Girl Scout alum Marin Alsop, the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO), is the only woman to lead a major full-time orchestra in the United States. And recently, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, she began leading the century-old institution in a radical shift to digital experiences.
“There has been a sudden pivot for the orchestra world,” she says. “There was a fear that online content would usurp a live concert. But no matter what we do online, it’s not the same as being together. I am hoping that people’s urge when this is over to experience something transcendent will bring them back to the concert hall.”
“This has been a very sudden ramp up, but a very exciting one,” she adds. “A lot of it is musician driven, and there’s real buy-in and real ownership of the end product by the musicians.”
Under her guidance, the BSO has launched a whole new digital component to its website called BSO Offstage, which offers performance videos—including musicians doing recitals at home and archival footage of the orchestra playing together—as well as BSO-branded podcasts.
“I do a series called ‘Off the Cuff,’ where I talk about a single piece and play examples, and then we perform the whole work,” she explains. “Individual musicians recorded pieces, and then [they were] edited together.”
“We also have ten years of concerts that we filmed and can broadcast, so those will be on the podcast soon.”
In addition, the podcast looks deeper into musicians’ lives and work, with discussions of their hobbies or interesting music tidbits, for example, an explanation of how reeds are made.
The orchestra has already transitioned all of its educational programming online and now offers live video lessons to the kids in the orchestra program who normally come to class in person. Marin is also teaching all of her conductor students online, in addition to those in a fellowship program for female conductors.
“We have 23 recipients, and we’re doing online seminars and discussion groups,” she explains, adding that this program is important because she believes women are poised to finally break into the top levels of the U.S. orchestral world.
“I am still the only woman to lead a major full-time orchestra,” she says. “There aren’t that many of us now, but I feel confident that those numbers will change.”
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