The American conductor Marin Alsop became the first woman to hold a major American conducting post when she became principal conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2007. Since then she has gone on a significant career abroad. Alsop is also one of the few top conductors whose activities have extended into jazz.
Alsop was born in New York on October 16, 1956. Her parents were both musicians, and her father performed with the easy listening orchestra Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. Alsop attended Yale University and also earned a violin performance degree from the Juilliard School. An admirer of Leonard Bernstein, she studied with him at the Tanglewood music festival in Massachusetts. Among her other teachers was Boston Symphony conductor Seiji Ozawa. In the 1980s Alsop founded two jazz orchestras, the swing group String Fever and the Concordia Orchestra, which explored the boundary area between jazz and classical music. She became the director of the Cabrillo Music Festival in 1991 and, in 1993, the conductor of the Colorado Symphony. Her committed relationship with hornist Kristin Jurkscheit, a member of the orchestra, raised eyebrows, but Alsop pointed out that it considerably preceded her appointment as conductor. In 2002 she became conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, remaining there through 2008; she was also that orchestra's first female conductor. During that period came banner years for Alsop: in 2003 she won a Royal Philharmonic Society Conductor Award and was Gramophone Magazine's Artist of the Year, and in 2005 she received a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" fellowship, becoming the first conductor of either gender to be so honored. Her selection as conductor of the Baltimore Symphony in 2007 gained wide publicity, but was much more than temporary; her contract in Baltimore has been renewed through the 2020-2021 season. Her local initiatives in Baltimore have included an "OrchKids" program modeled on Venezuela's La Sistema music education program. Artist-in-residence at the Southbank Centre in London for the 2010-2011 season, Alsop then became conductor of the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in Brazil beginning in 2012. She has toured widely with that group, bringing it to its first appearance at the BBC Proms in 2012. In 2019, Alsop was set to become the conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.
She has recorded extensively, mostly for the Naxos label, with many of the orchestras she has led; in 2015, with the São Paulo State Symphony she recorded the Symphony No. 3 ("Kaddish") of her mentor, Leonard Bernstein. Another Bernstein album, this one of short orchestral works, appeared on Naxos in 2018. ~ James Manheim