Marin Alsop grew up dreaming of being a conductor.
From a young age, she aspired to lead a group of talented classical musicians, performing for audiences and spreading her love of music—despite the fact there were very few women in such a position.
Alsop is now an internationally renowned conductor who has led symphonies in the U.S., Europe and South America, and is also the subject of a new film telling her story.
“The Conductor” is a documentary directed by Austrian-born filmmaker Bernadette Wegenstein. It takes audiences through Maestra Alsop’s musical journey, combining intimate interviews, a look into her private life, scenes of her concerts and unseen archival footage with her mentor, Leonard Bernstein.
A special screening of the film, as well as a Q&A session with Alsop and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Martha Mendoza, will be held at Cabrillo College on April 14. An Evening with Marin Alsop is a non-theatrical community screening for friends, supporters, and members of El Sistema Santa Cruz/Pajaro Valley.
The event will benefit El Sistema, a nonprofit aiming to bring music education and performance to local students.
“I think it’s really a film about vision and perseverance,” Alsop said. “Trying to be the crafter of one’s own destiny. When there are doors closed … there are often other ways in, other ways to reinvent yourself. I hope that’s the message people get.”
Often facing rejections and criticism from the classical music establishment, Alsop forged ahead, never letting go over her childhood dream. She came to Santa Cruz County to serve as music director for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music between 1992 and 2016, also conducting in Colorado, Oregon and Missouri.
Alsop became the first woman to lead a major professional orchestra in the U.S. when she took over as Chief Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2007, and she founded OrchKids, an education program that currently has 1,300 kids enrolled. From 2012 to 2020, she led the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, where she is now Conductor of Honor. In 2019 she was appointed Chief Conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.
“The Conductor” has been chosen for a number of international film festivals and received multiple positive reviews, with Alsop and filmmakers being interviewed by NPR, CNN and NBC.
“It feels very rewarding and validating to have such a positive response to my story,” Alsop said. “There have been so many different reactions and responses. I’m really happy with it.”
Alsop said she was excited for the upcoming event, which will allow her to reconnect with family and friends in the area. It was one such friend, Barbara Lawrence, who initially asked her to arrange the fundraiser.
She immediately put Lawrence in touch with New York’s Cargo Film & Releasing, asking if they could show the film while raising money for El Sistema.
“I told them, Santa Cruz is a very special place for me,” Alsop said, “and ‘I’d like to do this for the community.’ I hope a lot of people will come out to support the program.”
An Evening with Marin Alsop will be held April 14 at 6:30pm, at Cabrillo College’s Crocker Theater, 6500 Lower Perimeter Road in Aptos. For information and to order tickets go here.