"It was a special week," Marin Alsop said in her dressing room Saturday afternoon at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. "A very interesting and important week on all fronts. I'm very happy."
She had just completed a round of three challenging concerts - her first appearance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since July, when she was named the orchestra's next music director, effective September 2007. That appointment led to an extraordinary, public dispute between musicians and management. There was no guarantee how things would go when she returned to work with the orchestra for her next scheduled concerts.
"I felt a tremendous commitment from the musicians right from the first rehearsal," Alsop said in between sips of a Diet Coke.
"It was a relief not to get hung up on what this one says and that one says. I would say it was very cathartic to play music. We all have the same goal, to create a great artistic experience. The audience response was great, the hall was packed, and the playing was really stellar."
The atmosphere was "very relaxed" earlier in the week as rehearsals began, said Jane Marvine, head of the BSO players committee, and stayed that way.
"We had a little lunch with Marin and the whole orchestra, and we started a very nice dialogue with her," Marvine said backstage after Saturday's matinee.
"It was a wonderful week. We were all very focused on the music. We are all really looking forward to the future, and we're hoping Marin will be able to move the orchestra forward."
Alsop, who recently received a $500,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation, will conduct seven weeks next season as music director-designate. (Yuri Temirkanov steps down this summer and will become music director laureate.)
The 2007-2008 lineup has not been announced, but Alsop has let a tantalizing detail of the 2008-2009 season out of the bag - a presentation of Leonard Bernstein's brilliant, eclectic theater piece Mass. This project, expected to involve a production partner outside the area, could bring the orchestra considerable attention.
Much about the future depends on the BSO's being able to break a deficit cycle that has led to an accumulated debt of more than $10 million.
At this point, there's only "a 50-50 chance," Alsop said, that she and the BSO will record John Corigliano's Violin Concerto with Joshua Bell for Sony Classical, slated for June; the project needs more financing. A proposed multiple-record deal with the Naxos label will require concessions in nationally mandated orchestral fees.
More immediate pressure will come when BSO management and musicians negotiate a new contract; the current one expires this summer.
"I hope for their sakes they can work it out," Alsop said. "The orchestra has a long history of complicated issues. But I believe in this organization, the board and management. I've said to the musicians that I believe everybody has the same goal."
Music directors do not become involved in contract negotiations, but they invariably figure into the big picture of management-musician relations.
"I have a certain responsibility to this orchestra now," Alsop said. "My obligation, my happy obligation, is to the music, and to get the Baltimore Symphony on the map in a different way.
"I have to create an artistic vision and get everyone on board. If we all sign on to that, a lot of the other stuff may dissipate or become less polarizing."
During her time in Baltimore last week, Alsop filled nonmusical moments with meet-and-greet activity. "I even chatted with the ushers," she said.
"There is a lot of support here for this orchestra," she said. "The donors, board members, the movers and shakers are the most interesting people I've met in a long time in this role."
Concertgoers got to interact with Alsop, too, during post-performance question-and-answer sessions she shared with composer Christopher Rouse (his arresting Symphony No. 1 was on the program) and pianist Leon Fleisher (he played exquisitely crafted Mozart).
Several hundred people stayed after each concert.
During Saturday's session, Alsop drew applause when she said she would be "very supportive" of a new volunteer chorus for the BSO (the former one was controversially disbanded a few years ago) and discussed her approach to programming.
"The role of a symphony orchestra is twofold," she said. "To give you what you want, and also to challenge you. The orchestra has had a very different perspective [with Temirkanov] and before that with David Zinman. I am probably somewhat of a mix. I wouldn't get too wedded to any preconceptions you may have about me."
Alsop also gave the crowd a preview of things she'll say at this month's World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Alsop, the only classical musician on the roster, will be participating with the likes of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Elie Wiesel, artist Christo, rocker Bono, actress and U.N. Refugee Ambassador Angelina Jolie, and Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser.
"Exposure to the arts helps create great thinkers," she said. "It's incredibly short-sighted to do away with the arts [in schools]. I plan to speak to world leaders about getting people back to a rich, imaginative life."