Tribeca Film Festival: “The Conductor” Review

91 minutes | Country | 2021

Director: Bernadette Wegenstein
Editor: Stefan Fauland
Cinematographer: Shana Hagan, John Benam, Judith Benedikt
Producer: Annette Porter
Writers: Bernadette Wegenstein, Stefan Fauland

“Girls can’t do that.”

I was moved to see this documentary about a woman named Marin Alsop who is a conductor, but was told she couldn’t become one. She was turned down by Juilliard twice and applied to Tanglewood Music Festival four times before finally being accepted.

Bernadette Wegenstein’s documentary captures one woman’s struggle to be what she wanted to be. Alsop describes the disappointment in her father’s eyes when she expressed her dream to be a conductor, but he still bought her a box full of batons anyway. And despite being Leonard Bernstein’s protégé, she mentioned how he once said, “When I close my eyes, I can’t tell you’re a woman.” In the following Q&A, Alsop notes that these kinds of comments were indeed hurtful, while also noting in the documentary that “Leonard Bernstein gave me permission to be me.”

After being assertive every step of the way, Alsop was finally given a chance to conduct the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately, that’s when the worst nightmare of her life began, because they searched for reasons to oust her because of her gender. Eventually things settled as she took charge, and she’d go on to conduct the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra.

Director Bernadette Wegenstein grew up in Austria, but was living in Baltimore before she first got a chance to hear a performance conducted by Alsop. Alsop also later conducted in places like Austria, where they have been traditionally unenthusiastic to women musicians.

Alsop’s struggle drove her to teach conducting to students that were also marginalized and rejected. Students said on-camera that it was encouraging to see Alsop conducting and that it gave them hope that they could be conductors as well.

In closing, I’ll briefly mention that I saw the Leonard Bernstein documentary, Bernstein’s Wall, right before this (also at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival). While having some key moments, it felt pretty dry to me overall. I was glad to discover the documentary on Alsop shortly thereafter, because it felt so much more inspiring and vivacious.

Rating: 8/10

Article was written by Allison McCulloch. Follow her Twitter.

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