- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2001

Marin Alsop inevitably carries the label "a woman in a mans world" as one of the few female orchestra conductors in this country.
But Ms. Alsop, music director of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, definitely will be a woman in a womans world next weekend. She will direct the National Symphony Orchestras "Women in the Concert Hall" festival at the Kennedy Center.
Ms. Alsop also is principal guest conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and of the City of London Sinfonia, founder of a chamber symphony group called Concordia and the founder-leader of String Fever. This 10-piece all-woman string swing band will perform with singer Patti LuPone on Thursday, the opening night of the three-day event, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
"A festival like this can raise peoples consciousness," Ms. Alsop, 44, an avid jazz violinist, says in a telephone interview.
"Of course, you cant identify music by gender," she adds. "At the same time, because of the way society is, when a woman makes a certain gesture as conductor it is interpreted very differently from when a man makes the same gesture. These are issues Ive dealt with my person of falling into that trap. One doesnt want any kind of gesture to be associated with gender. It should be related strictly to the music."
Programs on all three days feature women as performers, composers and "creative catalysts" to highlight their contributions to the musical world. The selections to be played include some little-known works by women as well as more familiar classical and pop tunes.
Ms. Alsop will conduct all three performances in the Concert Hall. The two performances on the Millennium Stage, at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, are free.
The festivals goal is to generate what Ms. Alsop calls "further interest in exploring such matters," by putting a small but representative number of women on stage. Several men are featured, too, both as performers and composers. Robert Shafer leads the Washington Chorus at 8:30 p.m. Friday in "Voices of Light," created by Richard Einhorn for the 1928 film, "The Passion of Joan of Arc." The movie will be shown during the performance. Also featured are soprano Kelley Nassief, mezzo-soprano Ruth Cunningham, tenor Glenn Siebert and bass-baritone John Marcus Bindel.
The concluding program, at 8:30 p.m. next Saturday, features flutist Eugenia Zukerman and four seldom-heard womens compositions. The first of these, "Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman," was written by Joan Tower in 1992. Ellen Taaffe Zwilichs Symphony No. 1 is a reworking of a piece that won a Pulitzer Prize. Amy Beach, the first American woman to write a symphonic work, is represented by her "Gaelic Symphony." Miss Zukerman will perform "The Atmosphere as a Fluid System" by Libby Larsen.
The festival also is the occasion to celebrate some little-known facts about womens roles with the National Symphony, which began in 1931 with the help of Washington composer Mary Howe. Miss Howes piece, "Her Stars," was one of the first works recorded by the organization in its youth. The orchestra, which now has 35 female players, was led for the first time by a female guest conductor, the renowned Nadia Boulanger, in 1939 in a program that included music composed by Miss Boulangers sister, Lili Boulanger. The first female member of the orchestra was harpist Sylvia Meyer, hired in 1933. All candidates under consideration for the job of concertmeister with the NSO are women.
"Its a great tribute to Leonard Slatkin, who said this is an important topic and a good way to interest people in the issue and in the music," says Ms. Alsop, who explains her role as "emcee, hosting the concerts and trying to tie everything together."
"Its a special treat to include the project about Joan of Arc, because she has become such a symbol not only for feminists but also for todays anti-feminists."
The closest Ms. Alsop gets to composing, she says, is writing some jazz solos. "I leave composing to the talented others."
A graduate of Yale University and the Juilliard School of Music, she will be a guest conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra next season. She played in a jazz festival with the NSO two seasons ago, performing with pianist Billy Taylor.
"I dont believe there is any other woman conductor of a larger orchestra, at least in terms of its expense budget," says Jack McAuliffe, vice president of the American Orchestra League. "The Colorado Symphony is one of the 50 top orchestras out of a total 1,800 in the country."
The festivals theme is an unusual one, he adds, saying that it has not been done before "in this particular way."


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