&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
Musicomh.com
29th March 2012

An Uncommon Woman

Marin Alsop, the Eugene Symphony’s most famous alumna, comes back to town on a regular basis to see friends and to conduct her old orchestra. It was here she got her start as a conductor, leading the symphony from 1989 to 1996, before moving on to considerably greater fame and fortune around the world.

When she comes to Eugene next week for a Monday night concert at the Hult Center, she’ll be bringing more than 100 colleagues, including 80 musicians — so many people, in fact, that they’ve had to charter their own airplane to get here.

Alsop is bringing her entire Baltimore Symphony Orchestra — to perform a concert that includes works by P.I. Tchaikovsky, Jennifer Higdon, Aaron Copland and Joan Tower.

Also accompanying her on the trip — actually, it’s a West Coast tour for her and the orchestra — will be celebrity Scottish percussionist Colin Currie, who performed with her here once before, in 2003.

“It’s going to be a loud concert,” Alsop said in a telephone interview last week from Baltimore. “A lot of percussion.

“I am happy to be coming with Colin, whom I originally brought to Eugene years and years ago. That will be fun.”

The program, which she presented in Baltimore last week before embarking on the tour, is built around the idea of revolutionary women.

Thus, Alsop programmed Tower’s “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman” together with Copland’s popular “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

Tower, a Grammy Award-winning American composer, wrote her fanfare in 1987 in response to the Copland work, which he composed in 1942. Her piece is dedicated to Alsop.

It is the first of five fanfares she composed under the same title in the next decade.

“She didn’t dedicate it to me when she wrote it,” Alsop clarified. “But when I did it a few times, she said, ‘I don’t have a dedication. Can I dedicate it to you?’

“The important thing to note is that she wrote five fanfares for the uncommon woman and only one of them is dedicated to me!”

Tower’s work complements Copland’s very well.

“It’s really a companion to the Copland,” Alsop said. “It’s very different, but the same, at the same time.”

The Higdon piece will be her percussion concerto, which won the composer the Grammy for best classical composition in 2010 — the same year she won the Pulitzer Prize in music for her violin concerto.

“Jennifer has been getting a great deal of press these days,” Alsop said, “winning every award around. I have to send her another congratulations card every time!”

Currie will be the soloist for the percussion concerto.

The piece was performed here in 2009 to great acclaim by the Eugene Symphony with Dame Evelyn Glennie, another celebrity Scottish percussionist.

Alsop will wrap up the evening with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. She chose the work because of its examination of the role of fate.

“We’ve tried to look at themes of fate and whether fate is predetermined or escapable, and that led me to the Tchaikovsky symphonies and his obsession with the idea of fate.

“And of course, I love doing Tchaikovsky. I recorded quite a few of the symphonies, but I haven’t done a lot lately. I was looking at my score and saw that I conducted Tchaikovsky’s Fifth in Eugene in” — and here she took a break to find her score — “I wrote it in. It says, ‘Eugene Symphony 1993.’?”

Alsop’s career continues to blossom. She’s been music director and conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since 2007, and she was signed to a contract there that will keep her on that podium through 2015.

Three weeks ago, Alsop conducted her first concert as chief conductor of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil.

“It was fantastic!” she said. “São Paulo is a huge city. It’s almost 20 million people. And it’s very, very urban, more urban than growing up in New York in the 1960s. The concert hall is spectacular. It’s a reconverted train station/coffee exchange building from the late 1800s. It’s got a beautiful acoustic.”

There, Alsop conducts an orchestra of 115 full-time instrumental musicians and a 52-voice professional choir.

Unlike, say, much of the United States, the economy in Brazil is booming.

“The country is at such a place that everything is thriving,” Alsop said. “They’re interested in art of all kinds. They are very supportive. We’ve sold out our concerts in every series.”

Alsop said she isn’t exactly a celebrity in São Paulo.

“No, not yet. But I’m learning a little Portuguese and have spoken a little Portuguese to them.

“And that was fun.”

Bob Keefer, The Eugene Register-Guard