Happy is a good word for Bernadette Wegenstein’s delicious and inspiring biographical documentary THE CONDUCTOR, about Marin Alsop, the first female conductor of a great American orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. It is still extremely rare, even in the 21st century, for a woman to lead a great American orchestra, even rarer than a woman at the head of nations.
THE CONDUCTOR is part of the 2022 St. Louis Jewish Film Festival, which is virtual again this year, meaning all films can be streamed on the festival’s website through March 13. For tickets and more information, visit their website https://jccstl. com/arts-ideas/st-louis-jewish-film-festival.
The documentary, one of the films screened at the 2022 St. Louis Jewish Film Festival, shines a light on the career and life of Marin Alsop. Alsop led a life of firsts and impressive accomplishments, including winning a MacArthur Engineering Fellowship. This enjoyable and informative documentary also offers insight into what conductors do and why they are needed, as well as archival footage of Leonard Bernstein speaking on the subject.
It was Leonard Bernstein who inspired Alsop to want to become a conductor and later became his mentor. We get plenty of Bernstein in archival footage cheering on young Alsop.
Alsop herself is a funny, intelligent and charismatic woman who projects immense charm and a down-to-earth spirit, as well as an incredible commitment to music. Even if you’re not particularly a fan of classical music, the documentary will still delight. However, for those who are serious music fans, it’s endless delights in this excellent documentary, full of glorious music alongside ideas about bandleaders, and one hell of an underdog story. The beautiful music of THE CONDUCTOR will lift hearts, as inspired by the remarkable story of Alsop, the story of a female musician who dreamed of being a conductor and simply wouldn’t accept a rejection.
As the only child of struggling Jewish professional classical musicians in New York, it was often a lonely childhood for Marin, as his self-employed parents worked up to four jobs a day. It was a foregone conclusion that Marin would be a musician, but around the age of nine she had a life-changing experience when she attended a children’s concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein spoke directly to young audiences about music and immediately became its hero. She immediately knew what she wanted to do in life: become a conductor.
However, when she enthusiastically shared her new ambition with her teacher at Julliard, she was told emphatically that women could not be conductors. It seemed like everyone was opposed to the idea – except her musician father. And later, his mentor, Leonard Bernstein.
Marin Alsop’s love for music and people is contagious and his personal charm is part of the appeal of this wonderful documentary. The music is a delight, woven throughout this wild but true story, much of which is told by Marin Alsop herself. Alsop is a haunting, quick-witted and approachable speaker, and director Wegenstein combines these wonderful scenes with Alsop with footage and archival footage, additional interviews and a few scenes dramatically recreating the childhood experiences of Alsop.
Alsop is also determined and stubborn. At one point, Alsop tells us that the best way to get her to do something is to tell her she can’t.
Although music always seemed in his future, Alsop’s journey has not been easy. I tried to turn every struggle into an opportunity, Alsop said at one point. Rubbing shoulders with the strict rules and controlling the Julliard teachers, whose individuality she felt stifled, Alsop suddenly veered off the Julliard track. She moved on to Yale, planning to pursue a career outside of music.
Breaking away from classical, she decided she wanted to play rock and roll violin (something unheard of at the time, she notes) but instead teamed up with a jazz composer and created a swing-style jazz band – even though she didn’t know anything. on gender. She started an all-female band called Swing Fever. They were all from Julliard, so they used to play exactly what was on the page. But to be successful, they had to learn to rock the music. They did, and the band became a hit.
Trying to return to Julliard to study conducting, Alsop found herself stranded. So, with the help of a Japanese business investor, she formed her own orchestra, started conducting and gained experience. In 1989, she won an award to be a student conductor at Tanglewood, which brought her back to her hero, Leonard Bernstein, who became her mentor.
The documentary’s section about her work with Bernstein is particularly engaging, capturing the warmth and closeness between the two. The film’s inspiring upward arc really takes off as we follow Alsop’s upward trajectory. Among his accomplishments was the Chair of Creative Conductor of the Orchester symphonique de Saint-Louis from 1994 to 1996.
In 2007, Alsop found herself in the running to lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. At the time, no woman had ever conducted a major American symphony orchestra like the BSO. The documentary details her difficult journey, faced with tonic sexism, even from members of the orchestra who had never met her. So she showed up and won them over.
THE FAILURE LEADER not only details Alsop’s professional triumphs, but also aspects of her personal life and her commitment to opening doors for others, so they don’t have to face the obstacles she has. met. There are footage of Alsop’s teaching and mentoring projects, including music programs for underprivileged children in the city. Not content with being the first woman to conduct a major orchestra, Alsop is determined not to be the last.
THE CONDUCTOR is exhilarating in its uplifting and neglected story, a wonderful inspiring story made even more heartwarming by the presence of the charming Marin Alsop and backed by wonderful music. It’s almost impossible to leave this movie without a smile on your face. THE CONDUCTOR plays the virtual St. Louis Jewish Film Festival, plus a free virtual chat between the director and Erik Finley, Vice President and General Manager of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
THE CONDUCTOR is available to stream as part of the 2022 St. Louis Jewish Film Festival through March 13. For tickets and more information, visit their website https://jccstl.com/arts-ideas/st-louis-jewish-film-Festival.