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Marin Alsop breaks the glass baton

The first woman to head a major US symphony wants to make the music hall a welcoming place, not an austere temple of culture.

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Tomorrow Marin Alsop will shatter the glass baton. As she steps onto the podium for her inaugural concert as Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO), Ms. Alsop becomes the first woman to assume the leadership of a major American symphony. The baton she will grasp will be a simple wooden one, worn and slightly crooked, handcrafted by her father.

It is the same type of baton her father made for her when she was just a girl and, after attending one of Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts in New York, decided she wanted to grow up to be an orchestra conductor. Her music teacher thought this was ridiculous: Girls don't become orchestra conductors. Marin was not discouraged. Her parents, both professional musicians, encouraged her by giving her a set of homemade batons. Her father has made all of her batons ever since, and with them she has conducted the great orchestras of the world.

But smashing through gender barriers is only one of the ways Maestro Alsop is trying to rethink and rejuvenate the symphony orchestra in the 21st century. Her other plans are more radical. She aspires to make symphony halls welcoming places, not austere temples of culture where only the cognoscenti dare enter. "It's all about creating a sense of community," she says. "To give a feeling of connection and relevance."

And she wants to use new technologies to carry the music beyond the hall and into people's ear buds: Her inaugural concert on Thursday will be broadcast live on XM satellite radio, and an audio pod cast of Alsop in rehearsal with the orchestra will be available on iTunes. She is also making video webcast commentaries to supplement the program notes for her concerts.

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