Alsop cements relationship with BSO, community

Music director's family will relocate to Baltimore

June 11, 2010|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

Marin Alsop, not one to do things by halves, will conduct the last concert of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's season Sunday afternoon and then plunge directly into the new, weeklong BSO Academy that will help amateur musicians get reconnected to their art by working with the pros.

Lately, the orchestra's music director has been doubly active offstage, too, planting firmer roots in Baltimore — city and county.

This season, Alsop settled into a condo she bought in a stylishly converted Mount Vernon church. More recently, she purchased a home in the Hunt Valley area that is being renovated and readied for three new occupants in September: Alsop and her partner of two decades, Kristin Jurkscheit, and their nearly 7-year-old-son, Auden.

The family's longtime principal residence has been in Denver, where Jurkscheit is associate principal horn of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra (Alsop is music director emeritus).

"It took three years for me to really feel at home in Baltimore and feel confident with my relationship with the orchestra," says Alsop. "I feel really invested and connected, and very appreciated, too, I have to say. And my family feels very welcomed here. I want to be more available for the orchestra and to be present in the community for them, to be as available locally as I can be."

Jurkscheit, who grew up in Columbia and attended Peabody Preparatory, will take a leave of absence from the Colorado Symphony; she'll likely do gigs as a substitute or extra player with the BSO and other ensembles while living here. Auden will be enrolled in private school in Baltimore.

"It's a big commitment," Alsop says. "We'll try it for a year and see if it works. Being on the East Coast is a tremendous opportunity for a kid. The canvas is so much bigger, and Auden is real curious."

The idea of settling down in Baltimore seems to animate Alsop.

"I actually like this place," she says. "It's an edgy, quirky, cool city to live in. It's warm, embracing and beautiful. And, you know, Baltimore is the epicenter. They may not have realized it yet, but Washington, Philadelphia and New York really emanate from here."

This weekend's season finale also closes the first chapter of Alsop's tenure — her initial contract as music director was for three years, beginning in September 2007. Her next contract, signed last summer, kicks in this September and will keep her on the podium through 2015.

Last June, "when [BSO board chairman] Michael Bronfein announced onstage that Marin had signed a new five-year contract, the audience reaction was extraordinary," says Laurie Sokoloff, the BSO's piccolo player and head of the players' committee. "It is obvious that Marin has connected to the audience. I think Baltimore really loves her. And it's not a PR machine that made that happen. It's her."

Bronfein seconds that. "Marin demonstrated a mission and a vision of how a great American orchestra should interact with its community," he says. "Moving here is a physical embodiment of that commitment. One thing I like about Marin is that she walks the talk. She doesn't just give things lip service."

When Alsop opened her first BSO season, it would have been hard to predict how the situation would look three years later. Back then, fallout from her appointment to the job — the orchestra had asked the BSO board of directors to extend the music director search process — lingered in the air.

"That seems like a dim memory, thank goodness," says BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham, who arrived on the scene after the controversy. Sokoloff agrees: "Personally, I think we were ready to forget about it years ago, and I think Marin feels the same way."

Although longtime BSO watchers and listeners will note that the orchestra sometimes shines in unusually compelling ways with guest conductors — Hannu Lintu and Juanjo Mena this season, for example — it's impossible to miss the consistently disciplined and expressive playing when Alsop is at the helm.

Her first three years here generated some of the BSO's greatest performances in a decade, including Leonard Bernstein's "Mass" (the recording of that daunting work was nominated for a Grammy this year) and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 9 last season.

This season added other memorable achievements, especially accounts of works by Bela Bartok and George Gershwin that found Alsop and her players tightly meshed. A just-released recording of the Gershwin program, featuring piano soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, is winning rave reviews.

"There have been some real musical highs," Sokoloff says. "I think there is a wonderful feeling of give and take when Marin works with us."

Interviewed in her Mount Vernon condo, with its striking mix of antiques and modern furniture and subtle lighting through the original stained glass windows, Alsop sounds as upbeat as ever about her historic association with the BSO — she's the first woman to serve as music director of a major American orchestra.

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