Third job for Marin Alsop

She’s to be Chief Conductor and Curator of Chicago’s Ravinia Festival from this summer.

She is also music director of the Baltimore Symphony and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, as well as outgoing chief in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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    • True. As Chaicgo Bound wrote: “I won’t be surprised if she gave the financially-struggling Ravinia Festival a “modest” donation in order to get this job. Now it’s also clear how her talent-less Taki Fellow got to be the new CSO Solti Conducting Apprentice. MA is working like a mafia, she will use anyone and anything in order to get her name out there (money and ruining other people’s life included). Sadly enough, art and music are the last thing on her thoughts.”

  • I support female conductors, but Marin Alsop is such a mediocre musician and conductor… As professional players, we notice exactly what a conductor is capable of hearing and how good their skills are. In Alsop’s case – she lacks some very basic musicianship skills, not to mention talent… Only American orchestras and broke European orchestras (that can’t afford hiring a real conductor) fall for this “Alsop Fashion” and decide to employ someone who built their career using a PR army and social media rather than real talent and skills.

    • I’m normally first in the queue to put the boot into a conductor. On occasion I have done so on this site, so it only seems fair to stick my head above the parapet and say that – for what it’s worth – I think Ms Alsop is perfectly decent. Perhaps she’s different with her permanent orchestras (although I would be surprised if this were the case), but on the 6 or 7 occasions that I’ve worked with her as a visiting guest conductor (with more than one orchestra, incidentally) she’s been pleasant and efficient and has produced good, sometimes very good (if maybe not always earth-shatteringly revelatory) performances. Maybe she’s not the reincarnated Carlos Kleiber, but 99.9999% of conductors on the circuit, including plenty of ‘big names’, are equally far from CK, or whoever you want to hold up as the arbitrary gold standard.

      The rep that she does well, I think she does very well indeed (Bernstein, Barber etc.), and in my experience she is far more committed to giving properly-prepared performances of new music than plenty of other conductors with similar (or greater) profiles, and this is not to be taken lightly. Again, it’s just one person’s opinion, but I did a really, really good Beethoven 7 with her, and I wish she’d do more French music because she did a terrific Daphnis and Chloe a few years ago. Maybe she’s rubbish at… oh, I don’t know… Mahler? I genuinely don’t know, but I’m sure people have strong views. It doesn’t prove anything, anyway, because I have equally strong views that, say, Simon Rattle is crap at Brahms. I am damn sure that Pierre Boulez was utterly crap at Janacek. Bernstein was quite crap at Sibelius and very crap at Elgar and Britten, whilst Neville Marriner was crap at Bernstein. Harnoncourt thought he could do Gershwin. Nelsons is pretty dodgy in anything that changes time signature more than once every ten minutes, and so on, and so on…

      Your point about the social media army is slightly off the mark, I think. I first worked with her in the early 2000s, pre-facebook (I think), definitely pre-twitter, instagram etc. She was already pretty well established and was doing good work with various orchestras.

      Anyway, all I’m saying is pick your battles. Save the more vitriolic attacks for the genuine frauds on the circuit (and there are plenty).

        • Yes, that is kind of the point I’m making. Is she the best? No (and it would be both impossible and pointless to try and work out who is). Is she the worst? Of course not.

          I am aware that both restraint and perspective are almost entirely absent from online comment sections, but is it not worth a try once in a while?

          Most of us – in fact, by definition, virtually all of us – occupy a position in our professions somewhere between ‘the best’ and ‘the worst’, however you want to attempt to define such stupidly arbitrary labels.

          So… yes. ‘Perfectly decent.’ Exactly what it means.

          • Yes, she is reasonably competent. And she has had a very reasonable career, conducting places like Baltimore and Bournemouth. And she is reasonably pleasant to work with. Really, what is wrong with that?

    • Competent? You might want to read what Pat wrote:

      “As someone who has worked extensively with Marin Alsop for many years, here are my experiences:

      Unprepared for the first rehearsal. Weak musical point of view, not clearly defined. Immature physical technique, with double bounce on each beat. Gets bored in slow, lyrical passages. Often looks like she would rather be somewhere else. Afraid or unwilling to show musical emotion to the players. Cannot conduct atmospheric mood, does not feel rubato, cannot create orchestral colors. Seldom makes musical comments in rehearsal. Lacks musical curiosity, programs the same repertoire year after year, except for modern music. When choosing modern pieces she does not consider what the audience will enjoy. Autocratic and demeaning to staff and management, they choose to work elsewhere. Condescending and negative towards players, on and off stage. Engages in nepotism. Is not truthful in her dealings with the media. Excessively political in her musical point of view. Unwilling to work collaboratively with players on committees and projects. Will always do what is best for Marin Alsop, not the orchestra. Not good at raising money. Uninspiring, cannot make an orchestra greater than the sum of its parts. I am sad for the CSO musicians. They must band together to make sure she does not make her way into Orchestra Hall.”

      • CSO musicians like working with Marin, especially when comparing to Muti’s deportment. No worries, though, about Orchestra Hall as it is Ravinia who hired Marin and not the Symphony.

  • Oh, so she finished ruining Baltimore and now she is heading to Chicago to do the same over there? There are so many talented female conductors out there, why hiring the one who can’t hear anything, can’t manage an orchestra and can’t conduct?

    • Have you actually listened to the Baltimore Symphony in recent years? They are a terrific orchestra – much more interesting IMHO than the nearby (and much better paid) NSO. Though the NSO is getting more interesting with Noseda. As for Baltimore’s other problems, well, that’s more than any one person can take credit/blame for.

      I have no idea what Alsop is like to work with but I’ve quite enjoyed any number of programs I’ve seen her lead.

      In any case, I doubt she’ll do any harm to the CSO; certainly not at Ravinia.

      • “In any case, I doubt she’ll do any harm to the CSO; certainly not at Ravinia.”

        I don’t know what more harm could possibly be done to the CSO at Ravinia than what Welz Kauffman has already done.

    • The problem in Baltimore is a money problem, not an artistic problem. There are some people in the Baltimore area that might prefer a different approach to Alsop’s, but the majority of their developing audience is going there to hear Beethoven or Mahler and aren’t splitting hairs over the conductors (yet). You just have to look at every other recent case – Minnesota, Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago, etc. – it’s not the music directors.

  • I won’t be surprised if she gave the financially-struggling Ravinia Festival a “modest” donation in order to get this job. Now it’s also clear how her talent-less Taki Fellow got to be the new CSO Solti Conducting Apprentice. MA is working like a mafia, she will use anyone and anything in order to get her name out there (money and ruining other people’s life included). Sadly enough, art and music are the last thing on her thoughts.

    • ok, fist of all I don’t understand all the trolls hating on Marin here. Having worked with her many times, I think she is a good choice for this role at Ravinia. SECONDLY, Ravinia is NOT AT ALL financially struggling! The only reason the current CEO has held his position for so long is because he turned it from a not for profit festival centered around the Chicago Symphony into a pop music festival that generates tons of money, and the CSO is basically only there as a pops orchestra to accompany movies and play a few classical concerts every summer. The board didn’t mind, because it made their jobs easy – they don’t have to raise or donate much money when its generating huge revenue selling out the park to washed up B and C list acts and charging $15 for a bad salad. Also the board is now mostly made up of either corporate reps or the children of wealthy patrons who don’t care about classical music the way their parents did. Ravinia used to have the CSO for 8 weeks with 3 different programs per week. Now it is 6 weeks, often only two programs, and a LOT of garbage movies (for example we accompanied Ghost Busters last summer, literally). I remember a few years back the final Ravinia concert was accompanying Lord of the Rings. A few days later I was at Tanglewood for the BSO’s final concert of that season performing Beethoven 9 with Haitink. Last summer we performed two great programs with Marin – Mahler 8 and Bernstein Mass, the Bernstein concert will be broadcast on PBS Great Performances this year. I hope with this new role she can bring some much needed integrity back to the Ravinia Festival’s musical mission.

      • I’m sorry to disappoint you… but Alsop and integrity are two words that just don’t fit together.
        I was actually there for that Mahler 8… It was clear that this music is way beyond Alsop’s league/understanding and my colleagues in Vienna who are now obliged to play under her agree on that.
        I wish CSO the best, but also hope you will not end up with the new Chief Conductor of Ravinia as your new music director as Muti retires. This would be a nightmare.
        And just saying – I am writing here what many orchestra musicians have been thinking for years now, but are scared to publicly say as they would be immediately accused of being chauvinists.

        • I’m not scared to say if a female conductor is bad. I think Susanna Maalki is TERRIBLE. My colleagues in LA are horrified that she was hired to be Principal Guest Conductor there, and when they all filled out a survey that showed overwhelming negative opinions of her as a conductor the management there accused them of ganging up against her. Ridiculous! The few times she has come to Chicago have been progressively worse IMO. Why does everyone think Marin is a bad person with no integrity, or who screws people over? Maybe I just don’t know the “truth” but I have never seen, experienced or even heard of that side of her until this thread. Also for the record I enjoyed Mahler 8 with her last summer, but that could have been partly from the great singers and also that Playing Mahler, even if its not the definitive performance, was an oasis among the dumpster fire that was most of the programming at Ravinia. And, finally, she is not going to be the next MD of the CSO. I can LITERALLY promise that. That is why I said that for me, this role, at Ravinia, which is a completely separate organization from the CSO, is a good one for her. 🙂

  • Sad, to think that in its hay days, Ravinia was headed by the likes of Ozawa and Levine.

    (Fine, Levine did hit on 16 year olds during his tenure at Ravinia, but you can’t have it all.)

  • I’ve noticed that Baltimore Symphony management has started leaving her name out of their releases–most notably, concerning BSO performance at the Kennedy Center REACH Festival in March. How many ways are there to interpret that?

  • To those who wonder why people are dumping on Alsop, I have this for them. With the expectations that are set by big hype and awards and PR pablum, we , those people who know what music is supposed to sound like when its excellent, expect a lot more than what she delivers. At this very late stage, she’s geriatric now, and she can indeed reliably drive an orchestra without hitting a tree. But she’s just plain shallow and drives in jerky erratic circles around the block, taking the listener nowhere.

  • Over all, the opinions are not favorable and many comments by people using aliases seem to have the authority of having worked for her in some capacity.

    As CSO Musician mentioned, the Ravinia Festival is now really a venue for pop musicians and used up Rock & Roll artists who can’t sell out the United Center. The CSO functions as the house orchestra for movies, Gershwin night, and John WIlliams whoop dee does.

    So the demands of the position may be less than in the past. Make the trains run on time, get along with the BOD, let the ED do the heavy lifting during the winter months, and attend the after concert parties and laugh at the jokes of your biggest donors.

    But it won’t matter naught to me. I stopped attending concerts many years ago and am quite content with my scotch neat sitting in front of my Internet radio where I can find a nice performance and not pay for parking or the $15 bad salads.

  • As someone who has worked extensively with Marin Alsop for many years, here are my experiences:

    Unprepared for the first rehearsal. Weak musical point of view, not clearly defined. Immature physical technique, with double bounce on each beat. Gets bored in slow, lyrical passages. Often looks like she would rather be somewhere else. Afraid or unwilling to show musical emotion to the players. Cannot conduct atmospheric mood, does not feel rubato, cannot create orchestral colors. Seldom makes musical comments in rehearsal. Lacks musical curiosity, programs the same repertoire year after year, except for modern music. When choosing modern pieces she does not consider what the audience will enjoy. Autocratic and demeaning to staff and management, they choose to work elsewhere. Condescending and negative towards players, on and off stage. Engages in nepotism. Is not truthful in her dealings with the media. Excessively political in her musical point of view. Unwilling to work collaboratively with players on committees and projects. Will always do what is best for Marin Alsop, not the orchestra. Not good at raising money. Uninspiring, cannot make an orchestra greater than the sum of its parts. I am sad for the CSO musicians. They must band together to make sure she does not make her way into Orchestra Hall.

    • THANK YOU for writing this. I couldn’t agree with you more. We have worked with her several times and those were the exact things that players were saying. It’s just sad that we, orchestra musicians can’t really say this out loud because she is considered to be some sort of a musical-feminist icon that has to be worshiped at all times, doesn’t matter if she is actually good at what she is doing…

  • It’s the ideal job for Marin. With regard to the trolls here, there’s no arguing with insanity… Don’t even try. No, Alsop’s not Honeck or Vanska, she will never be a pantheon-level conductor of established standard repertoire. But if you all want to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic while you kill the future of the music you love by judging musicians on their skill in the same 50 pieces that your great-grandparents did, all the while not leaving space for people who explore the wider world of music, that’s your prerogative but the rest of us will fight you every step of the way.

    In her twelve years in Baltimore she’s improved in 19th century repertoire vastly – just this weekend was a very fine Dvorak 7, and beginning with Mahler and the 20th century, she has always been quite capable. The more recent the music, the better she gets.

    But her greatest strength is almost the same as a Hollywood producer, she creates larger-than-life concert events that are unforgettable. I could name at least a dozen over her dozen years in Baltimore that most everybody there will take to their grave as something to remember forever.

  • She could be the next head of the CSO after Muti leaves. She’s very good and knows the institution. But they are quite conservative and will go for someone like Honneck, who is also very good.

    I could also see her taking over in a more liberal city, like the Twin Cities (Minnesota Orchestra). I doubt that she’s in the mix at the Concertgebouw because it is also quite conservative. But she’d do well there too.

    • I would be shocked if she was offered Chicago, or the Concertgebouw. She is reasonably competent (nothing wrong with that), but both those orchestras are looking for something a bit more.

  • All the comments above lead to an ineluctible conclusion: The CSO ought to leave Ravinia and start its own proprietary summer festival.

    It should be in the city of Chicago and focus on opera.

    • The CSO did some preliminary exploration of building their own facility in the Western suburbs of Chicago (Ravinia is in a Northern suburb and the facility is owned by the Ravinia Festival itself).

      I have not heard more of this initial exploration and perhaps CSO Musician can add to where that project stands.

      The Grant Park Music Festival has control of the wonderful venue at Millenium Park and I doubt there will be no support for the CSO to perform there in its place.

      So the question would be where to place a festival within the City of Chicago boundaries. There are not many locations that would suffice and fit the bill (parking, safe, accessible to public transportation, affordable, etc)

      Sir Thomas Beecham used to say that Ravinia was the only train station with it’s own professional orchestra!

      Also, the Ravinia Festival “rents” the CSO for the 6 weeks it plays at Ravinia. Leaving that arrangement means the CSO BOD would have to come up with the funds to pay the musicians should they leave the current arrangement that has close to a 100 year history.

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