Power and Influence

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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
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He has to but stretch out his hand, and he is obeyed. He tolerates no opposition. His will, his word, his very glance are law.'

Ms. ALSOP: Yeah. I mean, that sounds just like me. What can I tell you?

STAMBERG: Wouldn't you race to play for a guy like that...

Ms. ALSOP: No, I mean...

STAMBERG: ...to do your best?

Ms. ALSOP: You know, it's fascinating to talk about power, because the concept of power changes, and I think just 50 years ago, for a conductor this was most definitely the perception of a powerful conductor. It was a dictatorial position, almost completely tyrannical, and this has dramatically changed as musicians have gained more say in what is going on in the orchestra, as the business has changed. You know, there are so many elements. But these days, I think power is much more similar to the corporate structure, which, you know, you really have to be a team player; and not to say that you're just one of the gang, because you can't ever be one of the gang. You always have to be somewhat separated.

STAMBERG: Marin Alsop, your mentor was the great Leonard Bernstein. You went to one of his Young People's Concerts when you were 10 years old and then you had the chance to work with him at Tanglewood. What did you learn from him about establishing power, authority, as a conductor?

Ms. ALSOP: Well, listen, you know, that was the most fascinating relationship to watch, Bernstein with any orchestra. It didn't matter if
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