Paying It Forward

Marin Alsop is one of the world’s foremost conductors. She got there by helping change the classical world. For decades, Ian Bostridge has been enraptured by Franz Schubert’s Winterreise. The British tenor has found the song cycle to be as effervescent and relevant now as it was when it was first composed two centuries ago.

AIRED: January 22, 2021 | 0:26:46

- [Announcer] '' Articulate,'' with Jim Cotter,

is made possible with generous funding

from the Neubauer Family Foundation.

(upbeat music)

- Welcome to '' Articulate,''

the show that brings you insights into the human condition.

I'm so fine, we are ahead of thinkers.

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- [Jim] I'm Jim Cotter and on this episode,

'' Paying it Forward,''

Marin Alsop, is one of the foremost conductors in the world.

She got there by helping change the classical music world.

- We have to acknowledge that women were really,

almost kept out of this profession.

Ian Bostridge has like many,

been enraptured with Franz Schubert's '' Winterreise,''

for decades.

The British Tenor,

has found that the centuries old song cycle,

is just as effervescent and relevant as it was

when it was first composed.

- Some criticism of consumerist,

the desire to possess stuff.

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- [Jim] That all I have on '' Articulate.''

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(orchestral music)

When in 2005, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra,

announced that Marin Alsop,

will take over as the Music Director,

she faced immediate resistance,

but it didn't come from outside the Orchestra,

it came from the musicians,

who felt that they hadn't had enough say

in the process of her selection.

- You know what should have been

and was at least momentarily,

one of the happiest days of my life, you know,

when the Board, Chair of the Board at that time,

called and said,

'' Would you consider

taking on the Music Director position?''

I think that turned into probably the worst nightmare

of my entire life.

- [Jim] Back then, Alsop was that rarest of rare birds,

a top level female conductor.

Knowing the objections of the musicians

she would have to lead,

close colleagues urged her not to take the job.

Instead, she asked for 10 minutes alone with the Orchestra.

- So I walked out,

they were quite surprised to see me, I think,

but it was a private conversation.

I asked the Management and Board not to be there.

I outlined the areas that I thought I could be helpful in

to them, you know, not the least of which was conducting.

And I said, but I'm,

I won't sign this contract unless I have your support.

And so I started to walk off

and the Chair of the Committee said,

'' You have our support.''

And, you know, whether it was genuine or not in that moment,

it's hard to know,

but I needed to have that in order to begin.

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- [Jim] Now nearing the end of her tenure

as Music Director in Baltimore,

Alsop has accomplished much

in the Concert Hall and recording studio and beyond.

Under her leadership,

the Orchestra released their first recordings in years

and garnered the

'' Grammy Nomination for Best Classical Album in 2010'',

for recording of Leonard Bernstein's Mass.

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She also conducted the BSO,

on its first international tour in over a decade.

In addition, she founded '' ORCHkids,''

a year round, during and afterschool music program,

designed to foster social change.

Marin Alsop's journey into music began at a young age,

and she's never really known anything,

but a life rich in music.

Born in New York City in the 1950s,

both her parents were professional musicians,

playing with the New York City Ballet.

She knew she wanted to be a conductor from the age of nine,

and was the rare child

who had a Mini Orchestra at her disposal.

Her parents would invite their friends

and colleagues over to play,

so that their precautious daughter

would have someone to conduct.

All of this music so early in her life,

she says, was key in helping to form her character.

- I believe wholeheartedly in the musician,

as a kind of prototype for the human being,

because all of the skills you need,

are transferable to everything else.

So, for my parents, it was all about, you know,

'' First of all, the show must go on,

no matter what, we don't miss a concert.''

And we had some funny things, you know,

whether we had to abandon cars and run and, you know,

and of course, as a kid, I was dragged along to everything.

So, I saw them, and you go on stage and nothing,

you pretend nothing happened, you know,

it's a whole, it's all about this,

preserving the integrity of the music at all costs.

- I also watched them say,

'' Well, you know,

we really should have a concert hall on our house

and let's build it.''

So then the three of us are trying to build this, you know,

huge, enormous living room, which eventually we did.

(orchestral music)

- Marin Alsop found an early cheerleader

in one of the 20th Centuries' most towering musical figures,

Leonard Bernstein.

She's one of the last conductors to learn firsthand

from the legendary composer, conductor and pianist,

who was a lifelong advocate

for the transformative power of music,

despite his rather traditional perspectives,

on who should be on the stage

and who should remain in the audience.

- From the minute I saw him conduct

and he turned around and spoke to the audience,

I felt engaged and gripped

and that he was speaking right to me

and I think he had that capacity,

also, even though there were thousands of people around him

and cameras and everything, you know,

if he was focused on you,

he was focused on you and everything else fell away.

When he would teach me, give me a lesson, even in public,

I didn't even notice anybody else was there.

- So not this time.

- And this one.

I think no, yes, I understand.

- Why not all the time?

- There was a funny moment where,

usually, when I finished conducting,

he would jump all over me

and jump on the podium and go crazy

and I finished and where is he?

And he was out sitting out in the audience

with his head down and I thought,

oh gosh, what happened?

And so I went out and I said,

Maestro, what's, is something wrong?

He said, '' I can't figure it out.

When I sit here and close my eyes,

I can't tell you're a woman.''

And I said, well, look,

if you want to close your eyes through my concerts,

I don't mind.

I mean, we had a good laugh about it,

but he told me that he was trying to figure it out.

He was trying to work out for himself,

why gender should be an inhibiting factor

or a determining factor

and he couldn't find any reason.

So, I think for me, it was actually extremely validating

because he was willing to think in a broader way, you know,

why aren't women accepted

because I can't hear any difference?

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- [Jim] By the time she took the reins in Baltimore,

Alsop was well qualified for the job,

having already had leadership roles

in orchestras in Colorado, Richmond, Virginia,

Eugene, Oregon, and St. Louis.

She had also guest conducted major orchestras across the U.S

and in Europe and Asia

and in 2005, she became the first conductor

to receive a so-called,'' MacArthur Genius Award.''

For Marin Alsop, music isn't something for a select few

to be appreciated from afar, it's something to share

and she's made that sharing

a cool part of her work in Baltimore.

- I was pretty shocked at the fact that

the city is an 80% African-American,

70, 80% African-American

and we had one African-American musician in the Orchestra.

And when you look across the orchestras

of the United States, the world, actually,

there are very few people of color in these orchestras

and why is that?

I mean, it's a fundamental reason

because kids don't have access to these instruments

and training when they're little, you know,

and you have to train from when you're very little,

it's like the Olympics,

in order to achieve that level of acumen.

So, I set out to try to change that for the future,

I never anticipated I would change it for my tenure,

but for the future of this city

and we started a program with 30 first graders,

in West Baltimore

and now we have 2000 kids playing musical instruments

but the most amazing part is that

the first graduates, they're now graduating in high school,

and they're going to music schools, they're being accepted.

I never dreamt that the first generation of this program,

would, some of them would turn into professional musicians,

they want to go into music, into education,

into music management and they're hugely successful.

The Orchestra has gained a reputation in the community

for caring and feeling somewhat relevant

to the community it inhabits.

And I think as we move forward, especially post COVID,

these qualities in arts institutions,

are going to be critical.

We have to be responsible to the communities we live in

and we have to represent them

and we have to figure out ways to open the doors wide

and share with everyone.

And I feel that at least I could make a start.

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- [Jim] The other major gap in the orchestral world,

was for a long time the gender divide.

Alsop has said that she thinks the title of

'' First Woman of Conducting,''

is a quote really silly epithet, yet it's not without merit.

In addition to being the '' First Female Music Director,''

of a major American Orchestra,

she was also the first woman to conduct

'' The Last Night of The Proms''

and in 2019, the ''First Female Chief Conductor

of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.''

And though she modestly rejects the title of

'' Trailblazer,'' today,

there are at least a dozen young women

following in her wake

and she wasn't just a role model,

almost 20 years ago, she started

'' The Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship,''

to train promising female conductors.

- We have to acknowledge

that women were really,

almost kept out of this profession.

I mean, not just conducting in that leadership role,

I mean, as leaders,

women have been really kept at the fringes

and only one or two let through now and then,

but that can't be because there were no talented women

as we see,

there were talented women

that weren't acknowledged,

and there are dozens and probably hundreds of women,

who missed that window of opportunity, you know,

I just want to say it out loud

because I feel for them and, you know,

I'm happy that young women are now getting opportunities

because well, it should have happened all along the way.

So, I don't think it's that suddenly,

all these talented women popped out of the earth,

I think they've been there all the time,

but suddenly, they were able to get a foot in the door

and maybe even now the door is open for them.

I was busy for 30 years saying,

where, why aren't there more women?

What can I do?

And it's a matter of creating opportunities

but suddenly, every orchestra wants a woman on the podium

because it's part of what they ''have to do''

and I'm thrilled because it is an opportunity now,

I just want to ensure that it's not just a trend

and they're not just doing it because they have to do it,

but because it's genuine and sustainable.

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- This will be one of Alsop's last season at the helm

in Baltimore,

she'll continue to occasionally conduct concerts,

as Music Director Laureate,

but she'll be spending a lot more time in Europe.

Still she says that she and her partner,

horn player, Kristin Jurkscheit,

will stay connected to Baltimore.

- I think the time is perfect to leave.

I believe that I'll be tied for the longest tenure

as Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony.

I think we're going to try to stay connected to the city

and to the community in ways that can be helpful

and supportive.

I'm devoted to the ORCHkids Program, you know,

that's really, I want to see it succeed

and reach more and more kids.

So, while we may relocate,

I think we'll continue to keep our roots here in Baltimore.

This kind of life,

where you keep having to build relationships

and then give them up as you move on.

I think at a certain point in life,

it doesn't feel quite worth it,

especially when you feel so connected to a place

and I really love this city.

- [Jim] But at the start of her final season

with the Baltimore Symphony,

the global pandemic effectively shut down

any chance of her being on stage with her musicians

one last time.

- I think it's a little bit ironic and bittersweet

that my last season probably won't exist.

You know, maybe I'm having a nice, relaxing moment week

but it's definitely not a diminuendo,

it's definitely taking my time

to ramp up to the new crescendo.

I think that music can connect people

where words can often antagonize them.

So, I look at it more as a vehicle rather than an end goal.

(orchestral music)

Music is a great comfort, it brings joy, it brings memories,

it brings sadness, you know, when words escape us,

music can often be the consoler.

So, I feel privileged to live a life

with music as my vehicle.

(orchestral music)

- [Jim] Alsop's new home away from home is Vienna,

a famously musically misogynistic city,

it's symphony orchestra,'' The Vienna Philharmonic,''

refused to hire female musicians

for the first 155 years of its existence

and only acquiesced to international pressure in 1997.

It wasn't conducted by a woman until almost a decade later,

when Simone Young, took the podium of the music for Ryan.

But Marin Alsop isn't much concerned

with past emissions in the Austrian capital,

she's here to do what she's always done,

change lives through music by speaking finely

and carrying a small stick.

(orchestral music)


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(snow storm blizzard sound)

- [Off screen voice] '' With a heart

filled with endless love for those who scorned me,

I wandered far away.

For many and many a year, I sang songs.

Whenever I tried to sing of love, it turned to pain.

And again, when I tried to sing of pain,

it turned to love.''

♪ (no English word spoken)

Today, 193 years after it was composed,

Franz Schubert's '' Winterreise'' or '' A Winter Journey,''

remains one of the most performed song cycles.

This collection of poem set to music unfolds in 24 parts

and tells the story of a mysterious man

wandering through the woods, mourning his lost love,

searching for connection, enlightenment and healing.

And though the 75 minute piece

is known for being melancholy,

the wanderer does not only wallow,

he also has a sense of humor.

- And he is never really gloomy

because the scene as the voice in the poems

becomes aware that he's being gloomy,

he starts to.

- Shake out of it.

- Shake out of it, and well, starts to question himself

and starts to think, well, why am I being like this?

He is examining himself

and there's something incredibly modern about it

in that way, it's a mixture of the sort of gallows humor

and quirkiness and sort of deep existential anxiety.

- The celebrated British Tenor and scholar, Ian Bostridge,

has been singing and contemplating '' Winterreise,''

since he was 20 years old.

In 1994, when he was 30, he started in a film version of it.

26 years later, the piece remains as captivating

and as mysterious to him as ever.

♪(no English word being spoken) ♪

- And they are only possibilities

because it is such an open-ended work,

which is one of its powers and one of its strengths

but I think it's also a work

in which you can hang all sorts of possibilities

- [Jim] Bostridge documents his lifelong fascination

with '' Winterreise'' in his 2014 book,

'' Schubert's Winter Journey, Anatomy Of An obsession.''

And as the tenor draws parallels between the modern world

and Schubert's experiences in the 18 hundreds,

then as now, greed and materialism was rank,

a fact Schubert's wanderer laments

while making his way through a quiet town,

full of ordinary selfish people.

- '' Im Dorfe'', which is the 17th song, which is about,

it starts with a sort of rumbling noise and the piano,

and he's approaching a village

and he can hear the chains rattling, the dogs barking

and then he imagines, I suppose,

that the people in their beds are snoring

and the piano is imitating all these noises

by this sort of rumbling that it's doing.

And then he talks about all the dreams

that they've had while they're asleep

and how, when they wake up,

they hope to find all these dreams,

on the things that they've had in these dreams

on their pillows and it's a sort of,

somebody outside this bush or existence

is imagining these people dreaming about having stuff.

And I suppose it's a criticism of consumerist society,

the desire to possess stuff.

And that for me, connects to how we are now

and how we just want, you know,

the economy is geared around the desire to have stuff,

and we have to want to have stuff and get more stuff

because otherwise everything seizes up

and it's all a bit of a dream.

- [Jim] Among the activities of Schubert

and his cohort of rebellious artist friends,

they shared music at Schubertiads,

intimate concerts hosted in the private homes

of Schubert's friends and peers.

(orchestral music)

One of them being Ignaz Von Sonnleithner,

the Founder of the '' Society of Music Friends

of the Austrian Imperial State,''

but in 1820, the Austrian government,

caught wind of their revolutionary activities

and arrested Schubert and four of his friends,

one of them, the poet, Johann Senn,

was jailed then exiled from Vienna.

The others, including Schubert were simply reprimanded

for using hostile language against officials,

but this didn't cow Franz Schubert for the rest of his life,

which would last a mere eight years.

The composer used his art

to express his yearning for freedom,

from the oppression of a conservative status quo

but Schubert was also a flawed man,

during the summer of 1818, he worked as a music tutor,

for the teenage daughter of the Hungary Count,

Johann Karl Esterhazy

and developed a strong unrequited affection

for the youngest Countess, Caroline,

eight years his junior.

Legend has it,

that Schubert rode many a complicated piano duet,

just so his hands could intertwine with hers.

After she rejected him, he quit the job

in the '' Anatomy of an Obsession,''

Bostridge cites this infatuation as a deeply felt connection

between Schubert and his wanderer,

they were both men in exile, nursing broken hearts.

- So for example, in the first song, I'd know,

it did occasionally worried me to think about

why is this young man leaving the house late at night

in the 1820s?

It seems a bit odd that this guy is in this house

and that he's fallen in love with a girl and who is he?

And I, it became clear to me researching it

and thinking about it,

that he's one of the great experiences of sort of, I dunno,

young, well educated man in that period

was working as a house tutor

and all the great philosophers and poets of the period,

they all worked as private house tutors in families

and quite often it got a bit messy.

(birds chirping)

- [Jim] Schubert died, age 31 in 1828,

only a year after '' Winterreise'' was published.

Nearly 200 years on, the work continues to resonate,

hanks to the universally human story it tells

under those like Ian Bostridge,

who continue to squeeze new meaning from it,

with each fresh listening, each new performance.

- And I suppose,

when I'm doing something like '' Winterreise,''

what I'd say is that it's a collision

between the work, me and the audience

and I it's like, it sort of feels like sleepwalking, really,

you start the piece and you go into it,

you don't quite know where you're going to end up

because in the course of singing the piece,

all sorts of things may you come across, new ideas,

new light that's cast on the personality of the wanderer

in the cycle and your own personality

and it's different every time.

There's a song called ''Das Wirtshaus,''

which really means ''The Pub'',

towards the end of the cycle,

which is where the wanderer reaches the graveyard

and he thinks that it as a pub and he wants to lie down

and go to sleep, not get up again

but the, he sort of pretends there's an innkeeper there

and the innkeeper won't let him get in and he goes off.

And there was just one particular occasion

when I suddenly thought that all live members,

it was a very macabre thought,

but I thought of all the members of the audience

being like gravestones in a graveyard,

so, and that carried a particular sort of threat

and was an interesting way of looking at it.


♪(no English is being spoken)

- [Jim] Franz Schubert's '' Winterreise''

begins with an ending.

The first song in the cycle is a farewell

that forces him to greet the unknown,

to find out what's next.

- ''Gute Natcht,''

good night is very often the end of the tale, isn't it?

It's what we say to children

when the bedtime story is finished,

it has something gentle about it

and this is a gentle song,

a song, which in rehearsal or in performance,

I always experience as both an ending to something,

and also a prelude to the cycle proper.

Marked down in dynamic and hushed pretty much throughout,

as the wanderer creeps away from the household

in which he has loved and somehow lost.

♪(no English is being spoken)

(upbeat music)

- [Jim] For more '' Articulate,''

find us on social media or on our website,

On the next ''Articulate'' another artist tenor,

Stephen Costella,

reflects on the life and work

of the beloved 20th Century singer and movie star,

Mario Lanza, in an Articulate exclusive concert show,

celebrating Lanza's centenary.

I'm Jim Cotter.

Join us for the next '' Articulate''

(upbeat music)

- [Announcer] ''Articulate,'' with Jim Cotter,

is made possible with generous funding

from the Neubauer Family Foundation.

(upbeat music)


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