- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

Marin Alsop has logged a lot of frequent-flier miles lately. As principal conductor of Britain’s Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the music director-designate of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the American-born maestra is back briefly in the D.C. area, where she will conduct her first-ever BSO performance at the ensemble’s new Music Center at Strathmore venue on Monday.

She’ll field audience questions after the program. Then it’s back to Charm City for a press conference the following day to announce the ensemble’s 2006-2007 concert season.

“This is going to be a fantastic week,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to performing at Strathmore for the first time. Strathmore is a beautiful space, like an oasis in the middle of a big city.”

Ms. Alsop has been on a serious roll. In addition to her appointment last summer to replace departing BSO music director Yuri Temirkanov next year, she won a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship last year. She is the first conductor to be so honored, garnering praise from the MacArthur Foundation for her conducting ability, “visionary artistic programming” and “signature style.”

She also serves as music director for the prestigious Cabrillo Festival, which takes place each summer in Santa Cruz, Calif., and maintains an active recording schedule in the United Kingdom, where Evening Standard critic Stephen Pettit has declared her “one of the finest conductors on the planet.”

A New York City native, Ms. Alsop studied at Yale and was awarded her master’s degree from the Juilliard School. She began to stand out in the conducting field when she won a prize at the 1989 Leopold Stokowski International Conducting Competition before copping the Koussevitzky Conducting Prize at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Mass., later that year.

She has studied her art with the best, including Seiji Ozawa and the late Leonard Bernstein. Since then, she has conducted around the world, serving for 12 years as music director of the Colorado Symphony before her current stint in the United Kingdom.

Back in the United States, she may face a challenging future with the BSO, which, like many American orchestras, including the venerable Cleveland Orchestra, faces financial uncertainties. However, she regards such travails as a cyclical problem that mirrors business cycles in corporate America.

“This is an opportunity,” she says. “We need to ask, ‘Are we serving the public’s needs? Are our programs diversified enough?’”

She thinks orchestras need to connect to communities more closely and is convinced they need to step up their already considerable efforts with public schools — something the BSO already supports.

“Education is our moment of opportunity,” she says, charting the startling erosion of the arts curriculum in public schools over the past quarter-century. “It’s time for the arts world to step up to the plate, or we’re going to create an educational void that can never be filled.”

Known for her advocacy of contemporary composers, Ms. Alsop says she is looking forward to her gig this fall conducting the first North American performances of Nicholas Maw’s new opera, “Sophie’s Choice,” for the Washington National Opera.

The opera premiered in 2002 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. “I really like Nicholas Maw’s music, and I knew he was making revisions to the opera,” she says. “The version we will stage has significant cuts from the original, about 40 minutes.”

She notes that the British-born composer is “very close to Baltimore. He teaches at the Peabody [Institute]. His score is stunningly beautiful, in the Romantic tradition, and the company is superb. I’m very much looking forward to this.”

She also is looking forward to conducting American composer Christopher Rouse’s First Symphony for the first time at Strathmore. (It was premiered by the BSO in 1988.) Ms. Alsop finds it a “very deep and troubling work, emotionally, challenging for the audience and extremely visceral. It’s sort of his ‘anti-Heldenleben,’” she says, referring back to Richard Strauss’ heroic tone poem, “A Hero’s Life.”

“People who hear this will know it’s a great piece,” she says.

Bookending the symphony on Monday’s program will be Brahms’ “Tragic Overture” and Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony.

More contemporary works might be on tap for the BSO of the future. Modern classical music admittedly has been a mixed bag, but Baltimoreans (and Strathmoreans) should find it bracing to encounter something beyond the safe and standard repertoire.

Noting that the BSO has a “tremendous tradition of commissioning works” such as the Rouse symphony, she suggests there might be more commissions in the future, in addition to programs featuring more music by contemporary American and international composers. She also hints that John Corigliano, well-known to NSO audiences, may be in the mix next season.

Ms. Alsop hopes to get the BSO active in the recording business. She notes that “recording in America is prohibitively expensive these days, and we will have to weigh the options.” New recordings, she adds, might help redefine the orchestra’s image in the future as well as raise its profile.

WHO: Marin Alsop conducts the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

WHAT: Works of Brahms, Dvorak and Rouse; post-concert Q&A;

WHERE: Music Center at Strathmore, North Bethesda

WHEN: Monday 8 p.m.


TELEPHONE: Call 877-BSO-1444

WEB SITE: www.BSOatStrathmore.org

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