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Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming season honors departing music director Marin Alsop’s legacy

Alsop's (pictured in 2019) final season with the BSO will feature works by newcomers, fan favorites like Movie with Orchestra and standards like Mahler.
Alsop's (pictured in 2019) final season with the BSO will feature works by newcomers, fan favorites like Movie with Orchestra and standards like Mahler. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore S / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced their 2020-2021 season with a lineup of works that honor conductor Marin Alsop’s tenure with the orchestra.

The coming season will be Maestra Alsop’s last as music director. After 14 years at the artistic helm of the BSO, Alsop will not seek a renewal of her contract when it expires in August 2021, according to an announcement made by the BSO late last month. She will return to conduct three concert weeks a year through 2026 as music director laureate and maintain involvement in the music education program OrchKids, which she founded in 2008.

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Many of the works programmed for 2020-2021 have a special meaning for Alsop. Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” was the first piece Alsop guest-conducted with the BSO, and Mahler was on the program for her inaugural concert as music director in September 2007. Since then, the late Romantic composer “has become a calling card” for the orchestra, Alsop said in emailed comments: They performed Mahler’s Fifth Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 2016 and recorded his Symphony No. 1 for the Naxos record label in 2012.

“It feels only fitting to end [the season] with Mahler’s triumphant ‘Resurrection’ Symphony [No. 2],” said Alsop. That performance will include the Morgan State University Choir, longtime collaborators with the BSO.

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Other highlights include a season opener featuring violin superstar Hilary Hahn performing Brahms’ Violin Concerto. Hahn, a Baltimore native, made her orchestral debut with the BSO back in 1991 (when she was all but 12 years old) and has appeared alongside Alsop as a soloist many times.

Noteworthy, too, is a semi-staged production of Beethoven’s only opera, “Fidelio.” Beethoven appears on a preponderance of BSO programs this year — 2020 marks his 250th birthday — but this production by Heartbeat Opera promises more than a rote tribute. “Fidelio” concerns a woman who infiltrates a prison to rescue her husband, jailed for political reasons. In this adaptation, which premiered in New York City the spring of 2018, the jailed husband is a black activist; and the “Prisoners’ Chorus,” the opera’s ode to freedom, is performed by current prison inmates on prerecorded video.

Marin Alsop has been a particular friend to living composers, noting that during her tenure, the BSO has “commissioned and/or premiered over 35 new works.” The upcoming season features a number of new works, including “Drum Circles” by Christopher Theofanidis (formerly an instructor at Peabody) and a world premiere by Angélica Castelló that celebrates the James Webb Space Telescope, the planned successor to the Hubble Telescope. This last piece was co-commissioned by the BSO and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

“I believe bringing music of our time to our listeners is an important part of our artistic commitment to the Baltimore community,” Alsop said. “After all, Beethoven was once new music!”

Meanwhile, the popular Movie with Orchestra series promises crowd favorites with screenings of “Toy Story,” “Psycho” and another installment of “Harry Potter.” Fans of the SuperPops concerts should mark their calendars for the October performance of The Doo Wop Project, a sextet that investigates the history of Doo Wop and its influence on modern songs.

Alsop stepping down as music director for the BSO does not mean her own career is winding down. In October, Alsop began a new appointment as chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, and throughout 2020, Alsop’s project “All Together: A Global Ode To Joy” will see Alsop conduct Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on every continent save Antarctica.

Throughout her career, Alsop has broken ground for women conductors, though her frequent label as “first woman conductor of X” is one she has accepted with some chagrin. (At her BBC Proms debut, she remarked, “I’m still shocked that it can be 2013 and there can be firsts for women.”)

“I do hope my efforts to create a more inclusive and diverse representation on the BSO stage will continue long into the future, with many more talented women leading concerts with the BSO,” Alsop remarked.

The BSO has yet to announce plans for the search for Maestra Alsop’s successor.

Elizabeth Nonemaker covers classical music for The Baltimore Sun as a freelance writer. Classical music coverage at The Sun is supported in part by a grant from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The Sun makes all editorial decisions. Nonemaker can be reached at nonemakerwrites@gmail.com.

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