THE CONDUCTOR – Review by Leslie Combemale

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So many people think that the fight for equality is over, and women are welcome with open arms in all fields of endeavor. Yet, it was only in 2007 that The Conductor subject Marin Alsop became the first woman to hold the position of music director with a major American orchestra, becoming the 12th with the title at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. To this day, she is still the only female conductor heading a major American orchestra.

Though Alsop’s rise to prominence is filled with infuriating roadblocks by the patriarchal powers that be, her story, and director and co-writer Bernadette Wegenstein’s telling of it is inspiring from start to finish. From the use of archival images and film, to recent concert footage, and all layered beneath Alsop’s voiced insights, it’s like a 90 minute reminder to, as Joseph Campbell once said, “follow your bliss”. The conductor herself would tell you as a woman there’s absolutely no reason to stifle your own passions or give up your goals. After all, someone always has to be the first, the barrier-breaker, or the glass shatterer.

Not only does the film tell the story of Alsop’s life so far, it doesn’t shy away from the more personal and emotional aspects of her experience, nor does it mince words about the frustration she feels at the many roadblocks intentionally put in her way to reaching her goal. Of course, there are numerous times when Alsop, who could have cut and run, decided to create her own opportunities. They included founding an all-girl string ensemble, String Fever, in 1981, finding someone to fund her in founding 50-piece orchestra Concordia in 1984, which led to winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood in 1989, where she met future mentor Leonard Bernstein, who was the inspiration for her desire to be a conductor in the first place when she, as a child, saw him conduct and said to herself, “I want to do that!”. Seeing Bernstein kiss her on the head and support her as she conducts is one of many beautiful moments in the film.

Alsop went from knowing she wanted to conduct as a child, hearing no repeatedly, to scaling the highest heights of success in her field, and committing to giving back to those that will follow in her footsteps. If, like Alsop, you believe ‘can’t’ is the worst four letter word in the English language, you’ll love the absolutely wonderful, feel-good documentary The Conductor. If you’ve got kids in your life, show this to them, too.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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Leslie Combemale

Leslie Combemale writes as Cinema Siren on her own website,, and is a frequent contributor to MPA's, where she interviews filmmakers above and below the line, with a focus on women and diverse voices. She is the Senior Contributor at Leslie is in her 9th year as producer and moderator of the influential "Women Rocking Hollywood" panel at San Diego Comic-Con. She is a world-renowned expert on cinema art and her film art gallery, ArtInsights, located near DC, has celebrated cinema art and artists for 30 years.