Top female conductor to take baton at BSO

Marin Alsop, often guest leader, known for interpretations of American music

July 15, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Marin Alsop, the New York-born conductor known for dynamic interpretations of American music and for steadily breaking through the glass ceiling in a male-dominated field, is expected to be named music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, according to sources.

Though the public relations firm representing Alsop stated that a contract has yet to be signed, "everyone knows that the decision has been made," said one symphony insider familiar with the search process, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It's a done deal," said another BSO employee.

Alsop, 48, who led the Colorado Symphony for a dozen years and now serves as music director of the Bournemouth Symphony in England, would succeed Yuri Temirkanov, who announced in September that he will step down at the end of the 2005-2006 season, his seventh with the orchestra.

A major component

The pending appointment comes at a time when the BSO is facing an accumulated deficit of about $10 million. A new music director is viewed as a major component in addressing the orchestra's long-term financial, as well as artistic, health.

A 21-member search committee, made up of management, board members and musicians, is expected to recommend Tuesday that the BSO board of directors ratify Alsop's appointment.

"I can't confirm or deny it until it goes to the board," Laura Johnson, the BSO's vice president of public relations and community affairs, said last night. The head of the orchestra's players committee also declined to comment.

"There is no signed contract," said Jessica Lustig, managing director of the 21C Media Group, the public relations firm that represents Alsop, who was on a cruise and could not be reached for comment.

`Volatile' opinions

For the past few months, there have been indications that Alsop, long considered the leading candidate to succeed Temirkanov, might be not be the top choice of a majority of the orchestra's musicians. In May, BSO President James Glicker acknowledged that opinions in the orchestra about potential candidates were "volatile."

Stephen W. Fisher, one of the BSO's governing members and a patron of the orchestra for 40 years, said yesterday: "I have heard from a number of musicians who believe that their opinions were not fully considered in this matter and that the search should be continued."

Alsop, the most-prominent female conductor on the international music scene, has been a frequent guest on the BSO podium, most recently in March, and has drawn especially potent results in American works. She was already scheduled to lead two BSO programs next season, including the season finale.

Wit and fine music

Trained at the Juilliard School of Music, Alsop would represent a marked contrast to Temirkanov, one of the last Old World-style conductors, who spoke only through his music. In most of her appearances here, Alsop has addressed the audience, as former BSO music director David Zinman frequently did. A dry wit has been a notable feature of her stage comments.

Long talked about in the music world as likely to be appointed to a high-profile U.S. orchestra, Alsop first came to wide attention in the late 1980s, when she received several top honors, including the Leonard Bernstein Conducting Fellowship at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts.

During the 1990s, she held music director posts at the Eugene (Ore.) Symphony and Long Island Philharmonic, and was named to the Creative Conductor's Chair at the Saint Louis Symphony.

Her just-concluded association with the respected Colorado Symphony, which included music director and music director laureate titles, put her firmly in the U.S. spotlight.

Since being appointed to the Bournemouth Symphony in 2002 - the first woman to hold a top post with a major British orchestra - she has had the British press buzzing.

"Alsop is an altogether out-of-the-ordinary musician. Women conductors tend to come and go - or get pigeonholed and sidelined - but she looks as if she's here to stay," critic Hugh Canning wrote last month in London's Sunday Times.

She recently renewed her contract in Bournemouth for another two years. Though unlikely to officially step into the BSO post until the 2007-2008 season, she would, as music director designate, nonetheless have considerable influence before then.

It was with contemporary American repertoire that the BSO achieved extraordinary attention and acclaim during Zinman's tenure as music director from 1985 to 1998. Temirkanov has programmed predominantly Russian and standard European repertoire here.

Alsop has championed such composers as Leonard Bernstein (one of her most influential conducting mentors), John Adams and Philip Glass with particular flair. American works figure prominently among her recordings, and she has introduced major American pieces to audiences abroad, most recently Bernstein's controversial Mass in London.

In 1984, Alsop founded the New York-based orchestra Concordia, which showcased modern classical music and jazz. Alsop, a violinist, also had her own jazz band called String Fever.

Looking ahead

She recently discussed her future with the Denver Post. "I want to be in a place where the musicians are psyched about what they're doing," Alsop said.

"And I have a management team and a community that will back the experience and what we need to do. I don't know whether that will be in Europe or in America."

Invariably, the issue of gender follows Alsop around the globe.

"I don't give it too much thought," she told the Sunday Times. "I don't think interpretation is gender-related, and attitudes are generally changing."

Marin Alsop, conductor

Born: Oct. 16, 1956, in New York

Education: Yale University, Juilliard School of Music

Current post: Music director of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, England

Web site: www.marinalsop.com

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