LISTEN: GPB's Morning Edition host Pamela Kirkland speaks with classical music host Sarah Zaslaw about her recent interview with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor, Nathalie Stutzmann.


Atlanta Symphony Music Director Nathalie Stutzmann is only the second woman to lead a major U.S. orchestra.

She joined ASO in 2022 and is currently in the middle of the 2023-2024 season, which debuted this week on GPB Radio (see the complete schedule here.)

This weekend, GPB TV will air the documentary, My Boléro, about Stutzmann's first time conducting the famous 1928 orchestral work by French composer Maurice Ravel. In the film, Stutzmann embarks on a "personal quest to find out what lies at the heart of Ravel’s hypnotic masterpiece," according to the ASO.

Sarah Zaslaw joined Georgia Public Broadcasting in 1998, serves as GPB Radio's classical music host and has interviewed scores of artists from local musicians to noted symphony soloists. A video of her full interview with Stutzmann appears below.

Here's what Zaslaw told GPB's Pamela Kirkland about the experience:



Pamela Kirkland: Each year, GPB Radio broadcasts concerts from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. We're gearing up to air the latest season. Sarah Zaslaw is GPB’s music director, and this is your 16th year hosting the ASO on GPB. Thanks for being here. 

Sarah Zaslaw: Thanks so much for having me.

Pamela Kirkland: Could you give us a glimpse into what listeners can expect to hear this season?

Sarah Zaslaw: This year in particular, some things to look forward to including several outings by the ASO Chorus, which is an incredible asset that we have in addition to the orchestra here. It's a volunteer group, but it's a top-tier, Grammy-winning ensemble with a great legacy, and they'll be doing big, beloved works by Verdi and Brahms and Bruch and Orff's Carmina Burana, and also a world premiere by Jonathan Leshnoff, so lots of chorus this year. 

Also, some interesting concertos. We're used to seeing piano soloists and violin soloists, but on tap this season are also a concerto for traditional Indian instruments, a harp concerto, and a concerto featuring the ASO's principal percussionist.

Pamela Kirkland: You sat down with renowned conductor Nathalie Stutzmann. She's entering her second full year as music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. How would you describe her impact on the orchestra and the repertoire this season?

Sarah Zaslaw: She waited decades to be in this position. She is in her 50s now. She's wanted to be a conductor since she was a teenager, but there were no women role models at that time. She was not encouraged to conduct, and she, meanwhile developed this fabulous career as a singer — as a low-voiced contralto — at an international level. She won awards, she traveled the world, she worked with some of the world's great conductors as a singer and got to observe them and learn from them.

And now, finally, she's developed the conducting career she's always wanted. So she's in demand internationally, and she is currently the only woman to be music director of a major American orchestra. What I hear from some of the musicians and singers in the chorus is one thing she brings to the orchestra is a different way of rehearsing. She demonstrates what she wants with her voice. She will just sing the line, and then it's clear to everybody what she's looking for, and they can copy that back. 

Pamela Kirkland: She spoke with you a little bit about her philosophy behind conducting. 

Nathalie Stutzmann: I believe you don’t learn how to conduct. You are a conductor, or you are not. Conducting is really a talent. What you learn is the score. What you learn is how to rehearse.

Sarah Zaslaw: In our conversation, she also talked about choosing these maestros she had worked with as a singer, as her mentors, and learning what she could from them, and trying out her conducting for them and asking them to say honestly if she had what it took.

In 2023, she had big operatic conducting debuts at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where she did two Mozart operas, and then at the — the home of Richard Wagner operas in Germany at the Bayreuth Festival, where she really made a splash. So, she is still on the rise in all sorts of areas.

Pamela Kirkland: Viewers have a chance to see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in action in a GPB-TV special airing on Sunday, March 17, called My Bolero. Tell me what that special is about.

Sarah Zaslaw: This documentary follows Nathalie Stutzmann exploring the story behind "Bolero," this popular, sort of slinky piece by Maurice Ravel. It turns out it was originally a ballet with a kind of dark story. So you can see her traipsing around France, discovering more about that, and conducting the Atlanta Symphony in the whole work, and also part of my interview with her on camera. 

Pamela Kirkland: Lots of wonderful things to look out for and listen for. Sarah Zaslaw, GPB's music director and host of the ASO on GPB. Thank you so much for spending some time with me on Morning Edition.

Sarah Zaslaw: Thank you Pamela.

Pamela Kirkland: You can listen to the ASO on the GPB radio network statewide Thursday and Sunday evenings at 10 p.m., and on GPB Classical: Fridays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. And for more of Sarah's interview with Nathalie Stutzmann, you can watch GPB's television special My Bolero, airing on GPB-TV this Sunday at 5 p.m.


GPB Radio and GPB Classical host Sarah Zaslaw sits down with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) Music Director Nathalie Stutzmann to discuss her path to conducting and the challenges faced by a woman in that role as well as her decision to take on the score for Bolero.

Credit: GPB