Alsop, who arrived in Baltimore in 2007, remains the only woman to lead a major American orchestra. She is the first conductor to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, known as a “genius” grant, and last year she was honored with the Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which celebrates leading artists.
The announcement of her departure after 14 seasons comes at a pivotal moment for one of Maryland’s most significant cultural organizations, which continues to wrestle with long-standing financial problems. The orchestra’s administration abruptly canceled last summer’s programming as it tried to shorten the 52-week season to 40 weeks, part of an effort to address $16 million in losses over the past decade. After the musicians were locked out in June, management and the musicians agreed to a one-year contract that allowed the current season to start in September.
The orchestra performs at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore and the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, drawing about 350,000 people annually.
Alsop is in London and was not available for comment Wednesday. But in a statement, she emphasized her pride in leading the Baltimore ensemble.
“The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is one of the world’s great orchestras and I have been proud to have served as its artistic leader. I am looking forward to leading these outstanding musicians as Music Director in the upcoming season and continuing our involvement in my new position as Music Director Laureate,” she said.
Orchestra officials praised Alsop for her accomplishments as the second-longest-tenured conductor in the orchestra’s history, saying her creativity and leadership expanded its reach in the city and internationally.
Alsop’s time with the orchestra has been marked by a dedication to new music, including the commission of 35 world premieres and performances of many rarely heard works. The BSO recorded 14 albums, including the critically acclaimed Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and in 2018 undertook its first international tour in 13 years.
“That tour included the BSO’s debut performances at the Royal Albert Hall in London and at the Edinburgh International Festival,” said Peter Kjome, the BSO’s president and chief executive. “Artistic excellence has been elevated during her tenure. We consistently hear from people who have not heard the BSO that they expected it to be a great orchestra but that our musicians under Marin are exceeding their expectations.”
The orchestra will form a search committee to identify Alsop’s successor, Kjome said, and will celebrate her tenure during the 2020-21 season.
The BSO launched a working group last fall to tackle its financial problems and hired turnaround specialist Michael Kaiser, former head of the Kennedy Center, to assist. The orchestra has raised more than $8.5 million since December.
Earlier this month, the orchestra’s board adopted a five-year plan calling for increasing philanthropy and community engagement through its Symphony in the City initiative; improving patron services; and broadening its artistic offerings to include more community collaborations and crossover concerts intended to appeal to younger and more diverse audiences.
“The plan is a reflection of the fact that across the organization we are working together in ways that we haven’t for many years,” Kjome said.
The recent tumult did not influence Alsop’s decision to leave, Kjome said.
“The fact that she will continue to conduct the BSO three weeks each year for the five years says a lot about the relationship between Marin and the BSO,” he said.