Classical Music

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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The Musical Ascent of Herman Being

I picked up a copy of The Musical Ascent of Herman Being recently, and this morning it seemed like a good short text to read while lounging at the pool. Ah, summer.

If you know absolutely nothing about classical music and would like a little impetus to sit down and listen to a forty-minute symphony and actually learn to like it, I’d recommend this book. If you’re so immersed in the music that you have trouble explaining the basics to a novice, it stands as a nice reminder that really, this stuff isn’t your average pop music, and no, not everyone just gets it from day one.

It’s short – less than 100 pages, and in a larger text format. I read it in less than an hour, and I’m a slow reader. So there’s no excuse. Pick it up.

The author, Robert Danziger (from CSU), takes a stab at presenting western art music to beginners, without any technical jargon. He introduces a twenty-five year old guy with no musical background who wants to learn: Herman Being. Herman consults a music guru friend of his, and through this, he is pushed up the ladder – on a musical ascent. His motivation is also driven forward as he crushes on a graduate music student (okay, it adds interest). (more…)

Score Study: Mozart’s Serenade in c minor, K. 388 (for wind octet), 1782

******NOTE: This post gets quite a bit of traffic.  If you intend to use/paraphrase any of the material, please inform me.  I strongly feel like there aren’t enough score study examples on the net, so I will continue to post my work – but NOT if I find they are being plagiarized.   I can and do check.


My current project is Mozart’s Serenade in c minor. I’m conducting it next Thursday night and have been rehearsing it with a fabulous ensemble on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Here’s a random video I found on youtube of the first movement:

Although the players in this video are lovely, I don’t agree with their tempo in this first movement. It should be played just a bit faster, otherwise the piece tends to drag.

What made Mozart compose wind music? The often-told purpose is to produce music for entertainment, and often at outdoor performances. Wind instrument frequencies can carry respectable distances, and their timbre provided a stark contrast to that of their string counterparts. In addition, they have many qualities that give them speech-like character. In other words, they can display human sentiment (regardless of whether the piece was programmatic or absolute). The octet formation and the music that was written for it became known as Harmoniemusik.

My research on the piece is based on G. Henle Verlag’s Urtext score.


Festival Brasileiro!

Well, the festival is over. I’m so glad I was able to help a bit with this, get my students involved, meet some amazing musicians, and see some great performances. I even learned how to say “Who Dat?” in Portuguese! I was able to try out a berimbou and repinique, and play in a bateria while learning some traditional rhythms! Some fest photos are below that I took with my iPhone.

In addition to samba, copoeira, and brazilian jazz pictured here, I also got to meet a Brazilian conductor (Daniel Bartholessi) and composer (Harry Crowl), and listen to some fabulous brazilian classical music as well.

My boss and our director of Choral Studies worked their butts off to bring this week-long festival together, and while some of the “behind-the-scenes” logistics were shaky, it came off smoothly, and ended successfully!

These are the folks I got to hang out with:

I wasn’t able to get photos of the amazing Copoeira presentation on Saturday night. My camera died at that point and I had to charge it between segments. It was amazing to spend the week learning all about the sparring, music, and dance that is involved in Copoeira, and then see it culminate in a legit performance.