Maestra At the Baltimore Symphony

| 1/2/2008 12:26:27 PM

The last year or so has played host to several milestones for U.S. women—in politics, of course, but also in academia, religion, and nuclear physics.

Here’s one you may have missed: This fall, Marin Alsop became the first woman to lead a major U.S. orchestra. The Baltimore City Paper has a feature, by Geoffrey Himes, on the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s transition to Alsop’s leadership and its first couple of months under her baton.

The BSO’s previous music director was Yuri Temirkanov, who is about as different from Alsop as an orchestral conductor could be. Himes explores these differences in depth, discussing the new strengths and weaknesses Alsop brings in terms of programming, rehearsal techniques, baton gestures, and communication—with only passing reference to the fact that she’s shorter than Temirkanov and wears a blouse. (The piece would be useful required reading for mainstream media reporters.)

Alsop is a great talker, and the piece is full of interesting quotes. Here’s one:

“Art has to be a reflection of the times you're living in,” Alsop insists. “All music was new music at one time. The nine Beethoven symphonies were all new and they created an uproar . . . But as the Romantic era became so bloated, people lost faith in that mode of expression and went to the other end of the spectrum—the music became all about pattern and ideas. We went through this unfortunate period when the less emotional, the less expressive, the less accessible the music was, the better it was regarded. It was the old Brussels-sprouts syndrome—if it's fun, it can't be good for you. I don't agree with that—I think art should be fun, and by that I don't mean trite.”

Steve Thorngate

Steve Thorngate_8
1/9/2008 10:58:50 AM

Good point, RJ--a lot of people do include the Met orchestra on their short lists, though I don't think I've heard many arguments for including any others. Also, while Caldwell did conduct the Met back in the 70s, I was using the word "lead" to refer more narrowly to principal conductors/music directors--so some ambiguity there.

1/8/2008 1:30:04 PM

I thought the top handful of opera orchestras qualified as "major US orchestras" In which case I would say Sarah Caldwell was the first woman to lead a major US orchestra. Anybody else agree?

1/2/2008 8:26:19 PM

Gee, I DID miss this news. Thanks for writing this up.

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