Getting to Know Baltimore Symphony’s Marin Alsop

The master maestra on her mentor and the hardest music to conduct

Founded in 1916, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has garnered countless accolades and awards, even a Grammy. In 2007, Marin Alsop became the orchestra’s first female conductor, leading the institution to new heights. In 2018, the globetrotting music director took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her career, the upcoming season and how she likes to spend her downtime.

Where Traveler: What has it been like to lead one of the country’s finest orchestras for all these years?
Marin Alsop: I’ve been music director of the BSO for just over 10 years now, and it has been a joy and a privilege to work with these exceptional musicians to bring artistically excellent and emotionally inspiring performances to our loyal and enthusiastic listeners.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

I travel to many different orchestras throughout the year, but each time I come back to the BSO and step on the podium, it feels like coming home. The orchestra is passionate, sensitive and flexible, and I can say that the BSO is truly one of the best orchestras in the world.

WT: What are you most excited about in the new season?
MA: I’m really looking forward to performing music by eight living composers, including three women. Promoting new music and the work of living composers has always been a central part of my mission as a conductor and music educator. My belief is that exposure and accessibility is key to enabling audiences to embrace new music, along with pairing it with the great classics that people love.

WT: The year 2018 was Leonard Bernstein’s centennial. As his protégée, how has his mentorship shaped you?
MA: Leonard Bernstein was truly my hero, and he is still very much a part of me and my philosophy to this day. He was completely devoted, not only to the music but to the musicians and communities where he worked as well. Bernstein believed that music can change our lives and shape our futures. I have always carried this philosophy with me and apply it to what I do with the BSO. I am committed to finding new ways of interacting with our communities, which is why I launched the BSO OrchKids in 2008. What began as an after-school group of 30 students has now grown to a program of over 1,300.

Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

WT: What’s your favorite piece of music to conduct? What’s the most challenging?
MA: Picking one favorite piece for a conductor is next to impossible, but Bernstein’s “Mass” is definitely one of my favorites, and it also answers the second question as it is a very challenging work to conduct. This piece is unlike anything else—it’s a real tour de force. It combines so many different styles and people, both on and off stage. It’s quite a challenge to navigate all these various components, but it’s immensely rewarding in the end. Listen to the fabulous recording of Bernstein’s “Mass” by the BSO on Naxos Records.

WT: What are some of your favorite Baltimore spots?
MA: Baltimore has great restaurants and wonderful museums. I love The Food Market, Petit Louis Bistro, the Ambassador Dining Room, Wicked Sisters, City Café, the Baltimore Museum of Art and The Walters Museum.

The Food Market

WT: What’s something most people don’t know about Baltimore’s arts and entertainment scene?
MA: People in Baltimore are adventurous and curious, more so than in most other cities. I’ve found that Baltimoreans are more likely to try new things than most other communities. It’s rare to find such a diverse and interesting group of people in one city: Baltimore is quirky, curious, caring and truly unlike any other city in the world. And I love this about Baltimore.

WT: When you’re not conducting, how do you like to spend your free time?
MA: My favorite pastime is spending time with my family. I enjoy staying fit and active. I run or work out almost every day. I also love learning new languages. I recently learned Portuguese for my work in Brazil and now I’m working on German for my new position in Vienna. Maybe Italian next?

WT: What do you think is a hidden gem in Baltimore?
MA: The American Visionary Art Museum. There’s so much to see, do and eat!

American Visionary Art Museum

WT: What kind of music do you like to listen to during your free time?
MA: None!

WT: If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you be?
MA: That’s easy: at home.

WT: Something you never travel without?
MA: Eye patches