Marin Alsop was standing about eight rows into the theater that's home to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, when a young girl raised her hand and asked: "Why are there more violins than any other instrument?" The 51-year-old conductor didn't miss a beat. "Because they get lonely," Alsop said. The crowd of symphony lovers who had waited after a rehearsal to talk to Alsop laughed. She went on to explain that without those extra violins, they'd be drowned out by the brass section.
"Do you play the violin?"" Alsop asked the girl, who shook her head. "Well, you better think about it. More opportunities if you play the violin!"
Marin Alsop is not the only female conductor in the country, but she's the first to head a major symphony orchestra, and she's determined to make classical music more accessible to everyone. "Our industry is one that's extraordinarily conservative," she told me after the rehearsal. "We do things the same way for a hundred years. And there's this inaccessibility about the performers on stage, especially the conductor. So I think the first thing I can do is talk to the audience."
So after a performance, she patiently takes questions. She is a dynamic performer, both in these q-and-a sessions and on the podium. It's hard to take your eyes off her when she has the baton in her hand. Her conducting style is kinetic. And her appointment as music director of the Baltimore Symphony has brought a buzz to the orchestra, which was struggling to fill seats before she arrived.
The daughter of musicians, Alsop knew she wanted to be a conductor at the age of 9, after she saw Leonard Bernstein lead a Young People's concert at Lincoln Center.
That struck a chord with me, because my parents signed me up for the same concert series. Being the same age we were probably at some of the same performances. But I had a completely different reaction. I was bored stiff and, within a few minutes, began searching the auditorium to find all the television cameras and check out the angles they were shooting from. While Marin Alsop was imaging herself the conductor, I was imagining myself broadcasting the concert.
Some 40 years later, that's pretty much how it turned out. As our CBS News camera crew shot the two of us walking across the stage, I asked her "As a 9-year-old-kid, is this what you wanted?"
She smiled, "Are you kidding? This is better than what I wanted. Everyday is like Christmas for me."