New Classical Tracks: Marin Alsop celebrates Bernstein's life and legacy
Bernstein: Marin Alsop's Complete Naxos Recordings (Naxos)
The first time Marin Alsop saw Leonard Bernstein conduct, she was 9 years old. From that point on, she hung a poster of her hero in her bedroom and set her sights on being a conductor.
"You know through my father who was concertmaster of the New York City Ballet, I had the opportunity to meet Bernstein a few times but I was too terrified. My dad would say, 'I can introduce you to the maestro,' I said 'No, no, no, no, no.' I didn't want any part of that because I was so scared.
"I don't know what my fears were. But when I eventually became his student and went to Tanglewood to study with him, you can imagine — I mean I was so excited about it that I was concerned that I might have a heart attack and miss it because I was so excited.
"But that's not what happened at all. As soon as I met him really, I fell exponentially in love with him. It wasn't just a dream I had about him, but here was the real person who exceeded all of my expectations. He was so warm and so generous in his attention and his knowledge about conducting.
"Most importantly and really most surprisingly in a way, he believed in me and encouraged me to find myself, and my own voice, and trust that voice and go with my instinct."
Those instincts can be heard on numerous recordings, including an 8-CD box set of her complete recordings of Leonard Bernstein's music in celebration of his centenary this year.
When we're looking at this 8-CD box set, where would you suggest we start?
"I think his Mass that I recorded with the Baltimore Symphony, it's really a perfect manifestation summary of what Bernstein was all about, which was like just a huge hug, and that every journey we go on as human beings is a journey toward self-discovery. And by discovering ourselves, we really discover this great world of unity and connection."
There are also a couple of world premieres on this collection. Could you talk about those or point us to some of your favorites?
"The two latest CDs that are included in this box set are recordings I made with the Sao Paulo Symphony, and I'm particularly excited to share a series of small pieces that comprise what's called the 'Bernstein Birthday Bouquet,' and these were pieces that were written by colleagues of Bernstein, composers. They were a birthday gift for his 70th birthday. So for me these are wonderful because I was actually there at his 70th birthday celebration at Tanglewood when these pieces were premiered.
"And each one uses his New York, New York theme. They're so inventive and so creative. And I remember that moment when he was listening to them and how touched he was. And I don't think many of them have been played again since, so this is a real treat.
"And another world premiere featured on these recordings is of his Anniversaries, which were a series of piano pieces he wrote for friends, and they've been beautifully orchestrated by Garth Sunderland. They're very personal and they're like little tiny gifts that he gave to the people he cared about.
"You know, I can't say enough about what an incredible human being he was and how grateful I am that that I saw him when I was 9 years old and that I had that poster in my room and that it all worked out the way it did."
To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.