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S49 Ep20

Great Performances: The Conductor

Premiere: 3/25/2022 | 00:00:30 | Closed Captioning Icon

Follow Marin Alsop’s journey to become the first female music director of a major American symphony despite repeated rejection by the classical music industry. Features archival footage with her mentor Leonard Bernstein and is set to a soundtrack of her performances.



About the Episode

Premieres Friday, March 25 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)

Great Performances: The Conductor tells the story of the first female conductor of a major symphony, Marin Alsop. Documenting Alsop’s journey from playing the violin as an ambitious nine-year-old who longed to conduct, to attending Juilliard, to creating her own all-female string orchestra and swing band, to ultimately becoming music director of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Despite repeated rejection from the classical music establishment, Alsop persevered and blazed her own trail which gained her attention as a conductor and opened new opportunities for her that led to studying with legendary composer Leonard Bernstein. Featuring cinema verité scenes of Alsop conducting some of the world’s great orchestras, the new #PBSForTheArts documentary, Great Performances: The Conductor, premieres Friday, March 25 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), and the PBS Video app in celebration of Women’s History month.

Set to a carefully curated soundtrack, Great Performances: The Conductor tells Alsop’s story through a combination of rehearsal and performance footage from Baltimore, Brazil, Switzerland, New York City and includes previously unseen archival footage with her mentor Bernstein. The film takes an up-close look at the conductor through intimate interviews with music experts including São Paulo Symphony Orchestra artistic director Arthur Nestrovski, Richmond City Orchestra music director Valentina Peleggi, wife Kristin Jurkscheit, members of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and more.

#PBSForTheArts is a multiplatform campaign that celebrates the arts in America. For more than 50 years, PBS has been the media destination for the arts, presenting dance, theater, opera, visual arts and concerts to Americans in every corner of the country. Previous Great Performances programs include Romeo & Juliet from the National Theatre, The Arts Interrupted, Coppelia, From Vienna: The New Year’s Celebration 2022 and Reopening: The Broadway Revival, as well as the upcoming Movies for Grownups Awards with AARP the Magazine, premiering Friday, March 18 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). The collection of #PBSForTheArts programs is available at and the PBS Video app, including and the PBS Video App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. Curated conversation and digital shorts are also available on PBS social media platforms using #PBSForTheArts.

Throughout its nearly 50-year history on PBS, Great Performances has provided an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts, serving as America’s most prestigious and enduring broadcaster of cultural programming. Showcasing a diverse range of artists from around the world, the series has earned 67 Emmy Awards and six Peabody Awards. The Great Performances website hosts exclusive videos, interviews, photos, full episodes and more. The series is produced by The WNET Group.

A Nylon Films & Waystone production, Great Performances: The Conductor is directed by Bernadette Wegenstein and produced by Annette Porter. Elizabeth Grass Weese, Robert Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker are executive producers. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer and David Horn is executive producer.

Support for Great Performances: The Conductor was provided by Elizabeth Grass Weese, Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Shelter Foundation Inc., The Charlesmead Foundation, The Clinton Family Fund, Neil Ruther, Bruce Fleming, Paula Singer and Lynn Heller. Series funding for Great Performances is made possible by The Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Jody and John Arnhold, the Abra Prentice Foundation, The Starr Foundation, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, the Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, the Seton J. Melvin, the Estate of Worthington Mayo-Smith, the Jack Lawrence Charitable Remainder Trust Worchell Lawrence, and Ellen and James S. Marcus.

Websites:,, #GreatPerformancesPBS #PBSForTheArts


♪♪♪ -Next, on 'Great Performances'... -I said, Maestro, conducting is the only thing in life I want to do.

-Join us for an intimate portrait of Marin Alsop, the first woman to become the music director of a major American symphony.

-Being the first is a tough job, and I think this is why she's fighting so much for us.

-I've tried to turn every struggle into an opportunity.

-We'll explore the trails she blazed for others who dare to dream big... -She's a great teacher and she knows how to bring out -...and the beacon of inspiration she has lit from the podium and beyond.

-It's about the unspoken beauty when we connect as human beings.

-Marin Alsop is 'The Conductor,' next.

♪♪♪ -[ Humming ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Applause ] -Conducting is connecting.

It's a way to feel human, feel the best about humanity.

♪♪♪ These brilliant masterpieces that some human being created.

We're here trying to recreate that and actualize it so that we can move and touch all those people.

[ Walter's 'Symphony No. 1 in D Major 'Titan': I. Langsam -- Schleppend' plays ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -The sound of another glass ceiling being shattered.

And it goes well with some beautiful music being conducted by the first woman in history to head a major American symphony orchestra.

-Marin decided that she'd like to try her hand at something just a little bit different.

-I have to say that there is some female conductors now, there weren't so many. -It's been very male dominated.

-These are some of the things that conductors have said about women on the podium in recent years.

'A sweet girl on the podium can make one's thoughts drift toward something else.'

And for me, 'seeing a woman on the podium, it's not my cup of tea.'

♪♪♪ Yuri Temirkanov, who is married Marin Alsop's predecessor in Baltimore, returned to the orchestra a few years ago for a guest-conducting appearance and gave an interview.

I think it was in Marin Alsop's own dressing room and he was like, 'I don't really like women conductors.'

-You're the conductor. How do you stop them?

♪♪♪ -I think I was nine years old, you know, it's hard to remember now.

My father took me to a concert.

My mother made me wear a dress, so I wasn't in the best mood.

♪♪♪ The orchestra had tuned and it was business as usual.

♪♪♪ But then this conductor came out and he was very young-looking.

And before he started conducting, he turned around and started talking to me.

-Hello again, all my dear young friends.

-And that conductor that I saw that day was Leonard Bernstein.

-Today's concert is about a composer called Gustav Mahler, who is this Mahler? And I think young people can understand Mahler's feelings even better than old ones.

-He was talking about the piece and the orchestra.

He moved. He jumped.

He gestured to everyone with this big embrace.

♪♪♪ And I turned to my father and I said, 'Oh, I want to be that, I want to be the conductor.'

[ Applause ] [ Mozart's 'Die Zauberflote: Ouverture' plays ] [ Applause ] ♪♪♪ I went back to my violin teacher at Juilliard, and I was really excited.

I said, 'You know, I saw this amazing conductor and I'm going to be the conductor when I grow up.'

And she said, 'Oh, well, you know, your conductors are older than you are.'

I thought, 'Well, that's okay, I'll get older.'

And then she said, 'And girls can't do that.'

It was said with such authority that it really discouraged me.

-When she was starting out, I remember taking a look at the numbers, and I discovered at that point, it was more likely for a woman to lead a G7 nation than a major American symphony orchestra.

It was more likely for a woman to be a four star officer in the United States military.

This was just something that was so shockingly rare, even in the 21st century.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -To hear that there would be a barrier because I was a girl, it seemed absolutely ridiculous.

Also, my father was visibly upset about it the next day when I came down for breakfast, he had gone out that day and bought a I don't know where he got it, but I still have it.

A long, it was a long box, wooden box and I unlatched and opened it up, and he had filled it with batons.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -There you see. They don't need me.

They do perfectly well by themselves.

So why is a conductor necessary, after all?

What does he do?

Why does he carry on so?

After all, isn't this orchestra a highly-trained group of professional musicians?

[ Mozart's 'Serenade in G Major, K. 525, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik Divertimenti K.' plays ] ♪♪♪ -How does one go about learning to be a conductor?

I mean, with all due respect, it looks kind of easy.

-I would say almost any musician can be a conductor and in fact, a pretty good one, but only a rare musician can be a good conductor.

He plays on a whole orchestra.

His instrument is 100 different human instruments, each one a thorough musician with a will of his own.

The first thing about conducting it is quite simple, it's just in four.

And four is one, two, three, four.

-Okay, I'm very nervous. Okay? So okay. Ready?

One, two. Wait, wait, stop!

-See, that's the danger, they always play.

Remember two, three, and! -Four?

-Yeah, that's it. -Wait, wait, wait! Wait!

-That was good. -Guys, set. I'm just practicing.

And I'll tell you when.

[ Brahms 'Symphony No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 90: III. Poco Allegretto' plays ] ♪♪♪ -We lived in this basement apartment and I had a view of people's feet going by.

♪♪♪ And it was two rooms, I mean, it was very, very small.

And I do remember being very frightened by the roaches.

They seem extremely big.

I'm sure it's because I was very little, but I remember being scared by them.

But it was home, you know, that was part of living here.

♪♪♪ My parents, as freelance musicians just starting off, they had to work all the time and they had a gig at Radio City, so they used to do sometimes four shows a day and a couple of tenements down was a babysitter that I loved.

Her name was Toby.

She'd make me cocoa, a cup of cocoa.

My mother didn't like any sweets, so of course I'm addicted to them now.

But, so I would sit with my cup of cocoa.

I felt very mature and proper and chat with her while she'd put the laundry out.

And I loved going there so much, I used to take my bear and then I get home and I'd say, 'Oh mom, I think I forgot my bear at Toby's.'

I mean, it was so transparent.

It was funny because it happened every day, practically so that I was guaranteed that I'd have to go back.

♪♪♪ My mother was a tough mom to have really tough, very demanding.

wouldn't tolerate any kind of weakness and no crying.

I think I had to be an adult as far back as I can remember, certainly from the age of three.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ I started at Juilliard pre college when I was seven, and it wasn't even here, it wasn't -- Lincoln Center hadn't opened yet.

It was uptown.

I got all my degrees here at Juilliard.

The elevators have not changed in all these years.

You need three? It's pushed.

Hi, how are you? Nice to see you.

♪♪♪ He's everywhere. You can't. I'm telling you.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Let's see if it's better.

[ Laughter ] You didn't even know I was here before, that's fantastic.

Yeah, just a little bit, thank you. Good.

Ahh, now I feel better.

First violinist, can we get the sound at rehearsal one?

Let's just rehearse that for a second.

♪♪♪ Yeah. And I don't mind if everybody just plays right with my beat makes me happy.

Let's think very narrow vibrato. Almost, almost fragile sound.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ I just naturally gravitated toward music, because that's what my parents wanted me to do.

And I received a lot of approval.

But it was also and became, I think, a bit of an obsession with them.

So when I was tiny, you know, really, I could just walk and they immediately put me at the piano.

I think they had this ideal that they would eventually have a piano trio.

You know, my father was a violinist, my mother was a cellist, and then, their only child, would be this phenomenal pianist.

And I really hated the piano.

♪♪♪ And then when I was seven, they talked to me about going to camp.

And I thought, 'Wow, camp!'

You know, even as a kid growing up in Manhattan, one has this archetypal image of camp, you know, as horseback riding and sailing and swimming.

And you know, as it turned out, there wasn't anything like that because it was violin camp.

♪♪♪ We practiced from eight until one every day.

Thinking back to it, it was so insane.

But somehow it worked.

♪♪♪ There was something about it that really spoke to me that I've never experienced with a piano.

♪♪♪ And made me realize there's an instrument for every child.

[ Siren wails distantly ] I found some wonderful teachers, but I also found people who needed to control me.

There's something about this idea of breaking a young person's spirit and then building it back in your image that I found really, really, really destructive.

[ Hums ] When I became an adolescent, I had a violin teacher whom I adored and I idolized these people.

And as I had lessons, he started saying things to me like, 'I don't believe you're authentic.'

'I don't believe you're sincere.'

'I don't believe in you as a human being, as a genuine person.'

And I was completely crushed. I was devastated.

♪♪♪ [ Light knocking on door ] -Come in.

-You have five minutes. -Okay, thanks.

-I thought about doing something else, actually.

I thought about not becoming a musician because it was so heartbreaking.

♪♪♪ I needed individuality, I needed to connect on a very personal level, and that wasn't happening for me.

And I told my parents I would either quit music or I had to stop going to Juilliard.

[ Applause ] I had this idea that maybe classical music was just too buttoned down for me.

Maybe it was too, too regimented, too many rules, too many expectations that I didn't like, so I thought, well.

Maybe I could be a rock 'n' roll musician.

So I started calling all my friends, and after I called about five people, I realized I had called all women and I thought, You know, why not? Let's make it all women.

And of course, we were all from Juilliard.

We played exactly what was on the page, because that's what Mozart is.

You play exactly what's on the page.

You know, it's all about perfection, but swing music, you have to swing.

We didn't know you had to swing it.

♪♪♪ It would be as though you played in the mood, and it looks like -- Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo instead of ba-ba-da ba-da ba-dum ba-da ba-dum -- you have to swing the eighth note.

We didn't know. We didn't know. How did we know?

We played Mozart.

You know, of course, then the idea that we couldn't do this was not acceptable.

Gary said, 'This is ridiculous. You can't.'

I said, 'Oh no, no, no, don't tell me I can't do something.'

I found a church that had a basement where we could rehearse every night and we'd listen to big bands play.

And we started trying to figure out how to play swing music and how to improvise.

And after about six months, we had like 11 minutes of music that we could swing. That was it.

And I said, 'Okay, now we have to play in a jazz club.'

I'd never even been in a jazz.

♪♪♪ It was just so different from anything else we did.

And there was a sense of being outsiders and rebels and underdogs.

♪♪♪ I think the exposure of classical string players to this kind of music is going to do everybody a world of good.

♪♪♪ -You can catch String Fever at Mikell's Nightclub, it's on Columbus and 97th.

they play at 10:00 and 12:00 every Sunday night.

But with the way they sound, every night feels like string-time.

Allison Field News 4, New York.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -Looking great. Marin! -Hi, Chris, how are you?

Good to see you. -You too!

-You made it. -Yeah.

-Having this community of women was really important because we felt emboldened and supported by each other over all these years, and we continue to feel that.

-Look at your hair.

[ Laughter ] -I had brown hair!

-We played together for 20 years, and we traveled the world a little bit.

-♪ Happy birthday to you ♪ [ Laughter ] -Okay.

-Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's good.

Yeah, but you still -- Do you see it, that you still come up?

You still rebound. Just -- Bah.

Yeah, no shaking. Just like a sand -- You know, if you put a sand bag and you put it... it just stops.

In Poland, apparently, if you're a single mother, they don't give you your passport access until your child is 5 years old.

Her son is now 7, and she's relocated to Berlin.

She tried to get into school.

She got very close but didn't get into the Hochschule.

You know, I didn't know she worked with horses to try to make a living and just studying with me on the Skype.

Bah. No. No! -[ Laughter ] -At the same time, I was starting String Fever, I still wanted to learn how to conduct.

I thought, 'Well, I should go back to school.'

And when I was accepted into Yale, my parents were not supportive, so I took out student loans and I put myself through Yale.

I didn't finish it. I transferred back to Juilliard.

But I was pretty in debt already, so I tried to do a lot of gigs and playing on the street trying to earn some money.

It wasn't until I started getting a lot of recording work that I even felt like I could exhale.

It was pretty tight, I'd say, for a good five, six years for me, but I still had that dream that was with me still from when I was 9 years old.

I must be a conductor.

♪♪♪ [ Birds chirping ] So, alright, good morning, everybody. Did you tune?

Okay. I want to first understand how you're thinking about a piece when you open the score and have a look at it.

We're gonna go have everybody conduct several times, okay, rather than one big chunk so we can work on this.

♪♪♪ Come over here. Come over.

So, even before you go onto the podium, what are you thinking?

Are you thinking about 'Beethoven 5'? You know, if you confront a bear, what do you do?

You're supposed to make yourself really big.

Right? You're not supposed to play dead.

-[ Laughter ] -That's what -- They used to think you were supposed to play dead.

It's like coffee. You're not supposed to. Now you're supposed to.

But this is the bear of the classical music.

-[ Grunts ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Okay! -[ Hands clapping ] I want you to do it without the groaning.

No groaning. No grunting. And stand up straight.

♪♪♪ And keep your tempo. Don't -- No back beats.

♪♪♪ That's good. Good. That was good. Good.

And that's -- that's our time.

So see you in a half an hour. Good.

-I walked inside the rehearsal room that we were having audition, and then, like, I see her turn around and look at me, and I'm like... [ Gasps ] 'That's Marin Alsop.

Oh, my gosh!'

And I stood up there, and I was like, 'Okay. Let's do it.'

And I conducted, and it seems like things worked out for the best.

And I love working with Marin.

-Have you thought about, if you start with this much emotion, where are you gonna go from there?

Do you know what I mean?

So it seems like too much emotion.

-She's a great teacher and she knows how to bring out.

-So I just want you to come up to the podium and begin when you're ready emotionally.

Don't -- Don't look around.

-She's all about authenticity, and she's like, 'You know, you all are each different people.

And I like that about you. That's why you're here.'

-One, two, three.

♪♪♪ -You know, I was trying to figure out how to train myself without an instrument, and I decided to come back to Juilliard.

I got an audition. I got all the way to the final round.

And they planted all these wrong notes in the orchestra.

And I made some joke I was like, 'Oh, I can't believe they made you play that note.'

And the musicians started laughing, and then the committee said, 'Thank you. We won't need to hear anything else.'

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ And then I applied one more time.

And the new conducting teacher, he said, 'You will never be a conductor. Your muscles have atrophied.'

I was 23.

And I said to him, 'Maestro, I don't think you understand.

If you take me as a student, I will be the best student you have ever had.

Conducting is the only thing in life I want to do.'

And, you know, I saw -- He was an incredibly tall German guy, scary.

And I saw him... almost... And he said no.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ If someone comes to me with this dream, a singular dream, and tells me they're going to be the best student I ever had... never turn your back on that person.


♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ I've tried to turn every struggle into an opportunity.

♪♪♪ After I was rejected from Juilliard, I started thinking about creating my own orchestra.

But that's such a huge lift and such a tough endeavor.

I mean, you need incredible resources, you need capital, you need knowledge about how to form a board of directors and how to market something.

I mean, it's almost overwhelming.

But... that idea started to percolate with me, and I was already playing with my swing band which I had started, so I had some experience starting a larger group.

I mean, 14 people is not 50, but at least -- It was like the training wheels.

♪♪♪ We played one gig for the wedding of a Japanese businessman named Tomio Taki.

And a few weeks after the wedding, I decided to track down his phone number and give him a call.

We went out for a drink, and I said, Mr. Taki, I know you're gonna think I'm crazy.'

And I thought I was crazy, too, but... 'The only thing I really want to do in life is become a conductor, and I don't see any women in this field.

I've tried to get into school. I am rejected every time.

I'd like to start my own orchestra.

And do you think you could help me?'

-She came over to me saying that, 'I wanted to be the orchestra conductor.'

So I said, 'Why not?'

And she said, 'Well, as a woman, it's very, very difficult.

We have glass door, glass ceiling.

And we are just women. It's impossible.'

♪♪♪ -Maybe he was in a good mood or maybe he really saw something in me.

You know, to have the courage to go and talk to him and share with him my dream.

And he said, 'Absolutely. I'll help you.'

♪♪♪ -I felt I have to do that challenge.

So we created a Concordia Orchestra with 10 of my friends asking them to donate $5,000 each.

♪♪♪ And I told him, 'Don't ask me any question.

Just give me $5,000.'

♪♪♪ In my opinion, anybody can do anything.

Don't have to be women. Don't have to be the men.

Don't have to be white or don't have to be the Black or what, you know, Oriental.

Who cares?

♪♪♪ [ Birds chirping ] -Where'd she go?

Where'd you go, Josefina? Hm.

She's a crazy bird that's building a nest under the awning.

She's very sweet, but she's loud.

Well, I've known Marin for over 30 years, watched her career from the beginning.

When I met her, she was just getting her music directorships, first ones -- Eugene and Long Island Philharmonic.

And so that was a big deal. It was really exciting.

She seemed -- I mean, she was just really optimistic and upbeat about all that, and they were wonderful starts.

I watched the career move through the U.S., through Europe, through England, and, you know, it's been really, really challenging.

-Okay. Let's make some pizza.

-Great. -[ Laughs ] -Oopsie. [ Laughs ] Yeah. That's -- -'Oopsie.' -'Oopsie.'

So you know that show 'Worst Cooks in America'? Have you ever seen it? -Yes, I do. I have seen that.

-I think Kristin sent my name in for it.

-Really? Already? -[ Laughs ] But there's still time.

-I've known Marin so long, and I've seen her career change so much that I don't see her the way other people see her.

-I managed with the other ones.

-I see her as a person who, like, forgot to do this or didn't do that.

I mean, and a perfect example of that is when we were living in Denver and Auden was maybe 3 or 4 years old.

She was away a lot, and she's finally home and she's supposed to be feeding him breakfast, and I'm finally getting a break.

And, you know, he's yelling for bacon, and she comes down to the basement and she says, 'I just got a MacArthur.'

And I'm like, 'Get him some bacon!'

Well, I didn't really know what the MacArthur was at that time, but also was like, 'I don't know. It's another award. Great.

Now the kid needs bacon.'

[ Laughter ] And I felt so terrible later when I was like, 'Oh, the MacArthur genius award. That's kind of a big deal.'

But, you know, I see her as, like, a partner who's not doing half the stuff she's supposed to be.

You know, I mean, we just live like normal people.

-That looks good. -That looks better, right?

-That looks much better. I think that's it.

-That's it. -Okay.

-I certainly think for women conductors, and I think maybe just for women in leadership roles, there's always that, 'But who's her husband?

And what does he do?'

-No, no, no. -I just want to get this.

-I'm good turning over control to you for this part.

-She's done.

-You don't hear that when the man is in charge, but you hear that when a woman is in charge, because that's very confusing for a lot of people.

[ Indistinct conversations ] -Want hot peppers? That might help.

-Little hot peppers.

[ Birds chirping ] ♪♪♪ -When I saw Bernstein conduct and I said, 'Oh!'

You know, it's like a light-bulb moment.

'That's what I want to do. I want to be the conductor.'

And then when I was told, 'Oh, you can't do that,' I was sort of, 'But I want to do that.'

♪♪♪ How can I do it without anybody really knowing?

-When Mother is sad... -My dad would get me the miniature scores... to learn the skills. -And when he's happy... -I was trying to do it by observing.

I didn't want to just go from here to here.

I want to go here from here, you know, really exponential growth every time.

-Just starting her professional career, Marin is one of five conducting fellows who survived very tough auditions to study at Tanglewood.

In fact, Marin applied four times before she was accepted.

♪♪♪ -That first day when Bernstein arrived, he was late, of course, and everybody's there.

You know, everybody waiting. Shh. Not a peep.

And he walked in the room. He said -- Smoking, yeah.

He said, 'Ohh... Now, where's this Marin?'

And I was like, 'Hello!'

And he said, 'Come on. I've heard a lot about you.'

That's when our deep connection began.

♪♪♪ -You really want those spaces before the piano each time.

-Each time? Not this time. I think not. Yes.

-Why not? Why not all the time?

-Ah, it's just such a surprise. Beautiful, warm strings.

-So you cut this off. -Yes.


♪ Ba ♪ There's a hole.

-Yes. So we try to sustain?

-And, this way, there's no -- -Mm-hmm.

-See if you could do it. -Mm-hmm.

-It's a little hard. -I know. A little tricky, huh?

Well, you stay here, okay? [ Chuckles ] -Also -- [ Laughs ] I do the -- [ Laughter ] I do the... -Bernstein was my hero, and finally becoming his student and being able to work with him was beyond magical.

[ Applause and laughter ] I think this photo might have been the day after I had this wild experience.

I was conducting the orchestra, the student orchestra, and Bernstein was listening from the audience, and I finished.

And usually he ran up and kind of attacked and hugged and did all kinds of things.

And that day, you know, he's out in the audience.

So I went back and I said, 'Oh, Maestro, is everything okay?'

And he said -- He was really lost in thought.

And he said, 'You know... I just don't get it.

I don't understand.'

'What?' I said, 'What? What is it? What is it?'

He said, 'When I close my eyes, I can't tell you're a woman.'

♪♪♪ So I said, 'Well, listen, if you're more comfortable with your eyes closed, I'm good with that, you know?

You can come to all my concerts and close your eyes.'

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Music ends ] [ Cheers and applause ] -Quite a lot has been made of me being the first woman to conduct the last night of the Proms.

[ Cheers and applause ] Here's to the second, third, fourth, fifth, hundreds to come.

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪♪ -Marin Alsop, in her official debut, led the Baltimore Symphony with ease and vigor through Mahler's majestic 'Fifth.'

Her start here was rocky.

BSO musicians balked, feeling they hadn't been properly consulted.

Since then, they have gotten new recording contracts, an upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall, and unprecedented attention.

♪♪♪ [ Cheers and applause ] -Where Marin made history was by actually getting into the good old boys' club, where boards of directors would never before had even considered the idea.

It would have seemed like, 'What, are you kiddin'? Women don't do that.'

So where women had a chance was typically with -- I shouldn't say 'lower,' but they were -- they were not the top-tier orchestras.

That's an important distinction.

She was suddenly going somewhere, not as a guest, not as this little token or a little novelty act, but we're gonna give you one of the major orchestras.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Actually, a couple of months before the full blow-up about the hiring of Marin, this came into my possession through some crazy, anonymous sort of -- People were feeding information all the time from both sides, really.

They had settled on Marin.

They began to run into some opposition.

♪♪♪ This objection is really part of a much broader and weirder thing when I look back now.

'Why are we getting her when there are all these other people out there?'

But, of course, they never named a single candidate of their own.

You know, there were no -- I've never even heard any names that were seriously being considered.

So it began to be a kind of a weird, you know, just 'anybody but' kind of thing.

And so it looked awful.

And they kept trying to pretend it wasn't that; it was the process.

So it became, you know, quite an ugly business.

♪♪♪ -What should have been a moment of great joy turned into the worst nightmare of my entire life.

I woke up to my agent calling me and saying, 'There seems to be some issue.'

A handful of musicians had fabricated some letter of all these complaints about me.

And mind you, now, they don't even know me.

-People who would never say anything about a man moving around a podium would say to me, 'I can't watch that woman moving her rear end up on that.

That's just terrible. That's just too distracting.'

♪♪♪ -Marin needed to make some calls to find out what was going on and talked to her manager.

And I remember just everything shifting in Marin's -- She just, like, sunk. She's just, like, sort of -- Her body just physically kind of caved in, and she got really quite upset.

♪♪♪ -Here I was now with this dilemma.

[ Humming ] How on Earth am I gonna work with these people?

Should I just walk away?

Or should I try to figure out what is wrong?

♪♪♪ So I called up my colleague who was rehearsing with the Baltimore Symphony that week, and I said, 'Listen. Could I have 10 minutes at the top of your rehearsal to speak to the musicians?'

And I came in, and they weren't expecting me.

And I asked that no management, no board, no staff be at my talk to them, that I just needed to speak to the musicians.

I wanted to present myself to them and also present a plan.

I started with artistic excellence and how I could bring them to the next level.

I went through recordings.

They hadn't made a recording in 10 years.

I explained to them about connection to community.

And the chairperson of the committee stood up and said, 'We want to apologize on behalf of our management.

You have our support.'

Yeah, that's good, huh?

No, no, no, that's not good because the conductor has to be facing out to them.

-Oh. -See what I mean?

So let's go the other way.

You know, to generalize that something is specific because of gender is a dangerous thing, right?

But I think we haven't been allowed to have the conversation enough about the fact that there are certain things that are And I do think that the way society treats women in terms of expectation, you know, that women have to look a cer-- You don't just have to be good.

You have to also look a certain way.

I think when we get in front of a large group of people, their expectations are tripled.

The process, I don't think, is overnight.

You know, it takes years to -- to really understand who we are as individuals and be safe and secure in that.

But this comes down to also our gesture, right?

-Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Definitely.

-If we -- You know, if it starts to be like this, right, what happens? -Oh!

-But when men will make that same gesture, the interpretation is very different.

-Oh, yeah. -Because they're sensitive.

And, you know, there's -- And then it becomes a positive instead of a negative.

-Yes, because, for us, sensitivity is... -Is weak. what stops us from being what they think we need to be.

-They already sense that women is sensitive, so everything we do enhance that.

-For example, what I loved about seeing Alex is that when she stands on the podium, like, it's a feeling that when she's there, it's like she belongs in the podium.

Like, 'I'm here, and I belong to be here.'

And it's not, 'I deserve,' or... It's just, 'I'm here, and you better give me the sound that I need.' -Yep.

So do you want to do that moment, that sensitive moment, at 16?

-Yes. Why not? -[ Laughter ] [ Ship horn blows ] [ Indistinct conversations ] [ Geese honking ] [ Indistinct conversations ] -Ah. This is looking... This is Lina, a wonderful conductor who's helping me out. -Brian.

-How are you? -So, that's Brian.

And Katherine. Matthew? -Yeah.


And, so, if we -- Let's start this way, and if it's too loud, then let's start here.

And if it's still too loud, then we'll go over there.

-But what she always does is to rehearse the offstage trumpets first and then -- to see balances and how is it gonna work with the monitors?

[ Trumpets playing ] ♪♪♪ Okay. Uh... -...face away.

-Would you please come closer and then face away?

♪♪♪ Well, we know she breaked barriers for us.

She paved the road.

Now we can walk easier.

People think that it's just, 'Okay, we'll do it because somebody else did it,' but it's not like that.

We need role models. We need someone to look up to.

And she's -- she that to us, Yeah. And to me.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -But look. This is, like, the mist I was talking about, right, of the opening of the symphony.

You know, there's a reason why Mahler put every single note in the piece.

And that's my job, is to figure out what motivated him to write this music in this way.

Whether he was hearing the sound of the cowbells... [ Cowbells clanging ] ...or trumpets from afar... [ Trumpets echoing ] ...or the cuckoo.

[ Birds calling ] I'm a very early riser.

I'm an early-morning person.

Because I think that time around 5:30, 6:00 a.m.

before the world is awake... ♪♪♪ Before all the people with their hopes and expectations and needs have emerged.

I can just be alone... with my imagination.

And it feels -- it feels like I'm in a dream in a way.

But it's the most focused moment, and it's probably the closest to actual conducting for me when I don't have the orchestra.

♪♪♪ I think Mahler's so fascinating because he's really one of the very first composers to use music from his childhood.

♪♪♪ For many people, it was shocking.

It was so kitsch bringing this sort of lowbrow music of everyday life into the concert hall with very highbrow music.

I think that's why I love it.

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Cheers and applause ] Hi, Maya.

-I see you well. How are you? You look great.

-I'm good. What about the Mahler?

Do you want to do that same section that you did for me in South America?

-♪ ♪ -[ Imitating melody ] Ah, you forgot the strings.

♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ [ ] -Yeah, but -- No.

You know, it looks to me like you're conducting a very lyrical thing.

You want to be very aware that either, you know, you want a strength.

For us, I think, as women, sometimes, you know, if you want strong, just make a fist.

You can do that, too. Right.

I mean, not -- If I do -- Not show it like that, but, I mean, like this.

Yeah, that's it.

-Right. So you go -- ♪ And ♪ I give. And percussion, strings.

Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

I mean, maybe not turn your whole body because you have very long -- You have a very long ponytail. You might knock somebody out.

Okay. Here we go.

-I had a really interesting question the other day from a male colleague of mine who said, you know, 'Is it really necessary to have a fellowship for women conductors anymore?

It seems like there are plenty of women conductors around.'

I mean, it's great that things have changed, but they haven't changed at the top level yet.

♪♪♪ 16 years later, since the announcement of my appointment, I remain the only woman to head a major American orchestra.

So clearly this was a battle that needed to be fought.

I'm happy I was the one that could fight it, and I'm happy no one else will have to fight that horrible fight.

♪♪♪ -She was the first in many fields, and being the first is a -- is a tough job.

And I think this is partly why she's fighting so much for us because she doesn't want that we pass through the same pain that she went through.

♪♪♪ -In 2002, I started the Taki Conducting Fellowship, and it's been one of the great joys of my life.

♪♪♪ The old boys' network, that's been there for centuries.

We have to create the old girls' network, you know, so that we can really be there for each other and support each other.

♪♪♪ Especially for women, young women.

We need to have the opportunity to fail... and fail massively and brilliantly and really totally.

The problem is that if you only give them one opportunity, you can't fail.

So you start to try to be safe because there's too much at risk.

So part of this fellowship that I created is really to try to create lots of opportunities to fail and try things.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ I went to Brazil to guest-conduct as a favor to a friend of mine.

And I arrived in Sao Paulo, and I was cursing him the whole way because I thought, 'Oh, this city is crazy.

What am I doing here?'

And then I went to the concert hall, and I said, 'Oh, wow. What is this?'

It's a renovated train station.

And then I met this orchestra.

They were so hungry to play, so hungry to make music, so giving.

I went out to dinner one night with members of the board, and they said, 'Well, it's such a shame that you couldn't be interested in this orchestra.'

And I said, 'Well, I don't see why not.'

♪♪♪ I commuted from Baltimore to Brazil, and my eight years in Brazil were some of the most enjoyable years I've spent.

I fell in love with the musicians.

I fell in love with the potential.

And I knew I could bring something to them.

[ Indistinct conversations ] [ Instruments warming up ] ♪♪♪ [ Speaking Portuguese ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -With Marin, we have played at the Proms in London twice.

We've played at Berlin Philharmonie.

We played at the old Salle Pleyel.

We played at Edinburgh Festival, Lucerne Festival, Royal Festival Hall, concert halls in Vienna.

So, many very prestigious places.

The orchestra, I think, gained an enormous amount of recognition and respect.

I think we are widely seen as the most important Latin American professional orchestra today.

-Yeah, beautiful. Beautiful.

-I met her when I was basically a student, and she gave me the chance to believe in myself because she believed in myself even before I did.

-Yeah... [ Imitating melody ] So that quality.

Let's do it one more time. It's beautiful.

♪♪♪ [ Gisiger speaking Portuguese ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Klevtsova speaking Portuguese ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -Each piece has a very rich and legendary story.

'Scheherazade' is the tales, the One Thousand and One Nights.

And the Mozart, 'The Magic Flute,' which is an incredible fairy tale.

♪♪♪ I haven't seen you in forever! You've been so busy.

-Well, I came from time to time.

This year will be a very difficult year in Brazil because they have election. -I know.

Let me know if I can do anything about the politics.

-Better not to. -I know. It's true.

-Not to touch it. -Hands off. Don't touch it.

-I think the contribution by Marin was to give this orchestra the sense that they are good.

This is very important.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ And I always say it's fascinating to see how the orchestra plays.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ The way how she conducts the orchestra is wonderful.

And she has also acquaintance with social questions, social problems.

She comes from Baltimore, which is also a difficult place like Sao Paolo.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -There's something about the character of Baltimore that resonates with me as a person.

Baltimore hasn't had the same chances that other cities have had.

And Baltimore hasn't made the right decisions always and suffers the consequences often.

-What Marin Alsop has done in Baltimore that's interesting is she's kind of expanded the idea of what it means to be a music director and had different ideas about how to connect to a city, particularly a troubled city.

I mean, Baltimore is a city that's very poor.

It's a city that has a huge crime problem.

It's a city where, you know, after the Freddie Gray death in police custody, you had uprisings and riots.

It's a city with political corruption.

And I think Marin Alsop saw early on that part of her job was to make the orchestra as good as it could be, but it was also to reach out to the city.

[ Drumsticks tapping rhythmically ] ♪♪♪ She founded the OrchKids program, which is a phenomenal program, starting with, you know, 30 kids in an underserved school, and now it's expanded to 1,300 kids in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Baltimore, going every day for music lessons, free dinners, snacks, homework, tutoring.

And it's been up and running for long enough that you have the first real graduates coming out of the program and, like, studying music at a higher level.

♪♪♪ -It's just been the most rewarding experience to watch these young people thriving and striving.

And, I mean, I'm more proud of them than I am of anything else I've ever done.

Not that I did it. They did it all.

♪♪♪ -[ Singing indistinctly ] ♪ Clap your hands ♪ -You know, the one thing I never want to do to a young person is to tell them you're 'not' something, you 'can't' do something.

-♪ Clap your hands ♪ -Especially someone who clearly has a passion for it.

-♪ Clap your hands ♪ -And for me, that's the worst four-letter word ever invented -- 'can't.'

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -♪ I want respect ♪ ♪ I want respect ♪ [ Cheers and applause ] -Oh, you need music to thrive! Like, you need it to thrive.

Some of these kids that you talk to, they will have, like, self-esteem issues, but when they pick up that instrument, it's something totally different.

So it's like, yes, that's what I'm talking about.

Building up character, letting them know that they can go far.

So music is essential to me. It really is. It really is.

This is my nephew, BJ. This is the trombone player.

This is the one who got me all the opportunities in OrchKids.

[ Laughs ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -Uh, Ross, can you do much louder?

-How much time does she have? -Tempo primo.

Can I do one more time? -She needs to rehearse.

-I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and I was a trumpet player and I've always wanted to be a conductor since I was 16.

♪♪♪ It's the sheer sound of everything around me that motivated me to say I want to be a conductor.

And I actually applied to Peabody a few times in my first or second year in other schools, but never got in.

But there's another aspect that you can do to learn your craft as a conductor, is to go to workshops, and that's where I met Marin.

♪♪♪ I felt like I was being brave.

I went up to Marin and said, 'You know, I really want to go to graduate school for conducting. What should I do?'

And she said, 'Well, why don't you come study with me?'

♪♪♪ It's so surreal that people see something in you that you don't see in yourself, and that's what Marin does.

And that's what conducting is.

And I'm learning how to do that being the teacher of conducting now.

-Prepare, prepare. Don't stop. Prepare, prepare.

Prepare, prepare. Prepare.


-As an African-American conductor in Atlanta, I saw thousands of kids come into the concert hall who got to see someone like themself do something that they love.

-Yes, you're going down the stairs.

You started pretty low.

-Pretty low, yeah.

-For me, I feel like that was an accomplishment in many ways.

Somebody's gonna see that this is an opportunity that they can -- they can have.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -The thing that terrified people so much about Bernstein in the classical-music world was his insistence on breaking the rules and his insistence that art should not be elitist.

[ Choir vocalizing ] -♪ And I believe in God ♪ ♪ But does God believe me? ♪ ♪ I'll believe in any God if any God believes... ♪ -So, I remember being so excited that Marin was gonna do it here and also that she believed so strongly in this piece and tried to make that music speak in a way to anyone of any faith or any lack of faith, but to understand that what it's really about is that we are supposed to be a community.

♪♪♪ -Bernstein, he wasn't going for perfection.

It's a piece that can really carry the beauty of ambiguity.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Thuds ] ♪♪♪ [ Children singing ] -♪ Gloria Patri ♪ -♪ Gloria Patri ♪ -♪ Gloria Patri ♪ -♪ Gloria Patri ♪ -♪ Gloria Filio ♪ -♪ Gloria Filio ♪ -♪ Spiritui Sancto ♪ -♪ Spiritui Sancto ♪ -Okay, so, you know, when you play music, it's really just -- you can -- You don't have to concentrate on the world around you.

You can go really anywhere you want, even if you can't actually get there in real life.

And it can take your sadness away from you.

And it's just an all-around great thing that I'm glad that people invented it so long ago.

♪♪♪ -You from Vienna?

-I'm from Vienna, yes. -Oh, fantastic.

♪♪♪ -I learned for six years to play the violin.

-Did you play in an orchestra?

-Yes, I played the second violin.

And I remember my theme.

[ Imitating melody ] -And you could probably play that today still, huh?

-Maybe, yes.

-[ Laughs ] -And what did you -- -I played violin, also. Like you. I played violin.

-And do you have sisters and brothers?

-Just me. An only child. -Ah.

-But when I was growing up, we had a lot of dogs, and they all sang.

[ Howling ] So we would play chamber music, and all the dogs would sing.

[ Howling ] -[ Laughs ] -I will ask you to make a photo from you.

-Of course.

-So. Yeah.

Thank you. Once more.

Thank you. -Thank you.

And I will give you... -Oh, that's beautiful!

Thank you!

It's a Gerbera, we say in German.

-Beautiful. Wonderful. Thank you so much. Wow.

Doesn't even look real.

-It is real. -I know. [ Laughs ] ♪♪♪ -Vienna's a big deal because Vienna is not really that enthusiastic, or hasn't been, over the past about female classical musicians.

So that was really quite a shock and a big deal that they would appoint a music director who is a woman, an American woman.

-I'm the only woman here in the brass and wind section, and it does make a difference, and that's what I hope for her, as well.

-[ Speaking German ] Okay? Thank you, everybody.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Hofmann speaking German ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -Got it.

-Sure. Sure. So, did everyone hear?

More -- More dynamics, especially the piano.

End of life for everything. Good. Okay.

One more time... ♪♪♪ So, Schumann.


♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ I think it's very good.

But will you make sure you have the beginning?

Because if not, we'll do that quickly.

Well done, everybody. Nice sound. Good.

-Thank you. -Excellent.

Now where am I?

Oh. Is it this way? -Yes.

-How is it possible that I get lost going one flight of stairs?

I have such a bad sense of direction.

Down I knew. -Downstairs.

-That I know. Thank you.

♪♪♪ Going to Vienna is such an incredible opportunity and privilege to be in that, really, the birthplace of classical music, where you can walk in the steps of the composers and breathe the air that they breathed.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ I think, for classical musicians, particularly for a conductor, it's iconic.

And also it's a -- it's a place of... such reverence that it can be intimidating.

The great thing for me about the city is knowing that Leonard Bernstein had such a deep connection.

And my favorite video clip is when he's conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, and he says... [ Speaks German ] -[ Speaking German ] -You know, this Jewish American kid, you know, telling the Vienna Philharmonic that this is not the way you play Mahler, I mean, it's great.

♪♪♪ I've never been good with a lot of rules or with the extremist establishment.

You know, I feel handcuffed and trapped by those kinds of things, so... I think this is perfect for me to enter into this city of perfectionism with the opportunity to be myself, you know?

That's really -- I think that's a great thing, and that's what Leonard Bernstein gave me.

You know, he gave me the permission to be me.

[ Instruments warming up ] -Okay. -Okay.

[ Cheers and applause ] [ Cheers and applause stops ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -I think music still means exactly the same thing it meant to me when I was 3 years old, 4 years old.

It's a place to be emotional.

It's a place that accepts everything about me.

♪♪♪ It's a place that validates what I feel.

It's a place to make friends. It's a place to have company.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Birds chirping ] My thought today is how much I miss them.

♪♪♪ And what incredibly wonderful and difficult people they were. [ Chuckles ] Um... the fact that they died 10 days apart, I thought I wouldn't survive it.

This deep connection they had was fateful.

And... I think it came for them through their music, and that's why I put a quote from Bernstein on the stone.

We led a very -- quite an isolated life.

And I think that stayed with me all the way until the moment they both died and I looked around and I felt completely alone.

♪♪♪ I couldn't have imagined a better way to say goodbye to them.

I was able to cancel what I was doing and go spend time with my mother.

I saw her a lot.

And she apologized hugely for a lot of the...neglect, I would call it.

♪♪♪ The lessons I took away from my childhood, in terms of what kind of parent I wanted and want to be, I want my son to be his own person.

I want him to have room to discover what he loves.

♪♪♪ Mostly, he knows himself.

He knows how he feels. He's secure with that.

I hope he feels, above all, extraordinarily loved because that's what I missed.

♪♪♪ Whoa!

I had this really interesting talk with him where I asked, you know, when you finish a climb with somebody, do you sit and analyze it, you know, review?

'Oh, remember when we'd...?' He said, 'No, because... I'm so focused when I'm doing it that I don't remember it, you know?'

And then he said, 'It reminded me of you conducting.'

So it's that same kind of focus and passion and engagement.

♪♪♪ I don't worry about anything in terms of conducting and music.

I just try to exist in the moment.

It's like jumping into the darkness and trusting that you'll land on your feet.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Until I find what I call the magic key to open up this sort of abstract box, the key feels very real.

The box itself feels more abstract to me.

The key can be any shape.

It can be any color. It can be any thing.

But if it opens up the door to the moral of the story, then it gives me access to why the composer wrote every note in the piece.

♪♪♪ It's almost like the key to somebody's heart, and so it becomes much more than just conducting.

It's about the unspoken beauty of what we can have when we connect as human beings.

♪♪♪ It's about hope for the planet.

It's about hope for humanity and kindness and all those things.

So...I'm gonna cry.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Cheers and applause ] Every day from that day when I saw Leonard Bernstein conduct, being 9 years old every day, I thought, 'I'm never gonna get to do this.'

Because everybody said, 'No, no, you can't.

No, no, no, no, no.'

You know, the world, society, everything.

'No, no, no.'

And here I am. I'm doing it.

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Here's the person I want to hear.

What did you think? Now I feel better.

-[ Speaking indistinctly ] -That's great.

'Please give her my best regards and love. Fine woman.'

20,000 exclamation points.

[ Laughter ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -I'd say, like, 'How hard can it be?

Marin Alsop did it. So can I.'

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ -One, two. And you really -- It's really -- One, two, one, two.

One -- Are you relaxed?

-[ Piano note plays ] -Better, better... Off.

[ Piano notes play ] -That was good. -Mm-hmm.

-Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Almost.

Maybe even practice sometimes on your heels.

I'll catch you if you fall. Okay. Do the first chord.

[ Speaks Italian ] -To find out more about this and other 'Great Performances' programs, visit

Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

-Change your face. Yeah, yeah. [ Laughs ] So you have to -- you have to change right away.

Right? Everything's very and then you're like.. 'No, just kidding,' right?

But your face has to change right away.

Do it one more time. That was very good.


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