Rhinegold Photo credit: Adriane White

Rebecca Pizzey

Editorial assistant

Q&A: Marin Alsop

8:00, 24th January 2018

Marin Alsop was born in New York City and graduated from the Juilliard School with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in violin. She launched OrchKids in 2008, which provides music education and mentorship to hard-to-reach children in Baltimore, and she has been the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since 2007. She has served as principal guest conductor with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the City of London Sinfonia, and in 2015 she was the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the BBC Proms. November 2017 saw her appointment as an Honorary Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge. She spoke to Rebecca Pizzey

How does it feel to have been elected as an Honorary Fellow of Newnham College?
It’s a wonderful honour on every level. To be counted among the brilliant and gifted cadre of Newnham Fellows is humbling, and to now have a connection to this venerable institution and its rich history of intellectual rigour is inspiring.

Can you tell me a bit about your music education? What was it like studying at the Juilliard School, and how did you make the move from violin to conducting?
I began at the Juilliard Pre-College when I was seven, so Juilliard was always a part of my life. I left when I was 14 and pursued my undergraduate studies at Yale University when I was 16 – but the siren call of Juilliard was too strong and I returned when I was 18 to finish my bachelor’s and get my master’s degree in violin performance.
In order to move to conducting I started my own orchestra with all of my friends: the Concordia Orchestra. This was a fantastic laboratory for me, in every way. But mostly because my friends became my teachers!

Your trailblazing role as the first ever woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms is amazing! What was it like?
It was extremely exciting and thrilling. The public support and outpouring of warmth from everyone, especially the musicians, was truly heartening. When they dressed my podium in pink balloons I laughed out loud – it was so much fun.

In your speech at the Last Night of the Proms, you said we need to ‘work towards a more just and equal playing field for women’ where music is concerned. How do you think we can get there?
This is a huge question but there is a very simple answer: each one of us must do her best and be proactive in creating opportunities for other women. This is a philosophy that led me to found the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship in 2002, to mentor the next generation of women on the podium. If I don’t do it, who will?

Your connections with the UK music scene extend through the years, including your role as principal guest conductor of the RSNO and the CLS – and, of course, your recent appointment at Newnham College. How do you balance your positions or connections between the States and the UK?
Balancing is key and also very tricky! I feel so at home in the UK that my time there feels energising rather than draining. Of course, missing my family is always part of the equation, but sometimes I think they’re quite happy to get a rest from me, too!

Marin Alsop will be conducting a programme of Beethoven’s Symphony No.4 and Violin Concerto with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and violinist Nicola Benedetti next month: 3 February at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford; 4 February at the Royal Festival Hall, London; 6 February at Symphony Hall, Birmingham; and on 8 February at The Anvil, Basingstoke.

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