Marin Alsop: Women help women conductors

Marin Alsop: Women help women conductors


norman lebrecht

January 29, 2023

In an interview with David Gajdos intended for an Austrian newspaper, Alsop is extraordinaly frank about her mentoring enterprise.

‘Out of 60 young female conductors in the Taki Alsop Fellowship we have 19 music directors now, they hire each other. Which is great!“

‘If you get in, you get 20 000 Dollars, but it is more about exposure and opportunities. You get the chance to work with me, I give workshops, also online. During lockdown some colleagues joined too, the late Bernard Haitink and Iván Fischer for example.’


  • IP says:

    If her musicianship were a mere 10% as strong as her sexism. . . Alas, it is not the case. But since they hire each other. . .

    • Angelo says:

      Why am I not surprised that the first comment here says the quiet part out loud? To right the ship after 10,000 years of male-dominated society it will take some time tacking against the wind; it just looks like favoritism because it is the opposite of the baked-in favoritism we’re all used to – which we never noticed in the first place.

      • Sue sonata form says:

        It was Alsop herself which brought gender into the discussion.

        • Angelo says:

          As opposed to what? Never saying anything at all and leaving everything the way it is?
          (By the way, Marin Alsop is a “who” not a “which”)

      • IP says:

        I am afraid you don’t understand. If I pay for a concert (and they are asking for half a grand at Salzburg), it is because I want to hear music performed at the highest standard attainable, and not because I am interested in the conductor’s sex. If you cannot see the difference between a paying audience and a political rally, then you are facing hungry years. But the good thing about hunger therapy is that it cures most diseases.

      • Tamino says:

        “To right the ship after 10,000 years of male-dominated society“

        People in their desire for simple solutions tend to think too little. This so not grasps, why over the whole time span of evolution of mankind there were existential differentiatiors which necessitated roles to be assumed. Or die.
        Only now we kind of can afford to free ourselves from much of these defining external pressures, and people say “male dominated”. As if that had been so by free will.
        And as f men had it better in the past. Had they really?

        • Angelo says:

          “Only now”? Only when? The last 20 years? 70 years post-war? 230 years (post French Revolution)? 400 years (post Enlightenment)? It’s been a long time since the hunter-gatherer days when superficial differences in physical strength played a meaningful role in determining the structure of society. Forgetting entirely about events outside the western European sphere of influence…

          • Tamino says:

            Only since people didn’t die with an average life expectancy of 40, half of children dying before the age of 5, child bearing and household being essential full time jobs?
            So for about 100 years, plus the delay needed to overcome deeply engrained archetypical predispositions?

          • Angelo says:

            So how long do you think it should take to achieve parity in representation? (By the way, the Enlightenment of 400 years ago is when we started to dispose of archetypical predispositions, e.g. The Divine Right of Kings – and Queens, it should be said)

          • IC225 says:

            “It’s been a long time since the hunter-gatherer days when superficial differences in physical strength played a meaningful role in determining the structure of society.”

            Last major war in the western world was…oh, yes, started last March. You might have seen the footage of Ukrainian women and children being evacuated to safety while the men stayed behind to fight and die in their defence.

          • Angelo says:

            Lots of women have taken up arms and are fighting for Ukraine.

  • Fred Funk says:

    And if you hear banjo music, PADDLE FASTER!!

  • Mock Mahler says:

    Classical musicians get jobs through connections? I am shocked, shocked!

  • William Osborne says:

    I finally got around to watching the film. I’m not sure how anyone could take it seriously. The era of the imperious conductor died with Celibidache, and even he was a dinosaur remnant of a bygone era.

    Today the standard model is the conductor as a sort of corporate executive, efficient overseers of an industrialized and outdated art form. For one thing, there is no longer any time to abuse musicians. Conductors jet in, run through the program a couple times with a few comments, and give some performances. GMDs are around a little more, but held in check by union contracts.

    Even with this model, women conductors have to be more congenial and collegial than men, or gendered resentments will arise.

    Speaking of Marin Alsop, I remember well the initial resistance she faced in Baltimore. Fortunately it did not last long. When a bank gave the orchestra a big grant to offer $10 tickets, she was out serving coffee and donuts in the long lines that were created. That’s the general model of the woman conductor: compassionate, caring, down to earth, and competent. If she were imperious, she would quickly be eliminated.

    JoAnn Faletta was one of the first to establish an image for women conductors–a sort of Mary Tyler Moore image that evolved for competent, emancipated women in the 1970s.

    Tar seems like a sort of revenge movie against MeToo, portraying a woman in the model of the old abusive conductors. It’s an interesting conceit to study gender norms, but has nothing to do with the actual approaches of women conductors.

    In my 50 years in music, the only imperious women colleagues I’ve seen are a few women composers, and even for them it was obviously a persona they felt they needed to act out rather than who they were. They were able to get away with it, since composers don’t have to work with a lot of people like conductors do.

    The value of the film for me, was its portrayal of the phoniness that is part of classical music, its patrons, and its marketing: the images of class and racial superiority, the quasi-feudalistic models of social order, the exclusivity that especially in the USA turns classical music into a kind of cultural country club for the wealthy. From that perspective, the film had something to say, though unfortunately that did not seem to be its intent.

    • Larry L. Lash says:

      When you speak of the 1970s, please do not forget Sarah Caldwell and Eve Queller.

      As for your observation that „the only imperious women colleagues I’ve seen are a few women composers“, you’ve obviously never taken a ballet class.

      • Sue sonata form says:

        Or at a corporate board meeting!

        Speaking of which….”Today the standard model is the conductor as a sort of corporate executive, efficient overseers of an industrialized and outdated art form.”

        Hideous. You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.

      • william osborne says:

        I was speaking of music, but yes, imperious ballet “masters” are proverbial.

      • william osborne says:

        Yes, there were a number of women earlier or contemporary with Faletta, and some very good ones, but I think she is the first woman conductor who created a marketable image of a woman conductor.

      • Michael in Europe says:

        Caldwell: that goes back to the 60‘s, or even earlier.

    • Ludwig's Van says:

      When Alsap was hired in Baltimore, the orchestra’s resistance wasn’t targeted against her, but against the management who appointed her without consulting them. The General Manager at that time, the thoroughly unqualified James Glicker, enraged the orchestra with his arrogance – with the result that Alsap prevailed and Glicker was terminated after less than 2 years on the job.

    • I beg to differ says:

      My comments do not address the film, but rather your comments about the state of classical music in general.

      It is so much easier to disparage, to tear down, than to support, to celebrate. To paraphrase a mis-quoted Mark Twain, the reports of the death of classical music are grossly exaggerated.

      Unfortunately, your last paragraph only sums up your personal disappointment with your own relationship to the institutions of classical music, and does not objectively describe a deterioration in the power and meaning of this sublime art form for many millions of people all around the world, both among it professional practitioners and its amateur devotees and listeners.

      If you truly care about classical music, please do not provide fodder for the gloom-and-doom nay-sayers, but work to preserve what is uplifting about this incomparable legacy of human creativity and communication.

      • william osborne says:

        I am a composer. As with many people in my field, we do indeed look at music critically and seek to find solutions to the problems we see. Amateurs, of course, those who simply fans, do not approach classical music in that way.

        Anyway, you need only compare the shrinking public for orchestral music over the last century, and see the stagnation of its core repertoire, to see that it is a dying art form. Orchestras won’t vanish. A small number will remain for the purposes of historical curation since the orchestra, its instruments, repertoire, and performance practices are one of the greatest achievements of the human mind.

        • That "beg to differ" guy says:

          I greatly appreciate that you acknowledge the role of orchestras in preserving some of the greatest achievements of the human mind. I was a musician in a “top-10” American orchestra for 38 years, a chamber musician and a university music professor — I was not commenting from an amateur viewpoint. However, I truly do not want to make this discussion personal.

          I can appreciate that, as a composer, your viewpoint is intensely dominated by what is “new.” I am just curious if you feel that dancing the most significant historic choreographies, performing the theater’s greatest historic masterworks, writing books about history, displaying Renaissance or Impressionistic art, exhibiting photographs of the f/64 Group, etc. are all activities that represent the “stagnation” of “dying art forms.”

          • William Osborne says:

            I haven’t seen too many new Renaissance or Impressionistic works appear of late… I don’t mean to be snide, but to illustrate that art always moves forward. When it stops, genres “die” (i.e. become historical rather than current.) The same is happening to the symphony orchestra which remained vital up to about WWII. It’s 19th century cultural nationalism, economic structures, authoritarianism, steep hierarchies, social models, and aesthetic philosophies have obviously become anachronistic on many levels. Our best chance of saving orchestras and/or building upon their legacies depends on understanding these problems and finding solutions.

            Still, if you believe symphony orchestras have a bright future, why not? Time will tell.

          • Mark Henriksen says:

            Just give it a rest. Attend some concerts or recuse yourself from the discussion as being part of the problem.

        • Tamino says:

          I believe your perspective is greatly distorted by where you live. You don’t live in a European center of classical music, but in a provincial setting in the US, correct?

          If I lived there, and hadn’t have at least sweet memories of classical music in relevant places, I might not even know it exists in the first place…

    • IC225 says:

      “In my 50 years in music, the only imperious women colleagues I’ve seen are a few women composers, and even for them it was obviously a persona they felt they needed to act out rather than who they were.”

      Lucky you. I’ve known of female agents sexually harrassing young male conductors on their list, and seen the only male member of one orchestral marketing team driven out of his job – and into something close to a nervous breakdown – by his female boss (he also happened to be the only gay member of the department). I’ve witnessed a female senior manager argue against the appointment of another woman on the grounds that “she might get pregnant”.

      I’ve only been in the music business 20 years but at least three of the most aggressive bullies I’ve encountered have been female – all senior managers. They were all adept at presenting the same sort of sophisticated, ultra-reasonable external face that was depicted so accurately in the character of Lydia Tar. Power leads to abuse. In the classical music industry that power is still overwhelmingly concentrated in male hands. But that is changing, swiftly, and the notion that a substantial minority of female leaders are any less prone to abusive behaviour is – experience shows – wishful thinking.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    “Misogynist: A man who hates women as much as they hate each other.” – H. L. Mencken

  • David Gajdos says:

    Read the full version with Bernstein stories and more here:

  • Being honest says:

    What Alsop is mentioning here is not camaraderie – its a system supporting itself. All young conductors know it – all female conductors know it.
    While Im sure many in it are genuinely friends, the righteous niceties that she uses to market it as a virtuous oasis of good intentions don’t mask the simple fact that it is its own ecosystem of prejudices and hand-shaking.
    It’s just a tool – like any competition, or masterclass – all there is to decide on, is whether a conductor wants to use it to progress their career, or steer clear because they simply aren’t interested in it.

  • TNVol says:

    Does she have a single recording that’s in anyone’s top 10 list? Top 20 list? 30? 50?

    • just saying says:

      Her Bernstein recordings of Mass and Chichester Psalms are the best versions around (even better than Bernstein’s himself, it could be argued)

  • Jobim75 says:

    Her Prokofiev 7 th is a really dull version, no imagination… Not a rytmician, not a colorist, couldn’t guess her strength yet. But she was a pioneer for sure. .

  • Anthony Kershaw says:

    I wouldn’t accept anything musically from the thundering mediocrity that would allow that young woman (Jennifer Hudson) to humiliate herself in front of millions “singing” Nessun Dorma. Disgraceful lack of leadership.