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Conductor Marin Alsop on her upcoming performances at Carnegie Hall in New York City


Maestra Marin Alsop is back at Carnegie Hall this month. She is conducting the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra and the Sao Paulo Symphony Choir on two evenings, October 14 and 15.


SIMON: They will explore the rich sonic legacy of Brazil and even take the audience into the depths of Brazil's rainforest. Maestra Marin Alsop joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us again. It's been a few months.

MARIN ALSOP: Yeah, it's wonderful to be here again.

SIMON: Well, how did these Carnegie Hall performances come about?

ALSOP: Well, it was a bit of a long gestation. I got involved with the Sao Paulo Symphony in 2010, when I guest conducted. And I fell in love with this orchestra and this country, which I knew nothing about before I went, and, you know, shortly thereafter became their music director. And they had this aspiration that they shared with me, you know, that they wanted to play in Carnegie Hall and that no Brazilian orchestra had ever been presented by Carnegie Hall. And so this was a big dream of theirs. And so it took a few years to come to fruition. But when Carnegie approached me about bringing an orchestra as part of the series, of course, I turned immediately to the orchestra in Brazil and said, would you like to go? And they're over the moon.

SIMON: Well, tell us more about that. I understand you're going to feature several works by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

ALSOP: Yes. You know, Villa-Lobos is a composer who we don't hear that much here in the United States, but he was really, I think, probably like Aaron Copland or Leonard Bernstein was to America, he was to Brazil. He broke down all of the musical genre barriers.


ALSOP: You know, he brought popular music. He brought indigenous music. He brought all kinds of European elements as well, and he managed to blend them into an amalgam of very, very original Brazilian music that represents the country, the cultures, the diversity, the natural world. And so in many ways, he's their national treasure.

SIMON: He got to know the Indigenous music of Brazil, didn't he?

ALSOP: He did. He loved to tell stories, which apparently, in retrospect, were somewhat exaggerated, you know, going in and working with Indigenous peoples and having all kinds of adventures. But he did. He loved these themes, these folk elements, these original tunes, and he brought them together in all of his work. I mean, there's no piece by Villa-Lobos that doesn't have that element in it.

SIMON: And he brought the harmonica into his compositions.

ALSOP: So we're going to feature on our opening concert on October 14 a concerto by Villa-Lobos that he actually wrote it while he was in the United States. But how many composers write for harmonica? That's my question, really.

SIMON: Well, I was going to ask you. I'm assuming it's going to be a short list.

ALSOP: Yeah, very short list. And I have to say that this will be my debut conducting virtuoso harmonica soloists.


ALSOP: It's really an amazing experience because it's bringing this sort of a street instrument in a way, you know, a populist instrument into the concert hall and elevating it in a new way.

SIMON: And tell us about your second performance on the 15, because I gather that features an immersive experience, as they call them nowadays, works by other Brazilian composers. And it's called the Amazon Concert.

ALSOP: The idea was to bring people into the heart and soul of Brazil, especially through this particular concert. When I went to Brazil, I had a very narrow view and very stereotypical view of Brazil, the sort of samba and football and, you know, but living there and being part of the culture, I found it's such a rich heritage, and I wanted to bring the orchestra in an experience that would have people leave the concert hall saying, oh, I had no idea that this is Brazil.

So we put together - it's about 75 minutes of continuous music ranging in works from contemporary composers like Clarice Assad to, of course, Villa-Lobos is represented. I mean, the music alone would convey this rich heritage, but now we also will have visuals by an incredible artist named Marcello Dantas, and the images will be conveyed all over the surfaces, the walls, the ceilings behind the orchestra. So I'm hoping that people will really feel they are in the middle of the forest, in the middle of this incredible nature that Brazil has.


SIMON: Make it back the first night's program for a moment. You're going to have "Scheherazade," the well-known piece by Rimsky-Korsakov.


SIMON: What makes you pair this great 19th century Russian composer with Heitor Villa-Lobos?

ALSOP: That's a wonderful question. And, you know, it was very instinctual programming on my part, and I think it was born of the shared exoticism, the narrative of both of these composers, the contrasts, you know, the storm and the quiet, the love and the hate, the feminine and the masculine, and I think both composers convey all of these conflicts and contrasts in different ways. As it turns out, Scott, and I was completely unaware of it, so I can't say that this was part of my knowledge base, but it turns out that Rimsky-Korsakov, when he was in the Navy before he turned to being a full-time composer, his ship got stranded off of Rio de Janeiro and he spent many, many months in Brazil, coincidentally. So isn't that interesting? Because I think somehow, I felt that in his music, and it's a piece that suits the orchestra beautifully.


SIMON: Maestra Marin Alsop, who will lead the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall next week. Nice to have you back. Thanks so much.

ALSOP: Thanks so much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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