THE CONDUCTOR – Documentary Review

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The Conductor is documentary filmmaker Bernadette Wegenstein’s joyful biodoc about Maestra Marin Alsop, the first female conductor to direct a major American symphony orchestra.

Marin Alsop is currently the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, as well as chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Filmmaker Bernadette Wegenstein hails from Vienna, but now resides in Baltimore.

Using a wealth of archival and recently recorded footage of Marin Alsop’s on camera interviews and her voice over narration, Wegenstein follows the extraordinarily gifted, amazingly persistent, dramatically expressive and utterly charming maestra from her childhood in a musical household through her studies at Yale, her days as a violinist in a swing band, her education at Julliard and tutelage under the legendary Leonard Bernstein to her current status as one of the few and arguably the most highly regarded and sought after women wielding batons in the world’s classical music realm.

The archival footage of Bernstein and other luminaries is rare and wonderful. The clips of great symphonic performances are brilliant.

Alsop’s parents, who were both musicians, began teaching their daughter to play the piano before she could walk. She learned to please them, but confesses in the film that she didn’t like playing the piano and that it wasn’t until she found the violin that she heard her calling and became a serious student. As she progressed in her musical studies, she realized that what she really wanted to do was conduct — a profession that did not accept women into its ranks. Her applications to study conducting at the established music schools were denied.

Alsop resorted to workshops an other opportunities to pick up the baton, and she was so good at it that she attracted mentors, including Leonard Bernstein, who advanced her conducting skills by leaps and bounds and helped her to forward her conducting career step by step.

Alsop isn’t one to rest on her bravas. As the doc reveals, she is also a master of giving back. As such, she has brought enlightening music education to underprivileged children around the globe and she has guided other young wannabe conductors — including a number of women — to ascend to the podium.

Marin Alsop, her story and Bernadette Wegenstein’s engaging documentary are truly inspirational. I suspect, expect and hope that this film will lift your spirits, as it did mine.

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