Woman to Lead Baltimore Symphony

Marin Alsop

hide captionMarin Alsop

Marin Alsop will be the next conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, making history as the first woman to be named the musical director of such a major orchestra. But in the final days before the decision, there have been dissenting voices from the musicians on the search committee.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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For the first time a woman has been named music director of a major American orchestra. The board of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra voted today to appoint American conductor Marin Alsop to its top artistic post. The decision comes in spite of opposition from the orchestra's musicians, who wanted a greater voice in the selection. From member station WHYY, Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE reporting:

Marin Alsop is currently the principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in England.

(Soundbite of orchestral music)

ROSE: Classical music insiders have long speculated that Alsop, who is 48 years old, would someday lead a major American orchestra. That day will apparently come in 2006 when Alsop is slated to take over as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra's board voted overwhelmingly today to offer her the job, according to a statement.

The orchestra's musicians put out a statement of their own saying they would work to make inspiring music with Marin Alsop, but also that they were unhappy about the selection process that led to her hiring. Drew McManus writes a blog about arts administration. He says all seven musicians on the search committee wanted orchestra management to keep looking for a new conductor, but they were outvoted.

Mr. DREW McMANUS (Blogger): The musicians, I think, feel very slighted, since they unanimously voted to extend the process, that they weren't being considered as strongly as they should.

ROSE: According to a statement released Sunday, 90 percent of the orchestra's musicians wanted management to look for another candidate. It's not uncommon for orchestra musicians to be picky when it comes to their music director, says Henry Fogel, the president of the American Symphony Orchestra League.

Mr. HENRY FOGEL (President, American Symphony Orchestra League): I don't think there's ever been an appointment of any music director where you could say the orchestra unanimously agreed with that appointment.

ROSE: Fogel says it's only in the last 25 years that musicians have been a part of the selection process at all. One of the first orchestras to go public with its objections to a prospective hire was the Cleveland Orchestra. In the early 1970s, the Cleveland musicians rallied against the appointment of conductor Lorin Maazel. John Routenberg(ph) was then a violinist in the orchestra. He says the musicians took an informal vote that showed very little support for Maazel.

Mr. JOHN ROUTENBERG (Violinist): Out of the hundred orchestra people, two people voted for Maazel. And I think there were 11 or 12 votes that said anybody but Maazel. Maazel was hired, and we learned to live with it.

ROSE: In spite of that inauspicious start, Routenberg thinks Maazel's tenure in Cleveland turned out to be relatively successful. The American Symphony Orchestra League's Henry Fogel agrees, and he thinks the musicians in Baltimore will also rally behind their new music director.

Mr. FOGEL: I've seen Marin Alsop conduct a number of times, and I have to tell you I have no trouble saying I think it's a wonderful appointment.

ROSE: It's already a great leap forward for the classical music world, according to Deborah Borda, president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Ms. DEBORAH BORDA (President. Los Angeles Philharmonic): It's a message that it's the 21st century; that issues of gender are becoming, really, diminimus.

ROSE: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has scheduled a press conference tomorrow to introduce its new music director. For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

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