The Alsop Effect

Classic Arts Features   The Alsop Effect
Conductor Marin Alsop visits the New York Philharmonic to conduct works by Prokofiev, Brahms, and James MacMillan.

Marin Alsop has been called a conductor who has "a compelling vision of how she wants a piece of music to sound and the ability to draw that sound from a group of players." She calls this "being in the zone, a form of visualization where I try to feel connected to the composer." New York audiences will have the chance to experience that vision when she appears with the Philharmonic this month, during the Diamond American Conductor Week.

A protégée of Leonard Bernstein, Ms. Alsop seems to have inherited her mentor's commitment to connecting with the audience. "Every gesture communicates passion for music," said The Times of London. "She makes the audience pant to join in." Audiences and critics in Bournemouth, England, where she is principal conductor of the symphony, seem to agree, and she will soon demonstrate her leadership at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra when she takes up the reins there in 2007.

At her New York Philharmonic concerts, she will conduct a varied program comprising Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 (with Midori), Brahms's First Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic Premiere of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie (1990) by Scottish composer James MacMillan, a work inspired by the death of one of thousands of women tried, tortured, and executed for witchcraft during the Inquisition.

She describes the works, written centuries apart, as both traditional and groundbreaking, each in its own time. "Prokofiev's violin concerto has a forward-looking approach which pays tribute to the concerto form of the past but with new colors and flavors.

"James MacMillan is a fairly religious composer whose music often incorporates hymns and sacred music. He straddles two worlds by taking a traditional form but expanding it to serve his purpose in the late 20th century."

Likewise, she adds, "Brahms is a composer who had one foot in tradition and one almost in the avant-garde."

Whatever she conducts, Ms. Alsop concludes, "Great music from any era should have an emotional arrival that is almost a cathartic payoff for the listener."

Vivien Schweitzer, a freelance music writer, has written for Newsday, Gramophone, TimeOut, and the Financial Times.

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