Marin Alsop Shattered a Classic Glass Ceiling

In the world of symphony orchestras, male conductors have dominated the podium. Now there’s Marin Alsop. She hasn’t just made it big; she’s blown up the old model, staging CSI-inspired musical mysteries, joking from the podium and teaching underprivileged kids to love Beethoven

by Tamara Jones
marin alsop image
Photograph: Peter Yang

But if Alsop worries that she’s overcommitted, it hasn’t stopped her from continually finding new ways to create stronger connections between the BSO and its audience. In one ambitious 2009 move, she brought fans into the sacred fold of the symphony itself, offering up her orchestra as host to an intensive, weeklong music camp for grownups called the BSO Academy. For $1,850 each, participants get to sit with the orchestra during rehearsals, eat lunch with the musicians, attend master classes given by the players and perform with the BSO at a special concert. “There was some concern that the musicians didn’t want to be bothered with people coming in,” says Gerri Hall, a BSO subscriber and retired CEO who pulled her clarinet out of the closet, where it had been forgotten for 20 years, to join the camp. But the musicians ended up enjoying the presence of hundreds of awestruck groupies-in-residence, and many “campers” return year after year. “Marin’s on the cutting edge,” says Hall. “The fact that she’s letting some of us come along for the ride is special.”

Where the ride will take Alsop isn’t a question she agonizes over. She would rather analyze ways to build an audience for challenging contemporary composers or discuss Wagner’s loathsome personality versus his musical genius with her audience once the Valkyries have ridden off. Ask what’s next, and she raises her eyebrows, as if mulling the question. Ask what her dream life would look like, and the joy appears, that same smile the orchestra sees when the music is no longer coming from her but through her.

“Aren’t I living it now?” she asks.

Tamara Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, is a frequent contributor to More.

Next: Women Who Chipped Away at Classical Music's Glass Ceiling

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First published in the October 2013 issue

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