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Marin Alsop in Baltimore... or Not?

Marin Alsop
Marin Alsop
As reported in the press (Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, etc.), Marin Alsop is going to be the next conductor and music director for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. It isn't terribly surprising as Baltimore was looking for an American, media-savvy maestro, and Alsop has for some time been considered one of the most attractive choices for many U.S. orchestras. I had my reservations about whether she'd get or take the job as well as whether she'd be the perfect match, were she to head the BSO. Little birds on the cultural scene, for one, have told Ionarts that the players didn't get along with Alsop very much during recent guest-conducting stints. Nor were we (Charles and I) impressed with what she had done to Brahms in a concert that was outstanding only due to Hilary Hahn and Prokofiev (read Ionarts review here).

Interestingly, the players of the BSO might have similar reservations. Or at least they have their own, different reasons for objecting. In today's Baltimore Sun (Monday, July 18th), Tim Smith reported that
[i]n an extraordinary challenge to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra board of directors, symphony musicians intensified their opposition yesterday to naming a new music director. After holding an emergency meeting over the weekend, they made public a plea for the board to delay its decision for several months.
The request for a delay is not only a strong sign and warning shot - it should effectively kill her nomination, lest there be much soul-searching and wooing of the orchestra over the next months. A sour start to a relationship between an orchestra and its leader is difficult to overcome. (There are plenty of players in Philadelphia, for one, who are still at ill ease with their Maestro Eschenbach.) Whatever the orchestra spokespeople say (Sun: "'It's not about her', Jane Marvine, head of the players committee, said in an interview, 'but about the process'."), it's a vote of no confidence in Marin Alsop, and it seems highly unlikely that Marin Alsop would want to insist, even if backed or encouraged by the management, to start her tenure with such a harbinger hanging around.

I am admittedly not much of a fan of Ms. Alsop's, although I'll readily admit that in order to get where she is - as a woman - she must have consistently given the clicheed "110%." The BSO needs someone who is a stronger leader than Ms. Alsop (musically, that is... this had nothing to do with female - male stereotypes), who can develop a distinctive tone with the BSO. The BSO could also well use someone who is a known orchestra builder (good as the BSO is, it has yet to regain advances made under David Zinman). I am not sure if at this time the "Well-Team-let's-look-at-that-D-flat-minor-triad-from-another-angle,-would-you-mind?" approach to conducting is what the ochestra needs. A more 'sturdy', confident orchestra might be better suited for Ms. Alsop. (In particular, I am thinking of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, where mutual learning between Alsop and orchestra could create something larger than the sum of the parts. With its history and recent years under the inimitable Mariss Jansons, the Pittsburgh SO would not only be a more attractive and more reputable post for Alsop, it would also mean a less fragile orchestra where her proven skills would have time to develop more firmly, yet.)

More time, at any rate, cannot hurt the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. What they really need is an excellent conductor who can bring it up to true excellence while building an audience for his product in more ingenious ways than 'meet the players' performances. Whether that be Roberto Abbado or a David Zinman clone (I wish there was one ready at NIH) or someone else yet, I do not know. But media marketability is not, and cannot, be the sole determining factor in the choice for Yuri Temirkanov's successor.

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