Marin Alsop

Growing up as an avid violinist, Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings was one of my favorite and most rewarding pieces to play. The fact that it was a staple in the repertoire of the New York City Ballet, where my dear parents, Ruth and Lamar Alsop were orchestra musicians, made it even more special. As a kid, I watched in awe as the dancers of the NYCB, under the brilliant and ever watchful eye of choreographer George Balanchine ("Mr. B"), brought Tchaikovsky's music to life.

This summer marks my 25th and final season as music director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, Calif. What an amazing adventure this has been, working with living composers and being at the center of so many new creations.

The question of assimilation has been on my mind a lot lately. Living in this great country where individuality is embraced, our current obsession with assimilation for those choosing the U.S. as their new home seems like a strange paradox.

Leonard Bernstein often said: "Every author spends his entire life writing the same book." The same could apply to composers.

Richard Wagner was, and still is today, arguably the most controversial figure in classical music. A self-appointed deity and hyperdriven genius, Wagner is often considered the ultimate megalomaniac. He dreamed up and achieved a single-minded plan to change the course of classical music history.