&ldquoAs Alsop faced the cellos and drew from them the most tremendously shaped phrases with every inflection of her baton, you were aware of being in the presence of greatness.&rdquo
On How She Got Started
How did you get started in music?

Unlike many of my friends who fell in love with music through their schools where they were allowed to pick an instrument and play in the orchestra, I was born with a job! My parents are both classical musicians and they could never ever imagine a life for their child that was not filled with music! My first instrument was piano which I started at a very early age and then I started violin when I was 5 or 6 years old. At 7 I began studies at the Juilliard Pre College Division and later, when I was in my early teens, I studied classical guitar for a few years.

How and when did you become interested in conducting, specifically?

My father took me to hear Bernstein do a Young People’s concert when I was 9 or 10 years old and that was it for me! I absolutely knew that I wanted to become a conductor and never changed my mind!

On The Proms
What did it mean to conduct the Last Night of the Proms?

Conducting the Last Night of the Proms was a real honor for me. I have loved working in the UK from the very first moment I appeared with the LSO in the 90s. British musicians have an incredible work ethic and genuine passion for what they do – and all with a great sense of humour! This is, for me, an ideal environment. My experience with British audiences has been warm and enthusiastic and the UK has always felt like a second home. I also felt very fortunate to be collaborating for the first time with the soloists for the night: Nigel Kennedy and Joyce DiDonato: two exceptional, unique, high voltage artists! The word that comes to my mind for both of them is: dynamite! It was thrilling!

As well as being the first woman to head a full time major American orchestra, you were the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms. How does that feel?

I was exceedingly proud to be “the first” but I was also a bit shocked that there could still be firsts for women in 2013!

Why aren't there more women?

As Roger Wright said, it is partly due to “the weight of history. There are also clearly 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.”

Did you have any input into the program?

I worked with Roger Wright to create a varied program that would bring our two worlds together, paying tribute to my teacher and mentor, Leonard Bernstein while drawing upon the richness of British music through the works of Britten and Vaughan Williams. It was also an important anniversary year for Verdi and Wagner, so there was much to celebrate!

The program also included the world premiere of a work by Anna Clyne. I think Anna is the real deal and has something important to say. I have performed many of her works and have invited her repeatedly to attend the Cabrillo Festival of contemporary music where I have been Music Director for 21 years.

The challenge I encountered was having to pare down the selections. My Last Night of the Proms program could easily have lasted 4 hours, but I think we managed to find a good balance in the end!

What do the Proms signify for you?

The Proms is a very special and unique atmosphere. I had the wonderful experience of making my debut (and return) at the Proms with the Bournemouth Symphony when I was Principal Conductor and was really moved by the enthusiasm of the audiences and the sense of occasion we all shared. Having the opportunity to bring my Brazilian orchestra last summer was very exciting. The public response, including waving Brazilian flags, was fantastic and my musicians were over the moon at the opportunity.

On Her Baltimore Symphony Position
What interested you about the Music Director position with the Baltimore Symphony?

The main draw for me was the quality of this orchestra and what I saw as enormous potential – artistically, organizationally and in the community. The optimal working environment is one where change and innovation are genuinely embraced.

And you've found that with Baltimore?

The BSO is the perfect partner. The main issues facing the orchestra when I took on the job – a large debt, declining ticket sales, and the fact that the orchestra hadn’t made any recordings in 10 years – have all been addressed in substantive ways even before my first season started. Now we are able to take a longer view and create a realistic 3-5 year plan with a focus on the Baltimore community, and this is truly exciting!

Baltimore is a city on the move. It is the last affordable east coast city and the neighbourhoods are undergoing dramatic changes, yet it maintains its small town warmth. I am originally from New York City, so coming to back to the east coast – to Baltimore – feels like returning home.

On Being the First Woman...
What does it feel like to be the first woman to head a full time major American orchestra?

I am extraordinarily proud to be the “first” but I am also shocked by the fact that in the 21st century there can still be “firsts” for women!

Do women bring any different qualities to the podium?

This is a very difficult and far too general question for me to answer. The thing that I have noticed, however, is the fact that women in the audience seem to have a different concert-going experience when a woman is leading the orchestra.

Frequently women tell me that they feel empowered and can relate very directly with a woman conducting. And at the BSO’s opening gala a female journalist told me that the woman seated next to her, dressed is a formal gown, stood up and high-fived her at the end of the concert.

Now that is cool.

On the "Woman Conductor" Issue
Have you ever experienced prejudice as a woman in a field dominated by men?

This question and all questions about discrimination are very difficult to answer because so much of anyone’s interpretation of events is based on personal attitude and personal experience.

Becoming a conductor is an extremely competitive ambition to begin with; but I would attribute some of my success to the fact that I never interpreted any rejections as gender based, even if I could have done so! This enabled me to use each rejection as an opportunity to improve myself by working harder, listening to criticism and developing even more perseverance!

I personally feel that accepting the role of powerless victim can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and I am unwilling to even entertain that concept!

Do you feel that there are more opportunities now for female conductors than say, when you started?

There are certainly more women going into the field these days. When I teach it’s generally 50/50 ratio of men to women and I don’t think women hesitate as much to consider a career as a conductor these days. As far as opportunities, I would imagine that there are more now than ever before, but it would be naive not to notice that there are no women music directors of any major orchestras in the world…

You are considered a role model to aspiring (female) musicians. Do you have any comments about that?

While gender seems an inconsequential and irrelevant attribute to me, I also understand what an incredible opportunity it is to be a “first woman” in any pursuit. I am in a position now to create opportunities for the next generations of women and I take that responsibility very seriously.

I consider that to be my honour, privilege and responsibility. If I can inspire women and give them the confidence to pursue their dreams, that would make me very happy! In fact, I started a fellowship for women conductors in 2002 called the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship (http://www.takiconcordia.org). Every year one exceptionally talented woman is selected to work with me at my orchestras.

Are things changing?

It takes the longest for change to occur at the highest levels and that is exactly the case in conducting. The conductor is the ultimate authority figure and people are still not comfortable with women in those roles.

We all need to participate in creating as many opportunities as possible for women to be seen in these leadership roles. In 2002 I started a fellowship for women conductors called the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship (TCCF – http://www.takiconcordia.org). The goal is to encourage, promote and create opportunities for talented young women in the field. We have had seven winners so far and three are now American Music Directors (Memphis, Hartford and Reno Philharmonics).

On Her Greatest Influences
Who are your greatest influences--musically or personally?

My parents, first and foremost. They are both professional musicians — my father was concertmaster of the NYCBallet for 30 years and my mother is a cellist with that orchestra, but that only begins to scratch the surface of their enormous talents. My father also plays sax, flute, clarinet, viola, and whistles on many recordings and television commercials. And in his spare time he restores old house, builds new ones and collects and deals in antiques!

My mother, in addition to being a wonderful cellist, plays piano beautifully and is a skilled potter and weaver. She makes all of my dishes and scarves for everyone I know! She also participates in the restoration activities and ran an antique shop for many many years.

To give you a small example, my father decided to build a concert hall in their back yard in Saratoga Springs, NY so that they could invite 300 friends over every Sunday in the summers and perform classical and jazz concerts for them all!

My next greatest hero was Leonard Bernstein who inspired me to become a conductor and later became my mentor and teacher and more than a hero could ever be!

On her Experience as a Musician
Are you trained in any other musical areas? Do you play an instrument?

I am a violinist and still play quite a bit. I graduated from Juilliard with my masters degree in violin performance. I also play some jazz and have a swing band called String Fever.

On Music and Young People
What advice would you give to young people?

My best advice is to pursue that which you are passionate about and pure and simply never give up! If the front door is locked to you, go around the side and sneak in a window!!

In your bio you say that "music has the power to change lives". What do you mean exactly?

By providing a strong foundation and developing the whole individual, we can position students for lifelong success – success not limited to music, but in all areas of their lives.

Is music in school important for kids?

I think that having an outlet to express one’s individuality and creativity is critical to a child’s development and also critical to the future of our country! America is built upon the principle of individuality and innovative thinking and the arts – be it music or theatre or visual arts – allows young people to explore these qualities! In mathematics a child is either right or wrong, but in music a child is always right! Learning an instrument develops innumerable skills: physically it develops hand eye coordination; it teaches children that nothing comes over night and that practice is the key to success; it teaches them how to motivate themselves and budget their time and be responsible to themselves to practice! These are lessons that stayed with me for life and helped me become successful!

The country with more orchestras per habitant is not Germany or Austria, but Venezuela - thanks to El Sistema. Is it possible to export this educational program to other countries?

It is certainly possible to be inspired by this type of educational program. One of my proudest achievements as Music Director of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is our OrchKids outreach program. Inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema, it is a year-round during and after school music program designed to create social change and nurture promising futures for youth in Baltimore City neighbourhoods. In collaboration with several community partners, including Baltimore City Public Schools, OrchKids provides music education, instruments, academic instruction, meals, as well as performance and mentorship opportunities at no cost.

On Brazil
Classical music has never been hotter than it is right now in Brazil. How would you describe the sound of the orchestra? To what extent does your position as Music Director of Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra bring you the opportunity to discover the South American repertory?

When I went to Brazil in 2010 to guest conduct the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, I never dreamed that I would someday call Brazil my second home – I had never even been to South America! But that is exactly what happened and I am thrilled to be Music Director of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, a vibrant, committed, passionate organization that reflects the spirit of the amazing country itself. Besides working with these outstanding musicians, I have discovered a new world of music – of all genres – that is vital and compelling, from Guarnieri and the lesser-known works of Villa-Lobos, to traditional Frevos. Like my entire experience: totally unexpected and totally wonderful!

On the Future of Classical Music
Many artistic directors and music managers are worried about the future of the classical music industry. Is there any panacea for the renovation of the audiences, the crisi of the recording industry and the development of contemporary composers?

This is a cyclical worry that I hope we can overcome once again, but this time it does require a great deal of self-assessment and willingness to look at potential change in order to adapt to a very quickly changing society. How can we build bridges for listeners to access and feel connected to this great music? How can we adapt our concert presentations to engage and inspire in ways that connect with our new listeners whilst not alienating our core audiences? How can we use technology to further these goals? All major questions that orchestras are grappling with today.

On her Interests and Hobbies
Besides conducting and travelling, in your spare time, what sorts of pastimes do you enjoy?

I love keeping fit — I run 4-5 miles every day and enjoy weight lifting and hiking and swimming.

I love languages — German is my current passion and Italian is next!

I also love to read, especially composers’ biographies.