The field of conducting, despite decades of progressive rhetoric and collective soul-searching, is still very much dominated by men. I can count on my fingers the number of internationally prominent women conductors (Eve Queler and Jane Glover leap to mind), and in Chicago, only Barbara Schubert has a regular gig (with several U. of C. ensembles). With any luck, more time will help correct this imbalance: currently more than half the university composition departments in the Chicago area are headed by women, and where composers go, sooner or later conductors will follow. Marin Alsop, who makes her Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut at Ravinia this Friday, represents a foretaste of this possible future. The New York native went to Yale and Juilliard, and later studied with Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa at Tanglewood. Though she claims Romantics like Brahms and Mahler among her specialties, it was her interpretations of two 20th-century Americans, Copland and Barber, that really put her on the map--specifically, a 1999 appearance at the New York Philharmonic's Copland festival and a series of CDs for the Naxos label collecting Barber's orchestral works. (Alsop also has a fondness for contemporary eclectics like Christopher Rouse and John Corigliano.) Throughout the Barber cycle she conducts with lucidity and passion, coaxing vibrant performances from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra--and her collaboration with the CSO should be even more stimulating, since it has the superb brass and wind sections the RSNO lacks. Alsop has been the conductor of the Colorado Symphony since 1993, and was recently chosen to lead the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in England; a couple weeks ago the Tribune named her as a likely contender for the post of music director at Ravinia, assuming Christoph Eschenbach steps down in 2003. The program here consists of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, selected as part of Ravinia's summerlong tribute to the composer, and Shostakovich's Violin Concerto no. 1. The soloist in the Shostakovich is the flamboyant Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, with whom Alsop has worked before; her ability to rein in the violinist's self-indulgent tendencies is one of the surest signs of her authority as a conductor. Friday, July 12, 8 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100.