An ovation for Alsop

The Baltimore Sun

Two years after anticipation of her appointment caused a near-mutiny among its players, Marin Alsop made her official Charm City debut as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last night, receiving a standing ovation as the took the stage.

The ovation was repeated, even more emphatically, at the conclusion of the concert. The audience seemed reluctant to leave.

Even though Alsop had conducted the orchestra at least a dozen times before last night, for many in the audience this was their first encounter with the woman who is now officially the first female music director of a major U.S. symphony orchestra.

Reaction to last night's opening selection, American composer John Adams' "Fearful Symmetries," suggested that she made a good impression.

"She is the real deal," said Ted Vasilous, who drove here from York, Pa., and was hearing his first BSO concert. "Whatever 'it' is, she has it. I guess it's a combination of the sensuality and the swagger."

Agreed Louis Mills, a BSO subscriber who was at the Meyerhoff on the hall's opening night 25 years ago, "She is incredible, fun. She is bringing things to the symphony we haven't had."

Among those in the near-capacity crowd last night were Jamie and Alexander Bernstein, the children of Alsop's mentor, American composer Leonard Bernstein. Both have known Alsop since the early 1980s, and they were thrilled by what their friend accomplished with last night's concert, which also included a performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp Minor.

"We feel like one of our contemporaries is making it big," said Jamie Bernstein, who drove down with her brother from New York for the occasion. "That brings a whole other level of joy. And, you know, the woman thing is nice, too."

Alsop made her actual debut as music director Thursday night, at the Music Center at Strathmore, the orchestra's suburban Washington venue. While she was greeted warmly, leave it to the BSO's hometown crowd to really give her a welcoming hug. When she was introduced at Strathmore, there was no standing ovation, only applause.

Last night was an evening of many milestones. Besides welcoming a new conductor and breaking down a sexual barrier, the BSO also commemorated 25 years since the 1982 opening of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. There was even a new feature inside the building itself: a "Musician's Wall," featuring portraits of 79 of the orchestra's 82 musicians, in poses that reflect their interests and personalities.

Violist Christian Colberg, who took the photos, stood near them before the concert began, beaming like a proud father. Memories of the controversy from 2005, when Alsop's appointment led to complaints that the players were given little input into the selection, have receded into the background, he said.

The new maestra, he said, "takes her own passion and excitement, wraps it up in a little ball and throws it back at you. You can't help but get caught up in it."

Some long-time BSO fans, however, said they were adopting more of a wait-and-see attitude. Suspicion caused by the appointment controversy still lingers, several said.

"I think I'm a little bit more open than I was then, but I'm still a little bit suspicious," said Steve May, a BSO subscriber from Damascus, Montgomery County, who was seeing Alsop for the first time.

"She could be a great success. Only time will tell."

>>>If you go The BSO performs at 8 tonight and 3 p.m. tomorrow at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets: $28-$60. Information: 410-783-8000 or

An article in Saturday's Go Today section incorrectly reported the size of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. It has 92 players.The Sun regrets the errors.
Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad