Conductors You Should Know: Marin Alsop

*My last post in this series was on Gustavo Dudamel. If you’d like to read it, you can do so here.

Marin Alsop (image from the archives)

At age nine, Marin Alsop (b. 1956) saw Leonard Bernstein conduct and decided she wanted to become just like him (ABC Video Clip). Currently the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and the first woman to lead a major orchestra, Alsop is fulfilling that childhood dream. At the beginning of her appointment, the BSO musicians publicly protested her position. Today, Alsop is the public face of the orchestra.

Ms. Alsop does her best to integrate cultural diversity from her own community, such as programming works based on Baltimore’s large Latin-American population. She also integrates popular music to target audiences that would not necessarily attend her concerts, for example, by programming The Roots with her orchestra.

Alsop never stops advocating for music or for the profession.   This is the reason I admire her. Her goal is to get people from all walks of life to experience classical music while honoring her orchestra in the process.

Concerning more technical aspects:

As a conductor, Alsop gives very consistent breath preps before the beginning of every piece.  This is an example of non-verbal interaction that leads to clarity of intent – i.e. letting the orchestra know what she wants. The result is that the orchestra breathes together as a unified body. Her pattern is always present, however she often lacks a horizontal conducting plane and instead emphasizes the vertical (i.e. enhancing articulation and dynamics).

She often supplements expressive gestures with the use of her body and face, notably when she has the score in front of her and her left hand is used to turn pages. These body and facial gestures flawlessly demonstrate clarity of intent for tempo, dynamics, and style, often without using a pattern at all.  In a performance video of Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite she often raises the right-hand pattern to her chest or higher, and often cues at eye level with her left hand.

Check it out here:

I consider Alsop one of my favorite conductors, and cannot wait to see her wave that baton in person. She has a long way to go in her career, although I greatly admire what she’s already accomplished.  As the first female conductor of a major U.S. orchestra, she makes me proud!


Works Cited:

1. Alsop, Marin. Shostakovch Jazz Suite Part 1, Concertgebouw Orchestra

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2. Marin Alsop on ABC’s World News [Video], 2005

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3. Marin Alsop on NBC’s Today Show [Video], 2007.

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4. Marin Alsop at Aspen Music Festival & School [Video], 2008.

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  1. Thanks for including the more “technical” aspects. I enjoy how you break down the analyses enough for “non-technical” readers to understand and still learn something useful about the field that they didn’t know before.

    As for being the first female conductor of a major U.S. orchestra: Congrats to her, but what the heck?! This is year 2010, right …?

    1. It makes me crazy that wordpress doesn’t feel the need to tell me when people comment if they’ve done so previously.. grrr.

      And yeah – the orchestral world is still super-patriarchal. There are LOTS of other female conductors on the planet, but very few who have risen as high as she has.

  2. Very interesting post. And thank you for commenting on my post about Egypt. I am going to be writing more about music, books, the arts in due course (and other things too, from my island perspective in Jamaica!) By the way, do you know mento music? It’s having a bit of a resurgence here, and a lovely example is the excellent Jolly Boys. They have a website and are currently on a European tour. All the best.

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