A Conversation with Marin Alsop

by Emily Skala


ES: When I was a student at the Eastman School of Music, my friends and I would gather around a radio mid-symphonic work and try to guess the composer, the composition, the orchestra, and the conductor while we expectantly awaited the end of the broadcast to hear the announcer give us the true details. We most often were able to identify the orchestra by its signature sonority or by the solo players and their individual sounds and styles. I think it is fair to say now that fewer and fewer orchestras have a truly unique identifier in the same way that they once did. Would you say there is a characteristic quality that is quintessentially Baltimore Symphony Orchestra? One element that allows you to instantly recognize the sound of your own orchestra should you happen to hear one of our recordings on the radio as you recline on a chaise in your hotel room in Paris or Copenhagen? (Not that you ever have time to actually recline.)

MA: What always impresses me about our orchestra is its depth of sound and range of colors. By that I mean a richness and dimensionality that is sometimes missing in orchestral sound.

ES: I remember a performance of Rachmaninoff 3rd Symphony last season after which you seemed particularly happy with how everything had gone. You seemed to feel everyone had really given their all that night. Is it fair to say that occasionally you are able to feel transported or elated by making music with the BSO?

MA: What I always say is that the Baltimore Symphony is one of the most musical and committed orchestras in the world – passionate about making music and extremely sensitive in that undertaking. I am, of course, your Music Director and feel a pride that is akin to being a parent :).

ES: Yes, in fact you often share that sentiment with us, especially at times when you have been away from us for 3 or 4 weeks. You will step up on the podium at the top of your first rehearsal and take a moment before the orchestra to acknowledge your feelings of deep appreciation or to share with us how much you missed us. Would you be kind enough to repeat some of those thoughts again here in this format so that all of our readers can also know what is so special about hearing the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in concert?

MA: I sincerely and genuinely appreciate the musicians and their commitment to being in Baltimore and making great music together. I understand the sacrifices they make every day and I lament that we do not have the resources of bigger orchestras in larger cities. However, we do have great pride and great spirit – just like our city.

ES: As I alluded to in my first question, it used to be that an orchestra had its own unique personality. If you had to describe the personality of this orchestra, what would it be?

MA: The orchestra has qualities that reflect our city: hard working, tenacious, passionate, emotional, committed…

ES: Lastly, as you look ahead for the orchestra, what would you wish most for us that we might achieve under your leadership between now, 2016, the year of our 100th anniversary, and 2021, when your current contract comes to a close? What are your secret ambitions for your orchestra, your BSO?

MA: I want the orchestra to get the recognition it truly deserves. How to achieve that goal? I am hoping that we will be able to tour nationally and internationally so that the world can hear the quality of the BSO; that we will be able to make more award winning recordings. I am committed to working hard with our wonderful board of directors to continue to raise the orchestra’s profile which will result in more support for our musicians. Mostly I want our musicians to feel valued and appreciated and to enjoy what we are so privileged to do: inspire people by creating great music for our community of listeners.

ES: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, Marin. These are terrific insights for our friends, our supporters, and I hope for the musicians themselves. I do notice with the addition of so many young players to the orchestra recently that there is a lightening of the atmosphere here at work. They bring such high spirits and optimism to the orchestra. Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with us?

MA: The addition of nearly a dozen new musicians to the BSO family has brought a renewed vigor and enthusiasm to the work place. I am thrilled that the BSO has attracted so many first rate young musicians and I can already see their impact on the orchestra. I look forward to the excitement of building our orchestra to even greater artistic excellence with their fresh and varied contributions.