'The Maestra Begins' - Marin Alsop Launches Tenure as Baltimore Symphony Music Director

Classic Arts News   'The Maestra Begins' - Marin Alsop Launches Tenure as Baltimore Symphony Music Director
Marin Alsop says she doesn't think being female has made much difference in terms of her career, but it certainly matters to the media. Two years ago, when she was appointed the next music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, she became the first woman named to such a position at any major U.S. orchestra, and the news made headlines all over the world.

"The Maestra," as the orchestra is marketing her, begins her Baltimore tenure this weekend, with a performance tonight at the Music Center at Strathmore near Washington, D.C., and three concerts beginning tomorrow at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in downtown Baltimore. Many eyes (and ears) will be watching.

Alsop is certainly using her high visibility to make a statement: the entire first half of her program is devoted to a living American composer — John Adams, whose Fearful Symmetries shares the stage with Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

Much of her programming for the entire Baltimore season follows the idea behind this week's concert: performing current music of substance alongside canonical works from the past — and, in a sense, offering the new scores as potential candidates for standard orchestral repertoire.

Her major initiative for this season is a Beethoven cycle: all nine symphonies, one per program, paired with works by 11 contemporary composers, including Adams, Tan Dun, Thomas Ads, Joan Tower, James MacMillan and HK Gruber. For example, Alsop's season-ending program, on June 22, presents Beethoven's Ninth Symphony along with Tower's Concerto for Orchestra. Except for Tower, all of the composers listed will conduct their own work during the season, as will Baltimore native Christopher Rouse.

Regarding the Beethoven cycle, Alsop stated earlier this year, "In framing the season, my goal was to give people the music they know and love in a new context. To our ears today, Beethoven represents some of the most familiar territory in the classical canon; however, among his contemporaries, his music sparked an unprecedented sense of revolution, and eventually, a long trail of imitators. The composers we have invited to join the BSO next season are, in my mind, 'today's Beethovens.'"

Another highlight of the season will be the U.S. premiere of Steven Mackey's Time Release, a concerto for marimba and orchestra written for and performed by percussionist Colin Currie. Alsop and the orchestra take this work, plus repertoire by Strauss, Debussy, and Stravinsky, to Carnegie Hall on February 9, marking the Baltimore Symphony's first visit to New York in three years.

Other noteworthy concerts under the Maestra's baton include Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 and Samuel Barber's Piano Concerto with Garrick Ohlsson as soloist, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg in Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 on a program with Dvorák's Eighth Symphony, and André Watts in Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 2.

Visiting conductors include G‹nther Herbig, Houston Symphony music director Hans Graf, music director emeritus Yuri Temirkanov, Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Carolyn Kuan.

Last season, after an eight-year hiatus, the Baltimore Symphony returned to recording: the orchestra's recording for Sony Classical of John Corigliano's Red Violin Concerto, with Joshua Bell as soloist and Alsop conducting, debuted on the Billboard classical chart two weeks ago at no. 1.

This coming season the orchestra embarks on a new project with the Naxos label to record a three-disc Dvoršk series, including Symphonies Nos. 5 through 9 and the Symphonic Variations. The recordings, to be edited from live performances at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, will be released as both CDs and online downloads.

One more notable feature of this season at the Baltimore Symphony is that the orchestra sold subscription packages at the rate of $25 per ticket. Not surprisingly, the idea was extremely popular, with 150 people lined up at the box office before it opened on the first day of sales. The Maestra visited the ticket line that morning and passed out coffee and doughnuts.

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