Power and Influence

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  • Topic: Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, Conducting
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Interview: Marin Alsop, music director of the Bournemouth Symphony, discusses the power in music and the power in the position of conductor October 7, 2003

BOB EDWARDS, host: Voters in California today decide who will be governor of the most populous state in the nation. There may be a shift in power from a Democrat to a Republican; maybe not. This month, NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg explores the idea of power--what it is, how it's used and what happens when it's gone. Today, her first conversation taps into power and music. SUSAN STAMBERG reporting:

When a newspaper reports a bracing front from the Atlantic has roared into our southern shores, you might be inclined to think hurricane--Isabel, Juan--but the Times of London was describing a conductor who recently took over as music director of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Marin Alsop knows the power of holding up one hand and signaling some 100 musicians to do her bidding. But Alsop says her power has its limitations, because without the musicians, a conductor has nothing.

Ms. MARIN ALSOP (Music Director, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra): It's the most abstract kind of power ever, because I'm not even making any of the sound myself. It's all about perception and coercion--I mean coercion in a positive way--and all these unspoken things. It's really quite fascinating. But in those first five minutes, one needs to be completely in control. Also, I think one has to exude a terrific respect for the musicians, have a humility about oneself. For me, I mean, it's just part of who I am, but I think having a good sense of humor never hurts. (Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: I want to read you something that was written in 1955 by Kurt Blaukopf, in a piece called "Great Conductors.” I know you're going to adore this. This is his definition of the superhuman qualities of the role of the professional orchestral conductor. Now remember, 1955.

Ms. ALSOP: Uh-huh.

STAMBERG:...
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