to accepta contract with fewer guaranteed work weeks. also paidspeakon behalf of the musicians; A one-year contract brought the players back. Last year, when the pandemic halted performances, a new five-year deal was struck, restoring a 52-week work schedule but with significant pay cuts due to the economic fallout.


The "Marin Festival," as the Orchestra calls it, continues with a program on June 12 at the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, the Orchestra's second suburb, and concludes with a live-streamed gala on June 19, without an audience and with soprano Renée Fleming and the premiere of a new piece by Baltimore composer James Lee III in honor of Juneteenth, with narration by local rapper and musician known aswriter.

As an award-winning music director, Alsop will direct three exclusive shows each season; For the next three years, veteran conductor James Conlon will serve as the orchestra's artistic advisor while potential successors are considered. And he will keep his connection to OrchKids.

Naxos has just released a box set of Alsop's recording of Prokofiev's seven symphonies, recorded with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, where he was Principal Conductor from 2012 to 2019. Next month he will conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a variety of programs including:Principal Director and Curator, a new title created for her, by the Ravinia Festival. Her tenure as Chief Conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestrastarted in 2019, will continue.

She was the first woman in all three positions. This is the achievement, and also the pressure, of a pioneer.

"This was clearly a fight that had to be fought," Alsop says in the documentary. "I'm glad I had to fight, and I'm glad no one else has to fight this horrible fight."


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