In a divided world, music can help to bring us back together

Marin Alsop believes music can play a vital role in countering division and uncertainty
Marin Alsop believes music can play a vital role in countering division and uncertainty
Image: Marin Alsop
  • Marin Alsop has created the opening concert for the Forum's Annual Meetings for the past three years.
  • Music, she believes, can transform young lives.
  • It can also help to bridge the divides that make today's world such an uncertain place.

In these tumultuous and uncertain times, it is critically important that we find ways to navigate division and find our connecting points.

As human beings it is essential we remember that our similarities far outweigh our differences. We all want a better world for our children; we all want less stress and more understanding in our lives; we all need beauty and comfort.

While I am not naïve enough to think that music and art can solve our world’s problems, I have seen enormous positive changes occur through musical collaborations and partnerships.

When I accepted the position as music director of the Baltimore Symphony in 2007, I was struck by the lack of diversity in our onstage community. I wanted to open the doors to classical music to the widest possible audience, so I started by founding an intensive after-school music programme in West Baltimore called Orchkids.

We began with 30 first-graders in 2008; today we have more than 2,000 children playing musical instruments and experiencing the empowering effects of this creative learning experience: working with others; learning how to listen; expressing themselves; performing together; mentoring younger kids; feeling seen and heard as important individuals, and seeing their futures filled with possibility.

Marin Alsop with some of her students
Marin Alsop with some of her students.
Image: Marin Alsop

The World Economic Forum has welcomed my work of embracing diversity and inclusivity in music and has invited me several times to create the opening concert at the Forum’s Annual Meetings. Before COVID-19 intervened, I had been looking forward to doing the same this year.

The title I had chosen for this year's opening concert – 'Converging Waters' – was intended to capture this moment in history. I vividly remember visiting the Brazilian Amazon eight years ago and witnessing 'encontro das aguas' – the meeting of the waters – which is the confluence between the dark Rio Negro and the pale, sandy-coloured Amazon River (referred to as the Solimões River in Brazil).

For six kilometres, the two rivers' waters run side by side without mixing, but eventually, their differences dissipate, and they become one much stronger river. This is a powerful metaphor for our current world situation; it can remind us that we all matter and have a purpose.

For the previous three years of performance at the Forum’s Annual Meeting, I have touched upon important issues like gender equality, global connection and isolation, and have tried to allow my music to connect us, and to add meaning and power to our fight for justice:

In 2019, as the first woman to head major American, South American, British and Austrian orchestras, the issue of gender equality has special significance for me. In 2019 I invited an orchestra of female musicians to join me to perform at the Forum's Annual Meeting, culminating in a performance of a new work by composer Anna Clyne – 'Restless Oceans' – that showcases women’s voices and power.

In 2020, the question of unity, tolerance and joy – reflecting Beethoven’s personal philosophy – were front and centre. I was able to bring the Global Ode to Joy project to Davos, featuring singers from across the globe in a reimagining of Beethoven’s iconic Ninth Symphony. This project was scheduled to be presented with nine new texts across six continents when the pandemic hit. Instead, it evolved into a worldwide online effort.

In 2021, as we despaired over COVID-19 and felt isolated and distanced, we created 'See Me', a global film project that brought together renowned artists, professional musicians and children from around the world in a united effort to showcase our deep human connection.

My hope is that I can continue to advocate for justice and humanity with music as my vehicle.

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