At Baltimore Symphony, a Cello and a Violin Make More Than Music
BALTIMORE — It was a year ago that Marin Alsop, the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, lost both of her parents, who were respected musicians themselves, within the space of 11 days. But whenever she takes the podium here to conduct the orchestra, she finds herself surrounded by audible, often quite mellifluous, reminders of them both.
To her right, the principal cellist now plays the three-centuries-old cello by the Italian luthier Carlo Antonio Testore that once belonged to her mother, Ruth Alsop, a member of chamber groups and the New York City Ballet Orchestra. In front of her, the associate principal second violinist performs on the 1810 Nicolas Lupot violin that belonged to her father, K. Lamar Alsop, the longtime concertmaster of the City Ballet orchestra. And to her left, the associate concertmaster uses Ms. Alsop’s old Guadagnini violin, which dates to 1763 and which she often played with her parents when she was young.
Ms. Alsop’s decision to lend her family’s instruments, along with some of her parents’ old bows, to the Baltimore musicians she conducts has helped the players, lifted the sound of the front row of the orchestra and kept the tones of her family’s instruments in her ears.
“The sound is like their voice, in a way,” Ms. Alsop said here the other day at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall after leading a rehearsal of works by Rachmaninoff and Respighi. “When I grew up, every day they practiced hours and hours and hours. I probably heard more from their instruments than from them, in their own voices. I went to their concerts all the time, and the three of us played chamber music all the time. Hearing them now, it feels very comforting.”
A little over a year ago, Ms. Alsop experienced what she called the “nightmare double-whammy” of the death of both of her parents. In addition to the countless details that people must attend to when their parents die — including, in her case, arranging a memorial concert that was held last spring in New York — Ms. Alsop found herself thinking about what to do with their instruments.
“I wanted people to play them, but the idea of selling them — it just didn’t feel right at all,” she said.
Unlike other heirlooms, instruments are best not left in storage. The principal cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski, who called Ruth Alsop’s cello “the best instrument that I’ve probably ever played,” said that they need to be played to stay in shape.
“There’s something about wood that needs to be exercised, like your muscles, a little bit,” he mused. “Or if you have a car and you don’t drive it for two years, it’s not going to be starting right. The same with instruments.”
Ivan Stefanovic, the associate principal second violinist who is using Lamar Alsop’s old violin, said it projects better than his previous instrument. But he also marveled at the sound it is able to produce when played very softly. “Rather than get the wispy, non-sound, as is often the case with lesser-quality instruments, I can still retain a quality sound,” he said, calling the loans “a real gift to the orchestra.”
For Ms. Alsop, having the instruments in front of her keeps alive the memories of her parents, and their playing.