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‘The first woman to conduct in China’

It’s an extravagant claim and one we cannot immediately verify, but it does appear from the linked interview that Alondra de la Parra is about to become the first female foreigner ever to conduct an orchestra in China. She is touring five cities with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, replacing its music director, Tugan Sokhiev.

Alondra, a Mexican, studied at the Manhattan School of Music. Here’s an interview with her (in Spanish). Congratulations to a trailblazer.


UPDATE: It seems we have fallen victim to media hype. Several women have conducted in China before Alondra, excellent as she may be. See Comments below.

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  1. Ummm…Yip Wing-sie, MD of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, was also Music Director of the Guangzhou Symphony in the Mainland.

    Her publicist needs to do a little more research before making these claims. And at any rate, I don’t know to what extent conductors from her generation can rely on the maverick/trailblazer angle that defined Sian Edwards, Marin Alsop, and JoAnn Falletta.

    You don’t see Joanna Carniero’s main “hook” or talking point being her gender. Just, food for thought…

  2. Beg to differ! Julia Jones with Orquestra Sinfonica Portuguesa (S. Carlos) toured China in 2009.

  3. John Bruce Yeh says:

    That is a false claim. I know for a fact that American Conductor/composer Victoria Bond has conducted several times in China.

  4. Not just extravagant but false, especially if you can find enough information over the internet, she has made her “career” based on those statements, anyway, from Joann Falleta’s bio, she conducted 2 orchestras in China:

    ” In demand as a guest conductor, Ms. Falletta’s schedule during the 2000/2001 season features conducting engagements with leading orchestras across four continents, including the Singapore Symphony, the National Symphony of China, the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Caracas, Venezuela, the Orquestra Filarmonica de la UNAM in Mexico, the Phoenix Symphony, the Louisiana Philharmonic and the Round Top Festival. She has recently directed the National Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the Florida Orchestra, and the orchestras of Denver, Indianapolis, Rochester, St. Paul, Louisville, San Diego, Edmonton, Columbus, Jacksonville and San Jose. Abroad she has appeared with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Belgium, Mexico’s National symphony Orchestra, China’s Central Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bilbao Symphony in Spain, the Czech National Symphony in Prague, the Orquestra Filharmonica de la UNAM in Mexico”

  5. Sara Ioannides toured China, check her website

  6. Ben Nisbet says:

    I can’t imagine Mei-Ann Chen yes never conducted in China…

  7. Wing-chi Chan says:

    Ms. ZHENG, XIAO-Ying, 80 plus years old now, has been named as the first woman conductor in China for over 50 years and is still active on the podium.

  8. Neil van der Linden says:

    The issue of the first foreign female conductor gets a different light if one realises there are already Chinese female conductors around.

  9. Theodore McGuiver says:

    Who cares what their gender is as long as they’re good. As there doesn’t even appear to be a consensus on who and when, why does it even matter? I’m also the first of my type to be doing what I’m doing where I’m doing it, but I’m not looking for any medals; just trying to do as well as I can.

  10. Neil van der Linden says:

    In this respect China is already quite advanced, compared to Vienna or Berlin, or most Western stages and halls.

  11. I myself was a guest conductor with the Macao Orchestra around 5 years ago…

    Talia Ilan

  12. The following excerpt is from an article (“Call Me Madame Maestro”) by Blair Tindell that appeared in The New York Times on January 14, 2005:

    But because of the pioneering examples set by female conductors in China at that time, Xian Zhang, now 31 and the assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, could look to a solid lineage of women for inspiration.

    “My teacher at the Central Conservatory was female,” she said of Wu Ling Fen, who also had studied with a woman. “That makes me the third generation of female conductors in China.”

    (Full article here:)

  13. Alondra’s agent Tanja Dorn is well known for making dubious “hype”. Alondra comes from a very rich Mexican family and was married to the son of Mexican former President. There are lots of money behind the scene spent to advance the career of this girl………….the big question is how long will this last?

    • She could not conduct Toulouse without talent. It’s a world-class orchestra.

      • neil van der linden says:

        But the claim about the first female conductor coming to China is outrageous, and in fact an insult not only to the foreign female conductors having visited China before, but mostly to the Chinese female conductors, and in this case a culture that apparently has had less problems with accepting female conductors. But Irina’s comment about Tanja Dorn explains it all.

      • Oh come on Norman, talentless conductors step up in front of world-class orchestras all the time. While Alondra may have certain skills valuable to being a conductor like business savvy and connections, she has no talent for actual music making. ps. She just got fired from her orchestra in Mexico after only 10 months into her contract! watch how her PR agent attempts to spin this little factoid!

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          I think you guys are right!

          • Yes, Michael, I also noticed that Orch. de Paris video. But there’s someone who can top it: Inma Shara of Spain. Beautiful, wealthy, well-connected, great publicist and no formal training to speak of. Apparently she just woke up one day and said “Gee, I think I’ll be a conductor.” Perfect example of a non-conductor playing the beauty & gender card to succeed.

            So far she’s managed to get sponsorship from a prestigious watch company, a political appointment, boatloads of publicity & a lot of gigs conducting orchestras no one’s ever heard of. Her career came to a grinding halt when enough musicians, mostly in Spain & London questioned her dubious talents.

            Here’s her website, which once heralded her as something like “one of 3 female conductors in the world” until everyone complained. Now she just says she’s “one of the youngest conductors” although she’s pushing 50.

            Her best videos, the most hilarious ones, have been pulled. But this might give you an idea:

            Next to Inma Shara, Alondra de la Parra looks like Toscanini. Wishing her all the best in China.

          • Benjamin Gordon says:

            Thanks for sharing the clip – the expression on the viola’s faces at the end says it all…

        • That’s right, she was not just fired but booted out by the musicians, the board tried to imposed her and they made a voting and the results were clear, she “resigned” and had to leave the country immediately before a scandal, read here:

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            I don’t understand Spanish all that well, but it looks to me as if the reason the article gives for the vote against her is mostly that she was absent too much, but it doesn’t seem to mention artistic problems or concerns, did I read that right?

      • Eduard Olivar says:

        Totally agree Norman, She could not conduct Toulouse without talent. She also conduct Paris Orquesta and Le Monde said this about her:

      • ScriptorSum says:

        Really? It would be interesting polling musicians in world-class orchestras on having talent-less conductors.

      • I disagree – World class orchestras make a specialty out of taking no-talent conductors for a ride.

  14. She conducted Orchestre national de Lyon this past Christmas and the musicians refused to have her re invited thus the management canceled her upcoming dates in Lyon. The manager of the Toulouse Orchestre Thierry d’Argoubet is a man with many layers…………..the question is not which orchestras she has the doors opened, it is more to do which orchestras re invite her for their future seasons……………

  15. Rosalind says:

    One has to wonder about a management or PR company which makes such a claim when a little time spent on Google shows up quite the opposite. If I was a female conductor, I’d feel very uncomfortable being promoted in that way…

  16. Musician says:

    Not the first but the worst, yes EVEN worse than Victoria Bond. Easier on the eyes though.

  17. I have had the misfortune to play under her baton several times. While not completely incompetent, she surely has no business conducting any ensembles beyond the most amateur of levels. It just goes to show what money and connections can do. Classical music suffers because of people like her who “buy” or more accurately “bribe” their way into the business.

  18. The music director for the Virginia Symphony (JoAnn Falletta) has been there many times. How and why would they make such a false claim?!

  19. To all the realiable sources who shared precise information about other female directors in China we express our appologies. We meant to say she was “the first mexican female director in China”. Very Sorry

    • ScriptorSum says:

      Your apology is ridiculous, given how Mexican mainstream news outlets spin their notes. Rather, it must have gone like “let’s just get rid of the ‘Mexican’ bit”. You discounted the fact that the classical music community world-wide is not parochial at all. I wonder how much money comes your way from Ms. de la Parra’s pockets.

  20. Shavuos Tov says:

    While the journalist who wrote the interview could’ve used a fact-checker, the rest of the snark seems unwarranted & unfair. Alondra de la Parra is a good musician, whose passion lies closer to contemporary music and collaborations. Her double-album “Mi Alma Mexicana” is a superb survey spanning 200 years of Mexican music, putting modernists like Revueltas & Lavista in the same space as more familiar fare. That album has gone Platinum in Mexico (at least 60,000 copies) which is not bad for an orchestral album in the age of piracy and “Fifty Shades”. She engages the orchestra and the audience, and delivers innovative programming when given the opportunity.

    The video that Michael Schaffer posted of the rehearsal in Paris is hilarious, because it shows a conductor who is engaged in the music and trying to rehearse as best as she can, and two French violists whose faces say “This isn’t Daphnis et Chloe, why are we playing this? Why do the meters keep changing?”

    You should see her perform the same piece with a young orchestra of people who actually get this music:

    • To Shavuos Tos –

      Sorry, but after watching this video I don’t think the orchestra “gets it” and I don’t think she does either. It’s great that a Mexican conductor is championing Mexican music, but that doesn’t give her an inherent understanding of the piece or make her a necessarily good conductor for it.

      This interpretation is dry, has no line or continuity in the phrases. It is technically correct, nothing more. She does nothing particularly interesting that I can see in her direction except sway around to the music.

      This piece – the Marquez Danzon – has become a staple in Latin American repertoire. Everyone knows it and everyone plays it these days. This is a very student-y unmusical version,

      Listen & watch Dudamel with his young people do the same piece. Now they REALLY get it!

      • Shavuos Tov says:

        yes I’ve heard that Dudamel recording and his pacing is dry and boring, like most Dudamel recordings (except the dancing Mambo) – clear, crisp, just right, and boring. i guess it’s just a difference of opinion. I heard the Carnegie with the Bolivar kids a few years ago, first half conducted by Dudamel and 2nd half by Rattle, and there was no comparison whatsoever, with Rattle they sounded like a completely different, much more inspired orchestra.

  21. I also had the misfortune to play under her….yes, the money, THE connections is how she gets into these places.
    Yes, she’s really pretty, but that’s just not enough to want to be a conductor is it?
    My orchestra also asked the administrators to NOT let this lady conduct us ever again!
    Pretty, although not blond, I just love her comment about her favorite contemporary composers: ” Debussy, Mahler, Stravinsky”….. Just, speechless.
    She’s got balls, and no shame whatsoever….just step down you freak, and conduct the Mexican high school orchestra

  22. Last tango says:

    Come on folks, she’s hot…give her a break…

    Conducting takes a life time to master, and some still fail. Real conducting is elusive, sometimes you have to be very bad before you can even get better. She knows what she is able to do, don’t dig in on her….maybe she is searching, really searching for her path.

  23. Quite a shame to push the gender buttons to sell someone’s career…Having worked with her in her NY gig orchestra (which was also advertised as “the first woman to hold a conductor position in NY city”; it was maybe true but the PR forgot to mention her father-in-law’s friends were paying for the orchestra and that there was no chance to have any other conductor…) and having many friends in the US and Mexico that have played under her baton, I can truly say she has some talent and certainly quite a lot of charisma with patrons and public; but regarding her current musical level it is not what would be expected for a conductor of the orchestras she has been leading lately, but rather one of a person that should still be conducting youth orchestras. It is funny to read a comment about her CD that sold many copies in Mexico: it only takes a bit of knowledge of this music (and a superficial comparison to other recording of those pieces) to notice the emptiness in her musical ideas. She is making a career big time out of her own pocket money, but it will not take long for orchestras to get tired of her (word spreads fast among orchestral musicians…).

  24. For me instead listen the concert of Alondra de la Parra with the Sao Paulo Symphony(OSESP) in brazil become a very inspiring and memorable event.This woman really is capable to offer a interesting vision of a piece like the symphony n7 of Beethoven,with clarity of the poliphonic lines,beautiful cantabile in the homophonic passages,vivacious tempos and contrasts of dynamics which are very hard for the musicians of the orchestra play wich her and responds to her demands.Salutes from Brazil,Ms de la Parra!

    • Rgiarola says:

      Olá Isaac,

      Tudo bem? Me desculpe por discordar publicamente de você. Mas gosto e gosto

      Although I was at the same concert that our friend Isaac, I’ve got a different perspective on it. She was nothing better than most comments here is saying concerning a good amateur. A fresh newly vision of Beethoven 7 th, after a century of records and different approaches is too much to be applied on it. This symphony has been played by the same ensemble, in the same concert hall conducted by Kurt Masur, Louis Langré, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Jarvi, Eleazar de Carvalho etc. She wasn’t bad, that’s all.

      • Dear Rgiarola

        Prezado Rgiarola,

        Peco venia,I don`t live in Sao Paulo but I listen for example in the OSESP site a version of Tortelier of the same piece and DE LA PARRA IS MUCH BETTER.The french conductor tempos is so lethargic that reminds me the aproach of démodé interpretations of Klemperer,and listen the recording of John Neschling,the ancient titular of this ensemble,is imposible to find the contrasts of dynamics and articulation of de la Parra.This superb Maestra,for me,with her fast tempos reveal much more details than Tortelier and much more chiaroscuro of atmosfere and variety of articulation than Neschling.

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