© 2024 WRTI
Your Classical and Jazz Source. Celebrating 75 Years!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Marin Alsop, no stranger to The Philadelphia Orchestra, will be its next principal guest conductor

Conductor Marin Alsop poses during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong on Feb. 20, 2019.
Conductor Marin Alsop poses during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong on Feb. 20, 2019.

Marin Alsop’s career as a conductor has included many turns rightly hailed as historic. The first female recipient of Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Prize for outstanding student conductor, Alsop went on to become the first woman to lead a major orchestra in the United States, as well as in South America, Austria and Britain. She was the first symphonic conductor to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, and the first woman to conduct the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms, an honor she has now repeated twice.

Her latest achievement falls closer to home: Alsop, 67, will be the next principal guest conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra. Her three-year term begins with the 2024-25 season, according to an announcement made this morning by The Orchestra and its music and artistic director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Alsop’s history with the Orchestra goes as far back as 1990, encompassing more than 30 concerts since. “I am absolutely delighted to join The Philadelphia Orchestra as principal guest conductor,” she tells WRTI. “My relationship with this fabulous ensemble includes some of my favorite career memories. I look forward to the artistic partnership ahead and to connecting further with the musicians of the Orchestra and the communities of Philadelphia.”

Grant Leighton

The musicians appear to fully share that anticipation. In a statement, concertmaster David Kim tells WRTI that Alsop is “an inspired choice to serve as The Philadelphia Orchestra's next principal guest conductor. Not only is she one of the world’s great conductors, she is also a lifelong friend to this world-renowned ensemble.”

Alsop, famously a Leonard Bernstein protégé, comes to her position with a schedule typical of a world-class maestro. The 2023-24 season also marks her fifth as chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, her first as artistic director and chief conductor of the Polish National Radio Symphony, and her first as principal guest conductor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra.

She spent 14 years as music director at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, building what the New York Times called “artistic successes and arguably the most impressive education program of any ensemble in the country.”

In Philadelphia, Alsop has led the Orchestra on a number of notable occasions, including its last live concert before the pandemic shutdown of March 2020: a performance of Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess, featured on WRTI’s weekly program The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert. An album was later later released on Pentatone.

During the 2022-23 season, Alsop returned to conduct Holst’s The Planets and a Missy Mazzoli concerto for Jennifer Koh. For The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert, she spoke with Susan Lewis about those pieces as well as her experience of the pandemic. “I think for everybody, especially in the arts, it’s been tough in so many ways and for many people,” Alsop reflected. “But in some ways it was a good realigning of values.”

Marin Alsop speaks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about the pandemic, Mazzoli's 'Procession,' and Holst's 'The Planets'

That sense of realignment would seem a natural fit with the Orchestra, as Nézet-Séguin implies in an official press statement — noting that Alsop “has always had a clear and insightful vision of the role of orchestras in our society, and I know she will be a tremendous partner as we continue to forge a bold and inclusive future for The Philadelphia Orchestra.”

Alsop, who succeeds Nathalie Stutzmann in the principal guest conductor chair — endowed in 2022, with a $3 million gift, as the Ralph and Beth Johnston Muller Chair — has been an outspoken advocate for that inclusive vision, as well as a living embodiment. Her trailblazing career as a woman on the podium is the subject of The Conductor, a documentary that premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival before broadcasting nationwide on PBS.

Her new role, which will extend to subscription concerts, summer residencies and tours, including an upcoming trip to China this year, will give her another platform for her message. “The Philadelphia Orchestra is committed to changing the future of classical music,” she says in a press statement. “I am proud to join this exceptional organization.”

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.