Who is Marin Alsop?
She is an internationally acclaimed conductor of classical orchestras and the first female music director of a major U.S. orchestra, known for instituting innovative programming and increasing the number of successful women conductors. She is also openly lesbian, living with her partner Kristin Jurkscheit, whom she met at Tanglewood in 1990.
Alsop was born in New York City in 1956; she is the only child of two professional orchestral musicians, so music has already been in her DNA. Initially a young pianist she became a violinist and attended Julliard's pre-college division violin program starting at 7, and has become the only conductor to receive the MacArthur Genius Prize.
Her current primary responsibilities involve being music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra ( starting in 2007, with two contract renewals to 2021 ); music director of the Sao Paulo Orchestra; chief conductor designate of the Vienna Radio Orchestra; director of graduate conducting studies at the Peabody Institute, JHU; and the Ravinia Festival's musical curator for the Bernstein Centennial 2018 - 2019.
Windy City Times: You were brought in as music director with the Colorado Symphony 1993-2005 and helped to turn it around. Then, in 2005, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra selected you to be its next music director. Were there similarities between the challenges you encountered between the Colorado Symphony and the Baltimore Symphony?
Marin Alsop: The key is being open and receptive. It is important to recognize you can only do what your team allows you to doonly as much as your musicians are interested in participating in. In both Denver and Baltimore I have had great partners, in terms of management, board, the willingness and interest to be part of the 21st century and not always a part of the past. My success was interdependent on the largesse and willingness of all those other participants.
The fundamental philosophy for me is always the same, wherever I go, "How can we reach out and open the doors wide to our community?" I think being open and receptive to the community's needs, interests and wants is key. "How can we be a resource for our community?" Other than just sitting on our stage and playing a concert. We can't just wait for the people to come, it is not going to happen. We must create opportunities for more people."
WCT: Your OrchKids program in Baltimore is a great example of reaching out to the community. [Note: It's a free, after-school music education and training program in its 10th year, with more than 1,300 enrolled. )
MA: In Baltimore, there was a clear mandateat least, to me. Our orchestras must reflect onstage what people see in their neighborhood. Baltimore is over 60-percent African-American. When I started there was only one Black musician. Why is that? That led to a whole series of questions. Our orchestra must reflect the community. That is the foundation of our motivation to offer these kids the opportunities to learn music. It is much more than changing the landscape of the future, it is changing individual lives. Creating a pathway for kids to learn. We have exceeded our goals. It is a program about possibilities.
WCT: How do you feel when you are conducting? When you finish the piece?
MA: It depends on the piece, but generally I am entirely focused on what I am doing so I am not conscious of "how" I am feeling. It is about the music, not about me.
WCT: Who is your favorite composer or which specific pieces do you love to conduct? That you never tire of?
MA: There are few composers that I would ever tire of conducting I especially love conducting Mahler and Brahms.
WCT: Do you have professional goals or challenges that appeal to you?
MA: I don't have any specific goals other than to try to constantly improve artistically and technically, and to expand my repertoire and abilities. I do think I have ended up in the right places. I believe a little bit that things happen for a reason.
WCT: Our readers are interested in your personal story. When did you realize that you are a lesbian?
MA: I just sort of always knew from when I was very little. My parents were very open-minded and supportive. I was an only child. It was never an issue. Everyone suffers from the challenges of feeling different, feeling like an outsider. I never felt it was a big issue, no big drama. It always felt natural to me. Even though for society at the time it was not considered natural by older generations. Things are changing. I am relieved. There is always that pendulum swinging in the opposite direction. I am very concerned about the Supreme Court rulings lately. Concerned about the future. I see with my son and his friends' attitudes that things really have changed. They are non-issues. For me I was fortunate, my parents were very accepting.
WCT: Yes, it is a confusing time. On the one hand, we are told that the millennials have no issues with LGBT, yet there is a growing vocal anti-gay populationvery reactionary and desperate.
MA: It reminds us that we have to be always vigilant about human rights. Sexual, gender, women's rights we have to make sure that we stand strong. What scares me most is that I see people I respect caving and cowering. It breaks my heart. We need strong people as leaders; we don't need cowards.
WCT: Are you and Kristin married?
MA: No. Since we have a child, there were so many hurdles to clear. We have spent a lot of time, energy and money making sure that our son Auden is protected. Securing his connection to me. All the legal requirements we put into place quite a while ago, even before he was born. In the end, the act of getting married for us might jeopardize everything we have worked so hard to put in place. We are fine.
WCT: Tell us a bit about your son, Auden, and your family life.
WCT: Auden is 14, and will be a sophomore in high school. The empty nest is starting to happen; it is exciting and a bit melancholy. He has tremendous musical interest and plays the violin but I don't think music will be his destination. He has other passions, like rock climbing.
Kristin no longer plays classical horn professionally; she got her MBA from John Hopkins and works in nonprofits devoted to issues of race and equity here in Baltimore. We have taken some big adventures as a familya safari in Tanzania, the Galapagos Islands, Brazil and to the Amazon. We are planning a special trip to Israel this year. That is a part of the world I am looking forward to finally experiencing.
Marin Alsop will conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia featuring Bernstein and others beginning Thursday, July 12, with Bernstein's Overture to Candide. Visit Ravinia.org for all the details.
Alsop will also be part of the regular CSO season, conducting a Concert Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the end of WWI on Oct. 18-20. Visit CSO.org .