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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 August 2005, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Women's work: Conductor of an orchestra
All this week, the BBC World Service's World Today programme is talking to women in jobs traditionally associated with men.

On Wednesday, the programme hears from Marin Alsop, an American who was recently appointed music director of the Baltimore Symphony in the US.

Ms Alsop hit the headlines when news of her appointment was reportedly greeted in silence by the orchestra.

I wanted to be a conductor from the time I was nine or 10 years old - I saw Leonard Bernstein conduct and told my parents that's what I wanted to do.

But from deciding that to actually becoming a conductor is an incredible journey.

Marin Alsop, recently appointed music director of the Baltimore Symphony in the US
It isn't always easy - sometimes you have to stay in bed for a few days. These struggles are hard
Marin Alsop
I started by having people coming over to my tiny studio apartment in New York. I'd buy pizza and beer, and I'd say, "Can you play through a Mozart symphony for me?"

Really it was just hit-and-miss, depending on how I could organise people, and then of course that became silly after a while.

I thought about going to a school for conducting, but that just didn't appeal to me - I really wanted to figure out the professional world of conducting.

How I coupled that with private study was that I was, fortunately, a very successful freelance violinist, so when I played under a conductor I thought was fantastic, I would ask him for a lesson.

Invariably, every single person gave me a conducting lesson.

They were so generous, people like Eduardo Mata and Karl Richter - all these fantastic musicians all gave me time.

Then, a little bit later when I'd been working with my orchestra for several years, I was accepted to Tanglewood and I became a student of my great idol Leonard Bernstein.

Taking rejection

My first name, Marin, is quite unique - there's no gender really associated with it - and I think I got into a couple of conducting programmes and seminars and things and people didn't realise I was a woman.

I remember one where I was roomed with two men!

Leonard Bernstein
Alsop was inspired by legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein
It was interesting to see that happen and watch people's reaction.

For me, I think the best thing I have been able to do is never interpret these obstacles or rejections as gender-based, and try to make myself better.

It isn't always easy - sometimes you have to stay in bed for a few days. These struggles are hard.

But I always tried to improve myself after this kind of rejection, and I think that was a big key to my success.

I have to say that there are some really talented women on podiums throughout the world now.

But there are still very few women, particularly at the higher echelon of this industry - it's a very, very conservative business.

As we see from the recent appointment I got at the Baltimore Symphony, it really upsets people in some ways.

Even if they're not conscious of the issue of it being the first woman, I think it's in the mix somewhere.

Being respected

It's not what people are used to and they're not comfortable, so some get a little upset and agitated.

But, again, I'm just soldiering on and persevering, and being passionate, and not giving up.

I realised a long time ago that this was not a popularity contest. Being the boss is never about being loved - it's about being respected.

At the end of the day, I want them to be the best they can be. I want great success for the Baltimore Symphony, like I want it from my wonderful orchestra in Bournemouth.

It's not about being liked, it's about being the ambassador for the composer and the musicians.

If you do that, I'm convinced one will be a success.


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