Explore Marin Alsop’s Historic 14-Year Tenure
Selected as Successor to Yuri Temirkanov, Becoming the First Woman to Lead a Major American Orchestra
Marin Alsop was named the next Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. “From the outset, we agreed that our next Music Director must wear many hats – some traditional and some unconventional in the symphonic world,” said Former Chairman of the Board Phil English. “We needed a superb conductor and programmer but also a dynamic leader to restore vigor to our organization. We needed an ambassador for the community and the world. We have found the right person.”
Named a MacArthur Genius
Marin Alsop was named as one of 25 MacArthur fellows, known as the “Genius Grant” in recognition of "creativity, originality, and potential," alongside an award of $500,000 – the first conductor ever to receive the distinction. “Through her musicality, her skill in making the unusual understandable, and her championing of contemporary music, Alsop defies stereotypes and offers a new model of leadership for orchestras in the U.S. and abroad,” read the MacArthur announcement.Read More: Opera News
Arrived as Music Director Designate
In January 2007, Marin arrived as the BSO’s Music Director-Designate. Her unofficial debut included a performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Richard Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony, both featuring students from the Peabody Institute as part of the school’s 150th-anniversary celebration. Marking the start of a prolific tenure for recording and digital access in over a decade, the performance was released on iTunes, where it enjoyed a run as the No. 1 classical download for a time.
Inaugural Season as BSO Music Director
In addition to reducing the cost of all seats in the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall – mezzanine to boxes – to just $25, Marin’s inaugural 2007-08 season featured all nine Beethoven symphonies alongside works by “11 living Beethovens,” such as John Adams, Tan Dun, Christopher Rouse, and Thomas Adés.
Marin handed out coffee and doughnuts to the long line of existing, former, and new subscribers on the first on-sale day. Such a commitment to accessibility would become a hallmark of her tenure.
Marin Alsop’s Carnegie Hall Debut with the BSO
Marin Alsop first performed at Carnegie Hall with the BSO on February 9, 2008, leading the orchestra in a performance of Stravinsky’s The Firebird and Steve Mackey’s Time Release with percussionist Colin Currie. Alsop would lead the BSO in a return to Carnegie Hall six times over the next eight years, with programs including Bernstein’s MASS and Kevin Puts’ The City.
Founded the BSO-Peabody Conducting Fellowship
Marin Alsop founded the BSO-Peabody Conservatory Conducting Fellowship to allow talented young conductors to gain valuable experience with a major orchestra. The BSO’s inaugural Fellow, Joseph Young, Conductor, now serves as Artistic Director for the Peabody Institute, Resident Conductor for the National Youth Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and Music Director of the Berkeley Symphony.
Founded BSO OrchKids
Marin and the BSO announced a new after-school music and mentoring project, BSO OrchKids, in May 2008 – with Marin pledging $100,000 of her MacArthur Genius grant to fund the pilot. The program officially launched in September 2008 with 30 students at one elementary school in West Baltimore. Within a year of its September 2008 launch, the program was serving 150 students and featured on CBS 60 Minutes.
Second Season and Off The Cuff
Marin’s second season began with a Gala performance from acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma and was also marked by a new series that would exemplify her conversational talents and skill in demystifying classical music. Off The Cuff launched with four concerts and involved commentary from Marin, an earlier start time, and a shorter run time, creating a more approachable concert experience.
Brought Bernstein’s MASS to Carnegie Hall and Grammy Nomination
A true highlight of her second season and a celebration of the 90th birthday of her personal mentor Leonard Bernstein, Marin led the BSO in his MASS at Carnegie Hall on October 24, 2008. The Orchestra was joined by Street Chorus, Morgan State University Choir, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and Stony Brook University Marching Band. In 2009, a recording of MASS was released and subsequently heralded by critics as the definitive recording of the work. As a result of this acclaim, the recording was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Classical Album of 2009. The BSO’s discography under Marin would grow to include 14 recordings, including Bernstein’s Symphony Nos. 1, 2, and 3, “Kaddish.”
Named Musical America’s Conductor of the Year
In 2009, Marin Alsop was named Musical America’s Conductor of the Year. The Baltimore Sun’s Tim Smith wrote, “Alsop took that job believing she could make a positive difference. She delivered. In the process, she also moved to the forefront of this country’s cultural life, a welcome force of contagious optimism and change people can believe in (to borrow a phrase). The way things are going, Musical America’s Conductor of the Year could turn out to be the Conductor of the Decade, too.”
‘Music Matters: Play Your Part’ Campaign
As the BSO, along with many performing arts organizations, navigated the challenges of the 2008 recession, Marin led by example – seeding a $50,000 gift to launch the Music Matters campaign that together with the personal sacrifices of the BSO’s own musicians and staff would spark a collective $2M in private funds from the community.Read More
Contract Extended Through 2015
Her first contract extension since her September 2007 arrival, the BSO extended Marin Alsop’s original 3-year term as Music Director through 2015. On the extension, Marin shared, “I'm happy with what we're achieved so far… and I just want to keep things going."
Launched Rusty Musicians at Strathmore
Building on an initiative at her former Bournemouth Symphony home that invited amateur musicians to perform alongside the pros, Marin brought the BSO’s inaugural Rusty Musicians to The Music Center at Strathmore, dividing more than 400 hundred amateur musicians into two groups to rehearse under her baton.
Led Her First BSO-Commissioned World Premiere
Living composers and American music have achieved a new profile at the BSO under Marin’s tenure. In a prolific tenure that would include a further 34 (co-)commissions and premieres, Marin led the BSO in her first world premiere of a new BSO commission, Starburst by Baltimore composer Jonathan Leshnoff, at the Music Center at Strathmore. A review by Anne Midgette of the The Washington Post stated that “the BSO was at the top of its game all evening” under Alsop’s baton.
Conducted the Inaugural BSO Academy
Nearly 50 people from around the region joined the inaugural Academy outreach venture by the BSO, a camp for adults who wanted to take their musical interests to a different level. Marin chose two big, colorful, and demanding works for the campers and BSO players to work on during the academy: Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances and Respighi's Pines of Rome.Read More: The Baltimore Sun
Clueless about Classical Podcasts
Always a leader in an ever-changing world of media, Marin and the BSO launched the Clueless about Classical Podcasts. Hosted by Marin Alsop, these free iTunes podcasts took novice listeners behind-the-scenes with the BSO, exploring repertoire, composers, musical concepts, and orchestra life.
Led her OrchKids and BSO in Unison
In its third year, 100 OrchKids students made their BSO debuts under Marin Alsop’s baton performing the world premiere of David Rimelis’ OrchKids Nation, a piece inspired by interviews with the children. Of the performance, Marin said, “It's important for our audiences to see what we're doing with these kids. It's a musically valid extension of what the BSO does, and it's representative of our commitment to embracing every segment of our community." 20% of proceeds from single ticket sales of this performance were directed to the OrchKids program.
Led the BSO on a West Coast Tour
Marin Alsop took the BSO on its first departure from the East Coast to the West Coast, performing pieces in keeping with its theme for the 2011-12 season of saluting "Revolutionary Women." The trip included a masterclass by Marin Alsop at the University of California, Berkeley. And, in addition to the 3-day Berkeley residency, the tour’s Oregon stop represented a homecoming of sorts for Alsop, who was named to head the Eugene Symphony in 1989, her first job as a music director. She retained that post for seven years and in 1996 accepted the position of conductor laureate.
Helped the BSO Bring the WOW Factor (Women of the World Festival) to Baltimore
Expanding on her personal participation in the inaugural Women of the World (WOW) Festival at London’s Southbank Centre, Marin was instrumental in Baltimore bringing the Festival to the U.S. celebration of women and girls. The BSO’s WOW Festival featured more than 45 panels and workshops, as well as nearly 200 presenters addressing topics including human trafficking, "guerrilla knitting," and the philosophy and inspiration of food and wine across a three-day, neighborhood-wide gathering. WOW Baltimore continues to this day under the auspices of an inaugural BSO sponsor, the Institute of Notre Dame. In talking about the BSO’s WOW experience, Marin stated, “We have a strong commitment to be a resource for the community. Although it seems off mission, it is on mission."
Brought the BSO Back to Carnegie Hall for Arthur Honegger’s Infrequently Performed Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher (Joan of Arc at the Stake)
A champion of women’s stories and voices, and with no fear of intimidating productions, Marin’s adventurous leadership brought the BSO back to Carnegie Hall alongside a venerable army of musicians (the Peabody Children’s Chorus, the Morgan State University Choir, the Peabody-Hopkins Chorus, and the Concert Artists of Baltimore), which, according to The New York Times she “marshaled … in a tightly wrought performance” of the 80-minute-long piece to critical acclaim.
A Functional Fashion Partnership Fitting of Her Past
In fall 2012, Marin funded a pilot partnership with Parsons School of Design in honor of her friend and mentor Tomio Taki, a leader in the fashion industry and Parsons board member, to create new interactions between the orchestra and its audience through a reimagining of traditional concert dress. After a semester-long collaborative studio investigation of new fashions and wearable technologies, spring 2013 saw students present their initial designs – some of which remain in use by BSO musicians to this day.
Contract Extended Through 2021
The BSO announced the second extension of Marin’s contact, adding six years to her most recent deal, which was to have expired in 2015, and making her set to be the second-longest-serving music director since the BSO was founded in 1916 with a tenure of 14-years – a year less than Sergiu Comissiona (1969-84); a year more than those next in the longevity line, Gustav Strube (1917-30) and David Zinman (1985-98).
Led the BSO in a Star-Spangled Spectacular Celebration to Mark the Bicentennial of the National Anthem on PBS
Marin led the BSO as part of a live star-studded lineup hosted by actor, musician, and author John Lithgow from Pier Six Pavilion in Baltimore on PBS’ Great Performances. Marin would carry on this theme days later for her opening 2014-15 season Gala Concert showcasing quintessential American music, artists, and Maryland's musical roots, including Copland's Lincoln Portrait and Old American Songs with narration by Center Stage's visionary former Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah and the Morgan State University Choir.
Began Loan of her Family Instruments to the BSO
In 2014, Marin lost both of her parents, respective musicians themselves, in the span of 11 days. By 2015, the tones of her family’s instruments were ringing again in her ears upon her generous loans to the musicians of the BSO – including the three-centuries-old cello by the Italian luthier Carlo Antonio Testore that once belonged to her mother, Ruth Alsop, a member of chamber groups and the New York City Ballet Orchestra; and, the 1810 Nicolas Lupot violin that belonged to her father, K. Lamar Alsop, the longtime concertmaster of the City Ballet orchestra.Read More: The New York Times
Led the BSO in a Free “Concert for Peace”
The BSO proved the power and purpose of music during difficult times following the death of Freddie Gray. Days after BSO musicians and staff gathered for impromptu concerts outside the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Marin led the Orchestra alongside musicians from the Peabody Institute, the Baltimore School for the Arts, OrchKids, the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestras, and local church choirs in a free concert at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church on May 9.
Named Director of Graduate Conducting at the Peabody Institute
Succeeding mentor Gustav Meier, Marin Alsop was named Director of Graduate Conducting at the Peabody Institute, initiating conducting masterclasses with the BSO and further strengthening the connection between both organizations. Peabody Dean Fred Bronstein expressed, “At a time when Peabody is focusing increasingly on what it means to be a citizen-artist in the 21st century, there is no better practitioner than Marin Alsop as exemplified through her commitment to education, community engagement, and an innate talent for making music meaningful to so many different audiences." Photographed here is Assistant Conductor Jonathan Rush participating in a conducting masterclass on the Meyerhoff stage in 2019.
Opened the BSO’s Centennial Season
Marin’s ninth season as Music Director also marked the BSO’s Centennial anniversary – and neither disappointed! Appearances by some of the world’s most renowned artists, premieres of several new works (commissions by Christopher Rouse, Philip Glass, James Lee III, Jonathan Leshnoff, Alan Shulman, and Kevin Puts), Baltimore homecomings from local artists or artists who got their start on the BSO stage (Hillary Hahn, Leon Fleisher, André Watts, and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg), and exciting signature projects alongside a strengthening of longstanding community partnerships marked the year-long artistic celebrations. As part of the celebratory season, on February 11, 2016 – 100 years after the BSO’s debut performance – violinist Joshua Bell performed Bernstein’s Suite from West Side Story with the Orchestra.
Puts to Carnegie Hall
As part of the BSO’s Centennial Celebration, Marin Alsop and the BSO performed the world premiere of Kevin Puts’ The City, followed by a performance at Carnegie Hall. The piece is a musical portrait of Baltimore, accompanied by an original film by James Bartolomeo featuring iconic imagery from Baltimore’s past and present. The piece reflects on the unrest following Freddie Gray’s 2015 death, as well as the public expressions of optimism that followed.
Led a New Tradition to Begin a BSO Season with a “Pop-Up”
Marin Alsop and the BSO kicked off the 2016-17 season with a pop-up at Penn Station, allowing those passing by the opportunity to also conduct the BSO! This signature “Conduct Me” format became tradition, and pop-up locations have since included BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and the National Aquarium.
Led the BSO’s Inaugural New Music Festival
A 2014 Champion of New Music Award recipient from the American Composers Forum, Marin co-curated and directed the BSO’s inaugural New Music Festival in Summer 2017. A three-day festival featuring a chamber concert, a jam session between BSO players and local music groups, an orchestral concert, and a roundtable Q&A session, the festival featured works by Kevin Puts, Gity Razaz, Christopher Rouse, Malek Jandali, and three of soprano Agata Zubel’s compositions.
Took the BSO on First International Tour in 13 Years, Complete with BBC Proms Debut
In 2013, Marin was the first woman to conduct the iconic Last Night of the BBC Proms. In 2018, she returned with the BSO in tow – one of three stops on an international tour including additional appearances at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, Scotland (as part of the Edinburgh Festival) and the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland (as part of the International Concert Series). For the BBC Proms program, Marin did not disappoint – choosing a program fittingly in celebration of her mentor, Leonard Bernstein, on what would have been his 100th birthday, including his Symphony No. 2 The Age of Anxiety, featuring pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
BSO OrchKids Turned 10 Years Old
OrchKids set out in 2008 with 30 students at one school. In 2018, the program turned 10 years old and was fully immersed in the community of six schools with 1,300 students. Today, OrchKids reaches 10 schools and over 2,000 students throughout Baltimore City. The program celebrated its 10th anniversary with a concert at Baltimore War Memorial with an orchestra of nearly 250 students led by Marin Alsop.
Bernstein at 100
Honoring the 100th birthday of Marin’s personal mentor Leonard Bernstein, the world celebrated with Bernstein at 100, which included performances and events on six continents and in all 50 states. The BSO performed a program entitled To Bernstein with Love, featuring a selection of the composer’s works and showcasing the diversity and complexity of his compositions.
Celebrated “The Year of the Woman”
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women's Right to Vote, the BSO’s 2019-20 season celebrated “The Year of the Woman,” featuring exceptional women conductors (Xian Zhang, Ruth Reinhardt, Carolyn Kuan), composers (Florence Price, Chen Yi, Lotta Wennäkoski, Vivian Fung), as well as world premieres by (Anna Clyne, Reena Esmail, and Lera Auerbach), and guest artists (Yulianna Avdeeva, Olga Kern, and CeCe Winans). Here Marin is photographed with composer Lera Auerbach.
Transition to BSO Music Director Laureate and OrchKids Founder Announced
As Music Director Laureate and OrchKids Founder, Marin Alsop will continue to conduct three concert weeks in each of the next five seasons through 2025-26. She will also continue to participate in the governance of OrchKids. BSO Percussionist and Chair of the Players’ Committee Brian Prechtl said, "The musicians are proud of what we have accomplished under Marin's leadership. Her inventive and forward-looking tenure has been characterized by collaboration, inclusion, and creativity. Marin's ability to draw listeners and community into greater understanding and relationship with the music and the musicians sets a new standard across the orchestral world. We are delighted that we will continue to work together for years to come."
Loss of Mahler Symphony No. 3 and Transition to Online Content
On March 12, 2020, the BSO announced the cancellation of its performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony, scheduled for that evening. With the orchestra fully prepared to perform, the musicians of the BSO and Marin created a socially distanced performance for the first time. The video was the powerful ending of Mahler’s Third Symphony and was created by BSO Violist Colin Sorgi.
The BSO at the BBC Proms: A Gala Celebration
With the loss of the season's traditional gala to COVID-19, Marin Alsop helped bring to life the vision of a virtual gala by sharing the BSO’s BBC Proms performance with all of Maryland for free. In a production presented by MPT inclusive of a live pre-show countdown featuring Marin and special guests, the BSO celebrated: The BSO at the BBC Proms: A Gala Celebration. Through these efforts, the BSO was not only able to retain all of its Gala sponsors who graciously transferred their dollars to support this community Gala Celebration, but also reach an audience in excess of 170,000 households across and beyond Maryland - outperforming regional news and syndicated programming.
The Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship Renamed The Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship
In 2002, Marin Alsop founded the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship: an opportunity for intensive coaching, mentorship, and financial support to aspiring women conductors. In 2020, the fellowship announced a change of name to the Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship in honor of Marin Alsop. Of the recipients, Carolyn Kuan, Laura Jackson, Mei-Ann Chen, Mihaela Cesa-Goje, Alexandra Arrieche, Ruth Reinhardt, and Valentina Peleggi have made their BSO debuts. Photographed here is Marin conducting the BSO side by side with Peleggi in a performance of Roxanna Panufnik’s Across the Line of Dreams, a piece that splits the orchestra in two.
Global Ode to Joy Movement
In celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, Marin Alsop partnered with YouTube and Google Arts and Culture to create a Global Ode to Joy inspired by Beethoven’s famous “Ode to Joy.” Video submissions were collected from all over the world and raised money for Music For Relief. As an Official Partner, the BSO and Marin collaborated with Mayor Brandon Scott, Artistic Partner Wordsmith, and BSO OrchKids to share an arrangement of “Ode to Joy” that commented on racial injustice.
Made Her BSO Sessions Digital Series Debut
In the fall of 2020, the BSO announced the 30-episode docuseries BSO Sessions, shedding light on the BSO’s stories while performing powerful music by rarely heard voices in classical music. Marin Alsop made her BSO Sessions debut in an episode entitled Legacy, focusing on Marin’s journey as a conductor. Marin is slated to perform the Season 1 finale of BSO Sessions, premiering June 16.
Leads the BSO in Her Culminating Performances as Music Director
Marin Alsop's culminating performance as Music Director will be a live Gala Celebration with Renée Fleming at 8 pm on Saturday, June 19, 2021. Alsop will lead the Orchestra from the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall stage in a one-night only broadcast complete with special moments, messages, and surprises.
Marin Alsop Explains How She Fell in Love with Baltimore
“The BSO, one of only 16 full-time major orchestras in the entire United States, plays with passion, purpose, optimism and integrity. Moving to Baltimore in 2007 to accept the position of music director of the BSO, I was not surprised to find that these core qualities define not only the orchestra but the residents and the city of Baltimore itself,” said Marin Alsop.Read More: The Baltimore Sun
This Retrospective is made possible thanks to Dr. Neil Julie.