Women on the Podium: It's About Time

I know I have written before about the topic of female conductors, and how this area has so completely changed during my professional life. But I have to raise it again because, well, it raised itself, in March and April.

I think I noted before that in the first (approximately) twenty years of my career in music, and even in my student days of concertgoing, I had experienced a total of fewer than a half dozen female conductors - and that's over hundreds and hundreds of concerts and opera performances. I can remember only four: Sarah Caldwell, Antonia Brico, Eve Queler, and Judith Somogyi. The last of these would likely have had the biggest international career had she not died tragically of cancer in her early forties, shortly after being appointed principal conductor of the Frankfurt Opera. (An American! And a Woman! In the late 1970s in Frankfurt! Astonishing!)

Well, in the months of March and April, 2008, I saw four different women on the podium - three of them conducting their own orchestras (Janna Hymes in Williamsburg, Miriam Burns in Tallahassee, Sarah Ioannides in El Paso) and the fourth as a candidate for the job of music director in Berkeley. When you think that that represents the number of women I experienced on the podium over a period of about twenty years, the rapidity of the change is stunning.

It is, of course, about time. Anyone who denies that there was bias, severe bias, in the music world against the idea of women on the podium is either remarkably na├»ve or lying (or, I suppose, both).  Even as the degree of bias began to lessen, the situation was self-fulfilling: Why would a woman study conducting when there were no opportunities to make a career in it?  

But look at the situation today. At the Reno Philharmonic, three of the five final candidates for music director are women. Two of six in Berkeley. When I talk to search committees, the issue is a non-issue; it doesn't come up. They are clearly evaluating talent with total disregard for gender.

If I sound surprised, it is only because I know how strong the bias was for a very long time in the symphonic world. And to see it change so dramatically during my own professional lifetime is extremely heartening and gratifying.

June 6, 2008 9:57 AM | | Comments (7)



We should also include conductor Alondra de la Parra, whose entrepreneurial spirit led her to found her own orchestra in New York City at age 23 , the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas. She was the first Mexican woman to ever conduct in NYC and is quickly establishing herself as one of her generation's leading conductors.


---and Elizabeth Schulze of the Maryland Symphony, and also the Flagstaff Symphony. She has done marvelous things with the Maryland Symphony indeed.

Other notable women conductors include
Joann Falletta,under whom I have played as a horn player, Xian Zhang,from China, associate conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and
Simone Young,currently music director of the
Hamburg State opera, and Anne Manson, first woman to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic, and who recently led the New York City opera's
production of Barber's Vanessa. The glass ceiling is definitely shattering for women conductors.

Don't forget about Joann Falletta of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra who recently received the Concert Music Award from ASCAP. As a Buffalonian I'm regularly blown away by her concerts and recordings with the BPO. She's also an asset to the community. This week marks the 4th year of the Joann Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition in Buffalo.

I assure you I would never forget Joann Falletta - I have seen some terrific concerts in Buffalo under her direction.

Marin Alsop is a great conductor who is doing a wonderful job in Baltimore. But I really must take exception with her being the first. The often overlooked JoAnn Falletta has been conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic wonderfully since 1999, and in my humble opinion should have more recognition then she seems to garner.

In addition to the podium, I would like to add that Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg is now the music director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra in San Francisco, taking over from Stuart Canin.

In my SF Classical Music Examiner blog, I've covered some of the San Francisco orchestras, with her name coming up as a happy exception to the rule of male.

My article can be found at: http://www.examiner.com/x-373-SF-Classical-Music-Examiner~y2008m5d31-Its-not-dead-or-even-ailing-Part-4

Scott Foglesong

And don't forget about Marin Alsop, who just took over in Baltimore!

Believe me, I wouldn't at all forget about Ms. Alsop, who really is the first to have broken through the "glass ceiling." I just saw a wonderful Gershwin/Ravel concert of hers in Baltimore.


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