Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop remembers well the antagonism that greeted her when she was appointed the BSO’s 12th music director, becoming the first woman to head a major American orchestra.
BSO musicians had complained that they hadn’t had enough voice in the selection process. Speaking Nov. 19 at GWSB’s first “Conversations on Creative Leadership” event, Alsop said she didn’t know if gender was a factor.
In any case, “It was possibly the worst experience of my life – the day that should have been the greatest,” she said. “How could I turn this around?”
She quickly dismissed any notion of getting the musicians to “like” her.
“My only goal was to be successful for them,” she said. The BSO was in financial straits. Attendance was at 60 percent. It hadn’t made a recording in a decade.
Alsop asked the musicians to meet with her for 10 minutes. She recalled telling them, “You don’t know me. You don’t know what I can do for you.”
Over the five years since her inaugural concert as music director in September 2007, Alsop has shown them. The orchestra’s debt is gone, it has made half a dozen recordings, ticket sales are up, and it operates with a balanced budget.
But Alsop also worked to make classical music more accessible and integrate the BSO into the surrounding community. With money she received as a 2005 MacArthur Fellow, Marin launched ORCHKids, which provides free music training to hundreds of needy children in Baltimore.
Another outreach program, Rusty Musicians, brings non-professional adult instrumentalists and vocalists together with the BSO for an evening of performance under Alsop’s direction.
“I think we’re now a different kind of organization,” she said. “We don’t exist in an ivory tower anymore.”
By bringing BSO musicians and community together, Alsop successfully “knitted together the insitutional fabric of civic life,” said Dean Doug Guthrie, who introduced Alsop and moderated a question-and-answer session after her speech.
So what qualities are important to leading an institution successfully? Alsop’s advice was to keep a sense of humor, understand your own flaws, show vision, be enthusiastic, tell people when they are performing well and – where possible – try to incorporate others’ ideas. And don’t forget to enjoy.
“Let’s have fun,” she recalled telling her musicians once, before a Carnegie Hall concert. “Maybe that’s the most important thing, that people enjoy life together.”
The “Conversations on Creative Leadership” series is designed to explore the role of leaders in bringing together the business community, academia, government and the nonprofit sector to solve problems.
Posted by gwsb on November 20, 2012 | Filed under: GWSB News.