Marin Alsop renews Baltimore Symphony contract through 2021

(UPDATE: This is new version of the story that was first reported Wednesday, with new quotes, including from the BSO musicians.)

Marin Alsop has signed a new contract that will extend her tenure as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra through August 2021, 14 years after she began the job.

Her hiring made global headlines, both because she was the first woman to gain the top artistic post at a major American orchestra and because the BSO players initially objected, describing the search process as rushed.

Since that initial bumpiness, Alsop and the musicians have developed a smooth working relationship and have enjoyed considerable successes locally and nationally; several visits to Carnegie Hall generated glowing notices.

"My start was so surprising, on so many levels," Alsop, 56, said. "I didn't come into this with any expectations. But this has gradually become my home. It has been an organic process. I love the orchestra and I love living here."

Alsop's previous contract was to have ended in 2015. The orchestra celebrates its centennial in 2016.

Musicians were informed of the Alsop contract during a rehearsal Wednesday for this week's summer season-closing concerts.

Violinist Gregory Mulligan, head of the players' committee, read a statement later in the day congratulating Alsop on the new deal.

"BSO musicians are happy for the stability this development signals to our orchestra, and for the growth that will now occur," Mulligan said.

The musicians have begun negotiating with BSO management on a new contract; the current one expires in September.

"In light of our own contract negotiations, Marin's contract renewal demonstrates the commitment BSO leadership has to continue providing the city of Baltimore with world-class symphonic music," Mulligan said

During her first years with the BSO, Alsop greatly revitalized the scope of programming and helped get the orchestra recording again after a long hiatus. A recording of Leonard Bernstein's "Mass" on the Naxos label was nominated for a Grammy in 2009. There are plans to issue recordings of Bernstein's three symphonies over the next several years.

The conductor has launched innovative educational projects with the BSO, including the OrchKids venture in inner city schools; and two projects for adult amateur players, the BSO Academy and Rusty Musicians. These initiatives have generated widespread national and international attention.

"My goal is that, by the end of the contract renewal, these programs will be so well organized and supported that they will just be part of the fabric of what the BSO does," Alsop said.

The conductor's right hand remains in a cast, the result of a fall early this month in Brazil, where she is music director of the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra (her contract with that ensemble runs through 2016). Alsop canceled several concerts after the accident, but expects to be back on the podium by the middle of August, when she is scheduled to conduct in London.

The BSO's financial situation has been generally sturdy during Alsop's tenure; an $850,000 deficit last fiscal year was an exception. The orchestra's president and CEO Paul Meecham said that a much smaller deficit was anticipated for the current fiscal year, which ends next month, and a balanced budget is projected next year.

During the season before Alsop's arrival, average capacity at the orchestra's home base, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, was 58 percent, and 77 percent at its second home in Montgomery County, the Music Center at Strathmore. Last season's capacity figures: 70 percent at Meyerhoff, 80 percent at Strathmore.

The orchestra also reports that the number of contributions has reached about 10,000, almost double the figure in 2007.

"Marin is a wonderful asset for the orchestra," Meecham said. "She is part of the compelling vision that helps us raise money. I'm relieved and thrilled she has renewed through 2021. There is so much more she has to offer."