Conductor’s Counterpunch

Photo: Courtesy of Grant Leighton

When Marin Alsop was hired by the Baltimore Symphony in July—becoming the first woman to head a major American orchestra—she also found herself amid controversy as the orchestra revolted, demanding that the net be cast wider. She’ll be in New York next month to guest-conduct the Philharmonic, and she spoke with New York.

You had a rough start—are you settling in?
I’m not sure. I certainly think we can have great success, but I have to say that I’m going to have to work hard at putting this behind me. This last month has felt like two years.

When you were hired, a statement was released saying 90 percent of the orchestra wanted the search to continue.
I’d like to figure out how they came up with this number. That’s what is so incredibly unjust. I guest-conducted in 2002, and I’ve been invited back every year. Believe me, if the musicians hadn’t felt it was a valuable experience, I never would have been on the short list. I had to think long and hard about whether I’d take the job at all, because there are a lot of challenges with this orchestra—it has a $10 million debt. So my first response was, Who needs this? But someone’s got to do it. What if the first woman appointed to a major orchestra in America can’t take the heat?

Is there a silver lining?
Are you kidding? My record company is over the moon, and my concerts are sold out. The day after the announcement, I mentioned to a cabdriver in Baltimore that I was a musician. He said that though he never went to the symphony, he had to go and see [the new conductor]. So there it is.

Marin Alsop
Conducting the New York Philharmonic, with guest artist Midori
at Avery Fisher Hall
October 14, 15, and 18.

Conductor’s Counterpunch