Marin Alsop: ‘We have to work for a more just playing-field for women’

Marin Alsop: ‘We have to work for a more just playing-field for women’


norman lebrecht

September 12, 2015

The Baltimore conductor has used her second Last Night of the Proms to pitch once more for greater equality in classical music. She shouldn’t have to do that. It ought to be taken for granted.

Let’s hope we never have to hear that speech again.


marin alsop Chris Christodoulou_17marin selfie


  • william osborne says:

    I would like to know what she said. Does anyone know if there is a detailed report or recording? Unfortunately, given the very small percentage of women conductors leading the better orchestras, I don’t think such speeches will be disappearing anytime soon.

  • V.Lind says:

    Are you not aware that all the Proms are carried live on BBC radio (and, I believe, television, though whether they do them all or not I do not know — and it’s irrelevant). And BBC Radio programmes are available on request for 30 days from first broadcast?

    Anyway, if you want to hear the speech, or any of the concert, which was very enjoyable, here’s the link:

    You’ll find Ms. Alsop addressing the audience very close to the end — just before Jerusalem. Jonas Kaufman does his Rule Britannia just before that. (Warmly received, but not as much as his opera arias in the first half, especially Nessun Dorma, which he nailed).

    You should navigate the radio 3 websie while you are there. lots o fun to be had.

    • william osborne says:

      The concert was 3 hours and 45 minutes long. Marin Alsop’s talk about inclusiveness begins at about 2:58:00 (2 hours and 58 minutes.) She speaks for more equality for women, to thunderous applause, but also address other forms of discrimination. For convenience, the url again:

      She also stresses that the UK government makes the Proms possible. She also notes that she conducts the Sao Paulo Orchestra and stresses the role the Brazilian government plays in supporting the arts, and especially in insuring that every child receives instruction in the arts.

      Two other things struck me about this Proms concert (as judged from the BBC broadcast.) First is the astounding quality of the BBC Symphony Orchestra which is thought of as the 5th best orchestra in London.(!) Second, is the amount of cultural nationalism that appears at times during the proceedings – almost terrifying at points. Why is Western classical music so closely associated with cultural nationalism? How do we tread the thin line between patriotism and chauvinism? Why has classical music in practice so often failed to maintain that important distinction? How do we embrace cultural nationalism when it has brought so much catastrophe and suffering to the world?

      Anyway, there is a profound irony when Ms. Alsop speaks about the inclusion of women in a concert that includes such intense expressions of patriarchy. In a way, I’m happy for the British that they feel such attachment and pride to a nation state (and fairly well deserved,) but somehow the horrors of the 20th century left me unable to have such feelings. I’m odd, I know.

      • V.Lind says:

        I thought the concert involved many nations — there was Italian, Estonian, and lots of American music among other things. The conductor was American. The piano soloist was English, but the soprano came from Australia by way of the US, and the tenor was German, as we knew from these precincts. And whatever else — the Little Englanders may not like it — a German singing Rule Britannia is in many ways an embrace of another land, once our enemy (and who would have made Britons the slaves they “never, never shall be”), a symbolic reaching out. And about as anti-nationalistic as I can think of to have a German sing that most patriotic of British songs.

        Last Night is meant to be pretty patriotic, but really only the last few numbers are of that character. Puccini, Part, Copland, Gershwin, Grieg, Shostakovich…hard for me to see that as a nationalistic lineup.

        • Malcolm james says:

          Also the words of ‘Rule Britannia’ are so absurdly OTT even in the 18th century that it is hard to believe that the writer didn’t have his tongue firmly in his cheek..

          • william osborne says:

            OTT statements of cultural nationalism and people then marching off to endless slaughter almost defines human history. In this absurdity, nothing tops the American national anthem. I wonder if there might be a correlation between the militarism of countries and the jingoism of their national anthems.

          • Matt Denerov says:

            As usual, Osborne proves himself a poorly educated imbecile. The Star-Spangled Banner depicts historical events where the US was an underdog defending its sovereignty against the world’s greatest empire.

        • william osborne says:

          Perhaps my reaction was because I didn’t know the last part of the last night is devoted to patriotism, though the intensity of the cheering still baffles me.

          Wiki describes the last night thus:

          Many people’s perception of the Proms is taken from the Last Night, although this concert is very different from the others. It usually takes place on the second Saturday in September, and is broadcast in the UK on BBC Radio 3, and on BBC2 (first half) and BBC1 (second half). The concert is traditionally in a lighter, ‘winding-down’ vein, with popular classics being followed by a series of British patriotic pieces in the second half of the concert. This sequence traditionally includes Edward Elgar’s “Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1” (to part of which “Land of Hope and Glory” is sung) and Henry Wood’s “Fantasia on British Sea Songs”, followed by Thomas Arne’s “Rule, Britannia!”. However, the “Fantasia” did not feature from 2008 to 2011,[citation needed]though “Rule, Britannia!” has retained its place in the programme in its own right. The full “Fantasia” re-appeared in 2012, but was again absent from the 2013 concert. The concert concludes with Hubert Parry’s “Jerusalem” (a setting of a poem by William Blake), and the British national anthem, in recent years in an arrangement by Benjamin Britten. The repeat of the Elgar March at the Last Night can be traced to the spontaneous audience demand for a double encore at its premiere at a 1901 Proms concert. The closing sequence of the second half became fully established in 1954 during Sargent’s tenure as chief conductor of the Proms. The Prommers have made a tradition of singing “Auld Lang Syne” after the end of the concert, but it was not included in the programme until 2015. However, when James Loughran, a Scot, conducted the Last Night concert in the late 1970s and early 1980s he included the piece as part of the programme.

          • Geoff says:

            William, if you have to look up The Last Night Of The Proms on Wiki, you are commenting on something you knew nothing about until today. Better say nothing.

          • william osborne says:

            Na, just dealing with people who think they are the center of the world and that everyone ought to know about them…

          • Judi Thomas says:

            What is wrong with having a great time and forgetting about the world for a little while.

  • Peter says:

    Did Marin get the job for the second time in 3 years because she is a woman, not because of her conducting talent? Which is as equally offensive as people not getting jobs because they are women. Equality means equality. Not go to the front of the queue even though you aren’t as good as others.

    • Heather says:

      She is absolutely qualified. I played under her in the OAE Brahms prom and can say without doubt that I learned more in that 3 day rehearsal period than I have for a very long time. It had nothing to do with her gender, just her indisputable musicianship. This sounds very much like sour grapes. She also runs a mentoring programme for women conductors- we spent some time with one of her students- the very talented Valentina Peleggi. She is putting her money where her mouth is, using her position to give other women a leg up, which is desperately needed. I’m a bass player, which was a very male dominated field. Now it’s equal. I’m learning to conduct- hopefully the same is happening there too.

      • RW2013 says:

        She is putting her money where her mouth is, using her position to give other
        women a leg up, which is desperately needed.
        Heather, this sentence made my day.

  • Una says:

    Sounds like a load of boaring men talking here … 🙂

  • Geoff says:

    We watched the Last Night of the Proms live at our local Cineplex. What I noticed most was the number of women in the BBC SO. Surely the reason that Marin Alsop appeared for the second time was that the orchestra members like her, they, including all the men too, were all smiles. We loved the Sikh in the men’s chorus with his appropriate head gear. In the front row of the prommers there seems to be a majority of males. And there were only three Brazilians waving the flag. There were many other flags but not any visible visible minorities. Marin Alsop was right.
    Has Benjamin Grosvenor played Gershwin before?
    And I agree, The Sound of Music does not fit in at the Royal Albert Hall Proms, I am sure that it went over at the other four venues.

    • william osborne says:

      Already in 2010, the BBCSO had 50% women — 45 men and 45 women. No hot air there about her not being able to conduct. She also speaks eloquently about classical music and its position in the world. PBS should give her a program along the lines of those Bernstein used to have for CBS.

  • Ppellay says:

    “It ought to be taken for granted.” Then again, maybe it’s a good thing that this isn’t the case: it means we’ll have to keep striving to make sure we eventually do get there. This is a work in progress, and likely to be so for a long time to come, as Maestra Alsop all too clearly realises.

  • Holger H. says:

    There are a lot of people in need of a more just playing field in this world. I would say about 98% of all people on this planet actually. Take your pick.

    How clever social engineering achieves, that people waste their energy fighting each other horizontally, while the actual fight should be vertical, that is one of the great mysteries of midern mankind.
    Men and women fighting each other over ideological constructs. The ultimate dream of the upper 1%, feeling secure now.

  • Rosana Martins says:

    As a Brazilian, I really wish that Ms. Alsop’s words about my country were true: “…stresses the role the Brazilian government plays in supporting the arts, and especially in insuring that every child receives instruction in the arts.” Not only is that not true, but our government provides extremely poor public schools and hospitals for the children. The government of the State of São Paulo sponsors two young people’s orchestras, but that is very far from her optimistic statement.

  • M2N2K says:

    She is a competent conductor – no more no less.

    • Blair Tindall says:

      Far more than competent. I played with the Stuttgart Ballet years ago at Lincoln Center. The German conductor had a family emergency and Marin stepped in for him to conduct Mahler 5, which she had never conducted. Not only was she perfect, it was truly an ethereal performance. Marin really has what it takes.

  • mhtetzel says:

    Alsop is chief conductor of Osesp, Sao Paulo, and her tenure started in 2012. Unfortunately what she said at the Proms that “MUSICAL EDUCATION IS MANDATORY FOR EVERY CHILD IN BRAZIL” is just not true. The wonderful atmosphere of the Last Night of the Proms must have influenced her. Wishful thinking may be and Brazilians certainly wish she were right.

    • Rosana martins says:

      I am Brazilian and live in Brazil. As I stated before, Marin Alsop is mistaken about the reality in my country. The government doesn’t even provide good public schools or hospitals for its citizens, let alone worry about their musical education. As a matter of fact, unfortunately, education and health are a complete chaos!