Since September 2007, Marin Alsop has been the 12th music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which is notable because she is the first woman ever to hold this position with a major American orchestra. Her tenure has been so successful that her contract has been extended through the 2020-2021 season. In 2005, she became the first conductor to ever receive a MacArthur Fellowship "genius grant."
She was born on October 16th, 1956, in New York City to parents who were professional musicians, and began studying the violin when she was a toddler. Her first exposure to sexism came when she was only nine years old, and her father took her to a Young People's Concert that was conducted Leonard Bernstein. She told her parents "That's what I want to be!" (2: An Early Sense of Direction) and they were supportive, but her violin teacher said, "Girls don't do that." Alsop's mother not only insisted that Marin could be anything she wanted to be, she even bought a box full of batons for her daughter the very next day.
Alsop earned her Master's degree in violin from Juilliard, but still dreamt of becoming a conductor (7: Magnificent Obsession). Carl Bamberger, a renowned conductor and music teacher became a mentor as did Leonard Bernstein (4: Supportive Someone), and in 1984, her orchestra (The Concordia) had it's first concert in New York's Symphony Space. When she took part in a forum on creative leadership at George Washington University, she told students, "Pound and pound and pound at the front door, and while no one's looking, just walk around the side and climb in the window. That's sort of what I did."
A great deal of controversy surrounded her selection as music director of the Baltimore Symphony because many members of the orchestra questioned her abilities (13: More Than Meets The Eye). It was a humiliating situation, but Marin insisted on meeting with the orchestra so she could tell them about her plan and vision. The musicians told her, "You have 110 percent of our support," and after her first performance with them (in September, 2007), the crowd gave her a standing ovations both before and after the orchestra's performance (8: Turning No Into Yes). She has been the music director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, California since 1992, as well as the principal conductor of the Sao Paolo State Symphony Orchestra.
Marin prides herself on "reinventing" things that are ready for change, including her maestra's jacket. She insisted that her black jacket and trousers be different than those traditionally worn by (male) conductors, and against the advice of others her suits now have "flashes of crimson silk at the collar and cuffs." She has also been criticized for choosing dissonant music that many attendees at Baltimore's Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall find irritating (5: Life is Not A Popularity Contest).
Marin has almost made a habit of taking chances. From creating CSI-inspired concerts to donating 20 percent of her MacArthur prize money to help fund Baltimore's OrchKids children's music program, to sponsoring BSO Academy, which allows fans to sit with the orchestra during rehearsals, eat lunch with the musicians, and attend master classes, she is not afraid to break barriers (11: Risk Addiction).
Marin and her partner, horn player Kristin Jurkscheit, have a ten year old son, Auden, and when asked recently what her "dream life" would look like, she answered, "Aren't I living it now?"
Looking forward to your comments...