Can Marin Alsop Shatter Another Glass Ceiling?

Marin Alsop’s conducting students were taking turns on the podium recently in a rehearsal room at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore. They waved their batons in front of an imaginary orchestra, practicing Stravinsky’s notoriously complex “The Rite of Spring.”

Some conductors teach in poetry: what a piece means, how a certain sound should feel. Alsop, who spent untold hours at Meyerhoff Hall during her 14 years as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a tenure that ended in 2021, teaches in technical, tangible details.

In a measure with 11 beats, she suggested using the last as a pickup to the following bar, to give the players an extra bit of clarity. She flagged trouble spots: a transition that was “usually too loud, too fast, too soon,” and a moment when the winds tend to come in just after the strings, rather than in unison.

“You’re not accompanying,” she told a rising maestro who seemed to be giving an invisible musician too much leeway. “You’re in charge.”

At 67, Alsop is, in many ways, in charge. Last month, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, conducting a new production of John Adams’s “El Niño.” Next season, she will lead the Berlin Philharmonic, perhaps the world’s pre-eminent orchestra, for the first time.

She recently recorded Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with her ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra at the storied Musikverein, an experience that brought Leonard Bernstein, one of her mentors, to mind.

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