For lunch yesterday, the critics got a "Munch with Marin" session. Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony and conductor of Opera Colorado's production of "Nixon in China," graciously answered all sorts of questions from the critics for an hour or so. She came across as a thoughtful person with a bit of dry wit and a good sense of irony. The format was question and answer, but I'll just relate some of the information in a straight narrative.
Alsop mentioned that during her time as the music director of the Colorado Symphony the budget grew from $2 million to $11 million, and she has fond memories of conducting in Denver.
Her time with the BSO didn't start out so smoothly. Some in the orchestra didn't want her there. Before signing the contract with the BSO, she decided to go to the orchestra members and talk to them and make her case. She wanted to bring honesty, genuineness, and success to the orchestra. They changed their minds, and decided to give her a chance. She still has conversations with the orchestra and some of its subcommittees to make sure that everyone is on the same page. She felt that the musicians, in the past, had been left out of the process and were very frustrated. She feels that things are going very well.
Alsop said that the BSO had a $16 million deficit when she arrived and that in the past year the orchestra operated in the black.
A large corporation, PNC, underwrote the $25 ticket offer last year with a $1 million donation and received such good press from their generosity that other corporations stepped up this year to do the underwriting. The renewal rate this year at the BSO is very high (she thought that it's 87%, but she wasn't sure).
Alsop mentioned that studies have been done about why orchestras have had problems with their audiences. The problems don't have to do with the music. The problems center on parking, getting a drink during intermission (including the double skinny, soy lattes), box office, and other things not related to music at all.
She is excited about a new education program that will appeal to youth. The BSO is drawing from the success that Venezuela has had and using that as a model.
Alsop reflected a bit on her time with Leonard Bernstein at Tangelwood. She was very impressed with Bernstein and has come to think that Bernstein so heavily identified himself with Mahler that he may have actually thought he was Mahler. Apparently, Bernstein held a lot of the same superstitions as Mahler, and their lives have some parallels.
For more information about the classical music critics conference, see the posting on June 10th.