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A Trailblazing Conductor

This week I have noted a few strong women who still walk among us. I have always admired this one in particular, watching her verve and passion when conducting. Her perseverance, humility and talent are inspiring. I hope you enjoy her story. There is much more to know about this woman. Perhaps you will be curious enough to look further. By all means, find a place where you can watch her conduct! You may be inspired as well.  

She is the first woman to serve as the head of a major orchestra in the United States, South America, Austria and Britain, she is, as the New York Times put it, not only “a formidable musician and a powerful communicator” but also “a conductor with a vision.”

Photo credit: Nancy Horowitz

Marin Alsop is one of the foremost conductors of our time, and she represents a powerful and inspiring voice. Convinced that music has the power to change lives, she is internationally recognized for her innovative approach to programming and audience development, deep commitment to education, and championing of music’s importance in the world.

Marin Alsop was born in New York on October 16 1956. Her parents were both musicians and as a child. Mirin’s mother, Ruth, played the cello, but was also a potter and a weaver. Her father, Keith, was a violinist and amateur carpenter.he was a former member of the Beaux Arts String Quartet, the American String Quartet and the Carnegie String Quartet - and served as Concertmaster of the New York City Ballet Orchestra for more than 50 years.

As a child, Marin studied both violin and piano. She was nine when she heard Leonard Bernstein lead the New York Philharmonic and she knew then and there exactly what she wanted to do with her life. She wanted to be a conductor. “He was so charismatic and energetic!” She said. 

Marin began to study at Yale University in 1972 but transferred to Juilliard School in 1975. Marin was rejected several times before she finally won admittance to Juilliard. She received her bachelor’s from Juilliard in 1977 and her master’s degree in 1978, both in violin performance. She worked as a freelance violinist in New York City until she began to study conducting in 1979. In 1981, Marin established a jazz group called String Fever and the Concordia Orchestra in 1984, performing everything from jazz to contemporary works. 

In 1988, Mirin’s study of conducting escalated as she studied with some of the greats, such as Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa, director of the Boston Symphony. Her focus paid off as she took up the baton as associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony in Virginia. The following year she was the music director of the Eugene Symphony, Oregon and of the Long Island Philharmonic, in New York. In 1991 Marin was the music director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, California. In 1993 Marin became director of the Colorado Symphony in Denver, Colorado. 

In 2002, Marin was the principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony in England, earning her much notoriety. During the 2007-2008 season, Marin became the firs woman to lead a major American orchestra when she became the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. 

In 2012, Marin Alsop became the principal conductor of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra. In 2019, she became the conductor for the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Notably, Marin was the first woman to hold both of these positions. 

Marin Alsop has longstanding relationships with the London Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestras, and regularly guest conducts such major international ensembles as the Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Budapest Festival Orchestra and Orchestre de Paris, besides leading the La Scala Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and others.

In collaboration with YouTube and Google Arts & Culture, she spearheaded the “Global Ode to Joy” (GOTJ), a crowd-sourced video project to celebrate Beethoven’s 250th anniversary in 2020.

Marin Alsop has received numerous award. Most notably among them: The Stokowski Conducting Prize, the Bernstein fellowship to the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts, and the Koussevitsky Conducting Prize in 1989. Gramophone magazine named her Artist of the hear and she received the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Conductor Award in 2003. In 2005, she was named a MacArthur fellow. Marin was the first conductor to be awarded that honor and also received the Classical BRIT (British Record Industry Trust) Female Artist of the Year Award. She was the subject of the documentary The Conductor, which premiered at the Tribecca Film Festival, New York, in 2021.

Alsop’s partner is the horn player Kristin Jurkscheit. The couple have been together since 1990. They have a son, Auden.

A woman of depth and brilliance, a woman worthy of note. She has worked with many orchestras around the world and received numerous awards. She is someone who had a vision and achieved her goals despite facing many obstacles. 


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