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Taking Stock of Marin Alsop

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Fall 2007:

Joe Banno, Marin Alsop Conducts the Gala Concert (Washington Post, September 17)

Charles T. Downey, Composer in Conversation: John Adams (September 27)

Michael Lodico and Charles T. Downey, Marin Alsop Conducts the BSO Season Opener (September 30)

Charles T. Downey, John Adams, conductor (October 6)

Charles T. Downey, Tan Dun, conductor (October 15)

Tim Smith, HK Gruber, conductor (Critical Mass, October 19)

Michael Lodico, Alsop Leads Ohlsson and the BSO (October 26)

Tim Smith, Günther Herbig, conductor (Critical Mass, November 6)

Tim Smith, Arild Remmereit, conductor (Baltimore Sun, November 15)

Tim Smith, Alsop Conducts Kernis (Baltimore Sun, December 1)
Alex Ross's new piece in The New Yorker this week (Maestra, January 7) takes a look at the first half-season of Marin Alsop at the Baltimore Symphony. Alex went down to Baltimore twice to see Alsop conduct the BSO, but what he does not say is that she has actually conducted only one other program (plus the gala opening concert) all this fall (we ended up not reviewing the Kernis program but did cover the season opener and the Garrick Ohlsson program). Not that any music director conducts every week of his orchestra's schedule, but that is about half the number of National Symphony Orchestra programs conducted by Leonard Slatkin, for example. The good news is that Alsop will be on the podium much more regularly in the second half of the season, with ten programs under her baton, a much higher percentage.

True, Alsop has put her mark on the entire season, by programming so much contemporary music and by bringing so many contemporary composers to conduct their own works. To the right are links to our reviews, and for those programs we did not cover, links to newspaper reviews. Marin Alsop has been good for Baltimore, but the change she has caused has less to do with her repertoire choices (some hardly challenging living composers -- Tan Dun? Kernis? HK Gruber? Mark O'Connor? -- and a lot of Beethoven) and more to do with the breath of fresh air she brought to a stifling institution. By all reports, the musicians feel energized and excited, and she has given the BSO audience some much-need glitz and verve by bringing Baltimore some national attention.

In spite of the tepid choices so far, the dialogue with living composers has been at times brilliant, when the music is of interest. It is not that the BSO did not play John Adams before -- in fact, they played Adams as recently as 2006. The focus on the work of Adams was singular: he spoke in a public forum with Alsop, she conducted his music, and the following week he conducted his music. Musicheads like me had the chance to experience pieces live we had heard previously only on disc. What one misses in the wake of Yuri Temirkanov is a sure hand with more traditional repertoire. The rest of the season will give us a greater opportunity to judge the overall impact of Marin Alsop's tenure in Baltimore.

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg will join the BSO under Marin Alsop this weekend, playing the Shostakovich violin concerto, on January 10, 11, and 13 (Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore) and January 12 (Strathmore). Ionarts will be in attendance.

Marin Alsop has won the 2008 Theodore Thomas Award from the Conductors Guild. [Critical Mass]


Lisa Hirsch said...

I saw (and reviewed) two of last year's Cabrillo Festival concerts, and you are in for a treat when she gets going with new music. She is fantastic.

Charles T. Downey said...

I look forward to it, but not if it is Tan Dun, Mark O'Connor, and their ilk. Kaija Saariaho, Unsuk Chin, more Adams, Reich, Glass, that would be good.