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When dreams come full circle

Laura A. Ball
Special to the Daily World-renowned Marin Alsop guests conducts with the New York Philharmonic for three dates in July. Alsop recently made history when she accepted a position as conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She is the first woman appointed to conduct a major American symphony.
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From the burning flame that lights her eyes afire to the way her hair seems to stand on end as the musical current runs through her body in sharp yet fluid movements, there’s no doubt Marin Alsop is driven.

Whether it’s the London Philarmonic Orchestra or the Pittsburgh Symphony, Alsop’s drive transcends from her mere presence to provoke the orchestra to play like there’s no tomorrow.

Time slows down, she said, when she takes to the podium and she enters a trancelike state, existing moment to moment.

“I think that is a very beautifully dimension about conducting,” she said. “I’m not really aware of anything else. I just feel the music is part of my physique. It’s a little bit like character acting. Every gesture I make is music motivated.”

Patrons of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival will bear witness to the musical phenom July 21-23 when Alsop returns to the Ford Amphitheater. The last time she conducted from the stage, she led the Colorado Symphony in a smashing performance at the pinnacle of her 12-year tenure as the orchestra’s music director. This time around, the 49-year-old will be guest conducting the New York Philharmonic.

“It will be nice to go back to a place I know well,” Alsop said. “The Colorado Symphony performed there many times. And it will be nice to go with an orchestra of the caliber of the New York Philharmonic.”

Alsop is a regular guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic. As a New York native, she has a special affinity for the cast of musicians.

“I love the New York Philharmonic,” she said. “Working with them is always very special because they’re like my home team, and I think we have a shared state of mind.”

In a highly competitive field, Alsop has been able to break through as a woman, most recently making history with her appointment as Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony beginning in 2007 to 2008. She will be the first woman to head a major American orchestra, but the conductor walk a fine line between focusing attention on the matter and simply following her dreams.

“It’s a double-edged sword. It seems like a silly thing to talk about, but if I don’t talk about it I’m not helping the future generations very much,” Alsop said. “It’s similar in a way to when Katie Couric was appointed the news. It seemed to me, and I think she would agree, gender is a silly reason to get notoriety, and yet there can still be firsts for women in the 21st century. We have to stand up and talk about it for a little bit, but ultimately, it has to do with conducting.”

She credits much of her success to the fact that she doesn’t think about her gender very much. If she has encountered hurdles because of it, she has used it propel her rather than victimize herself and she helps propel other women conductors, too.

In 2002, Alsop founded a fellowship for women conductors called the Taki Concordia Fellowship. “Every year one exceptionally talented woman is selected to work with me at my orchestras,” she said. “If I can inspire women and give them confidence to pursue their dreams, that would make me very happy.”

The 49-year-old’s resume began when her classical musician parents conceived her, as she says, “they could never imagine a life for their child that was not filled with music.”

As fate took its course, a two-year-old Alsop took up the piano, followed by the violin at age 5 and by the age of 7 she entered Julliard pre-college. It was one magical day in 1965 though, when Alsop was 9, that left an indelible mark in her future; her father took her to hear Leonard Bernstein conduct the New York Philharmonic. From that

moment, she knew she wanted to become a conductor and never changed her

mind.

As it would turn out, it was Bernstein that would become her mentor and her hero, and eventually help launch her career. In 1988, she won the Leonard Bernstein Conducting Fellowship to the Tanglewood Music Center where she became his pupil.

Among numerous other accomplishments and many awards, she accepted a position as principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony in 2002, and regularly appears with the London Symphony, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic brining her dreams full circle with the New York Philharmonic.

“They all feel like the dream job,” she said. “It is what you make it.”

Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached 748-2939 or laball@vaildaily.com.


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