Marin Alsop has been working her way into the community since she took over as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2007. Now, she’s got an even firmer base from which to continue her efforts. The BSO announced today that Alsop’s contract, which was up for renewal in 2015, will be extended through the 2020-21 season.
In Baltimore, Alsop has been a dynamic presence, spearheading new programs to support tomorrow’s musicians (like OrchKids, which now reaches more than 600 inner-city elementary-schoolers) and draw in today’s eager amateurs (starting with the Rusty Musicians events that gave hundreds of players an opportunity to play side by side with the BSO). She’s an innovative programmer who’s been able to find more serious takes on the kinds of presentations often restricted to summer pops concerts: the orchestra has given live performances with movies from Chaplin’s Gold Rush to Bernstein’s West Side Story, and offered involving takes on Einhorn’s “Voices of Light” (during a season built around music relating to Joan of Arc), Bernstein’s “Mass,” and the film scores of John Williams. She’s also built up the orchestra’s recording profile with, among other things, a mini-cycle of three Dvorak symphonies.
Alsop is highly valued for her energy and involvement. She is in less demand, internationally, as a music director. For her whole career, she has had to combat stereotypes about women on the podium, and prove that she indeed deserves to be there; yet her most significant leadership to date has taken place in terms of finding ways to bring the community to the orchestra and vice versa. The Alsop era is helping to brand Baltimore as a forward-looking orchestra, on a model that many other organizations seek to follow. It has not yet branded it as a musical powerhouse, or a purveyor of breathtaking performances. It’s perhaps sobering and certainly interesting to notice that given the variety and interest Alsop brings to the job, that may not matter; and it will certainly be interesting to see how the picture will develop over another eight seasons.
Above: Reaching out to talented musicians in other fields, like the beatboxer Shodekeh, is something Marin Alsop does well.