Baltimore Makes Musical History By Choosing Female Conductor

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Marin Alsop was confirmed as the 12th music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra yesterday morning, despite widespread opposition from the orchestra's musicians. The decision will make her the first female conductor in history to assume the artistic leadership of a full-time, full-size, world-quality orchestra.

Philip D. English, chairman of the BSO board, said that Alsop's "artistic mastery, recording success and highly regarded reputation worldwide will shape an exciting future for the BSO."

In a statement read by English, the BSO said "an overwhelming majority" of the board voted in favor of Alsop, a 48-year-old New Yorker. Such votes are usually a formality after the search committee hands in its recommendation. At the conclusion of a seven-month search, Alsop received that recommendation last Wednesday.

But in an extraordinary challenge, the seven musicians who served on the search committee released a statement over the weekend asking the board to extend and broaden its search. According to the statement, "approximately 90 percent of the orchestra musicians [believed] that ending the search process now, before we are sure the best candidate has been found, would be a disservice to the patrons of the BSO and all music lovers in Maryland."

Alsop will replace Music Director Yuri Temirkanov, who has announced that he will step down at the end of the 2005-06 season. No details of Alsop's contract were available yesterday. A full news conference will be held this afternoon at Meyerhoff Hall in downtown Baltimore, the orchestra's principal venue. Alsop is expected to attend.

In addition to playing at Meyerhoff, the BSO now performs once a week during the concert season at the recently opened Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.

Yesterday's board meeting began at 8:30 a.m. at Meyerhoff, before the midsummer heat and humidity had settled in. "It's a beautiful morning and beautiful things are going to happen today," Jeffrey F. Liss, an officer of the board of directors, said as he entered the building.

Between 35 and 40 board members came to cast their votes (the exact results will be kept confidential). Board members were greeted at the door with copies of a statement from "the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra" asking once more for a continuance of the search process. "No decision is more important to the future of a symphony orchestra than the choice of a music director," it read.

While the meeting took place on one floor of Meyerhoff Hall, the musicians were rehearsing with guest conductor Hugh Wolff for an upcoming concert. At the end of the rehearsal, James Glicker, the orchestra president, and Decatur H. Miller, a life member of the board and a member of the search committee, took the stage and delivered the news to the orchestra.

The announcement was greeted with "general silence," according to Ellen Orner, a violinist in the BSO who says she's an Alsop supporter. "It was seriously taken." Musicians then filed out of the building, some of them smiling, some of them wistful, a few of them apparently fighting back tears. "We've been told not to talk," one woman whispered as she pushed through a group of reporters and photographers out into the steamy afternoon heat.

Shortly thereafter, Jane Marvine, an English horn player and chairman of the players committee that had issued the request to continue the search, read a brief statement.

"The musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are disappointed in the premature conclusion of the Music Director search process," it said. "However this will not dampen our enthusiasm and zest for music making. We will work together with Marin Alsop and every conductor to present the inspiring performances our audience has come to expect."

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