Marin Alsop to remain music director of BSO until at least 2015

06.04.09
Marin Alsop
Baltimore Sun

Marin Alsop, the dynamic American conductor who became the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 12th music director in September 2007, will remain in that post until 2015 under the terms of a five-year contract announced Thursday. That contract will begin when her initial three-year deal ends in September 2010.

"I'm very, very happy about it," Alsop said.

So is the orchestra. News of the contract "was greeted warmly," said Laurie Sokoloff, head of the players committee.

Although Alsop's appointment as music director famously triggered opposition from BSO musicians, displeased with the orchestra's previous management and the way the search was conducted, that cloud dissipated quickly.

"It's been a growing relationship with Marin," Sokoloff said. "She challenges, us, she educates us, and she inspires us. Marin is a powerhouse of energy. She gets more accomplished when we're together than any music director we've worked with."

Salary terms for Alsop's new contract were not disclosed.

BSO president and CEO Paul Meecham called the contract "a statement of our belief in Marin's leadership of the organization. She is a visionary for the direction orchestras need to be headed in," he said, "if they are to have greater relevance to a broader number of people in the community."

Alsop's interest in outreach led to the creation of OrchKids, an ambitious after-school music training program launched last year at a West Baltimore elementary school. The conductor pledged $100,000 of her own money to the project in the form of a matching grant.

"It would be nice to be able to expand on educational initiatives," she said, "and not just with OrchKids, but reaching out to the adult community, too."

Alsop's other goals for the next phase of her tenure include the filling of vacancies in the orchestra that have been left open to save money, and an international tour with the BSO. A tour had been contemplated for next fall, but was postponed because of the economy.

"I'd also like to have a really successful summer series," Alsop said. "That would require risk-taking and some capital."

During Alsop's first two seasons, the orchestra has resumed making commercial CDs after a nearly decade-long hiatus. Programming has been enlivened by the inclusion of works by such contemporary composers as Philip Glass, John Adams and Thomas Ades, and a presentation last fall of Leonard Bernstein's "Mass," performed to considerable acclaim in New York and Washington, as well as Baltimore. A recording of "Mass" is due for release in August.

The public has responded strongly to Alsop, who is often greeted by loud yelps and cheers from fans when she walks onstage.

"Attendance was around 59 percent [of capacity] at Meyerhoff [Symphony Hall] before Marin arrived," Meecham said. "It went to 72 percent her first season, which was extraordinary growth. Attendance for her second season is a just little bit less, because of the economy."

Sokoloff calls Alsop "just a dream music director for these challenging times. It's wonderful to know we're going to have her on our side," Sokoloff said. The music director sounds equally positive.

"I'm happy with what we're achieved so far," Alsop said, "and I just want to keep things going."