Page 3 Profile: Marin Alsop, conductor


Still causing controversy, at 83?

Baton-waving with the best of ’em?

This September, Marin Alsop will become the first woman to conduct during the Last Night of the Proms. The New York-born musical director, who is principal conductor of the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra, will take charge in the finale to the Proms’ 119th season. “I’m extraordinarily proud to be the first woman, but I’m also sad that it’s 2013 and there can still be firsts for women,” she told the BBC.

Any other Last Night changes?

The programme features star soloists in violinist Nigel Kennedy and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, but as always, the concert will conclude with the traditional trio of “Rule, Britannia!”, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance and “Jerusalem”. Alsop said the brief speech the conductor must deliver to a global viewing audience – normally a mixture of jokes tempered by the need to control a rowdy audience – would be the most challenging part of the evening. “The whole world is watching you, you’re addressing the biggest audience of your career,” she said. “It’s the nearest a classical musician gets to an acceptance speech at the Oscars.”

Has she been chosen purely because she’s a woman?

Certainly not, according to Roger Wright, the director of the BBC Proms. He said: “She knows and loves the Proms and has a very good relationship with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. We’ve built a programme that plays to her strengths.” The absence of a female conductor prior to this summer was due to historical factors, he claimed. “There are some renowned orchestras which are male dominated. There are issues about the sort of schooling conductors go through and how family roles have been divided traditionally; role models have been slow to come through.” Alsop, he admitted, is one of only five women out of about 50 conductors at this year’s Proms, “But the BBC can only solve so many problems of the world.”