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Two maestros in hot water for unguarded remarks about female conductors

 Vasily Petrenko and Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Oslo’s young music directors at the Philharmonic and the radio orchestras, were asked for their views about women conductors, provoking a firestorm of media protest. Here’s what they said:



I Aftenposten i dag møter Vasily Petrenko og Miguel Harth-Bedoya, fersk sjefdirigent i Kringkastningskorkestret til “duell”. De blir blant annet spurt om hvorfor det er en så sterk dominans av menn innen dirigentstanden.
Today in Aftenposten’s pages Vasily Petrenko and Miguel Harth-Bedoya (newly engaged Principal Conductor in the Radio Orchestra) meet in a ‘duel’. Among other topics, they were asked why men continue to dominate the world of conductors.
Petrenkos kvinnesyn: – Ekstremt og fornærmende - Jeg tror at når kvinner får familier blir det vanskelig å være så dedikert som bransjen krever. En annen side er at orkestermusikere reagerer bedre på å ha en mann foran seg. De har ofte mindre seksuell energi og kan fokusere mer på musikken. En søt jente på podiet gjør at tankene går mot noe annet, sier Vasily Petrenko.
Petrenkos view of women: extreme and insulting. ’I believe that when women have families it is difficult to be as dedicated as is required in this business. Another side is that orchestra musicians respond better to men at the podium. They have less sexual energy and can better focus on the music.  A sweet girl on the podium makes them think about other things, says Petrenko.
Harth-Bedoya er litt mindre bombastisk om kjønnsforskjeller:
- Man bør spørre kvinner om det. Hvorfor er det så få kvinnelige presidenter eller statsministre? Det er vanskelig å forklare. Jeg har ikke spilt under en kvinnelig dirigent, men mitt inntrykk er at så lenge dirigenten er god, vil orkesteret respektere hvem som helst som står på podiet, sier han.
Harth-Bedoya is slightly less bombastic discussing gender differences: 
You should ask women about this. Why are there so few femail presidents or prime ministers? It is difficult to explain. I have not played under a female conductor, but my impression is that as long as a conductor is good, the musicians will respect whoever stands on the podium. 
miguel harth-bedoya
The Oslo Philharmonic swiftly published an apology by Petrenko on its website:
I realize my statements in Aftenposten have caused a lot of discussion, and I’d like to clarify a few things.

- What I said was meant to be a description of the situation in Russia, my homeland. This situation is worsening with some new initiatives of the government. I deeply respect that many musicians, for example the famous violinist Gidon Kremer, feels the same way about the situation there. Taken out of context I understand that what I said can very easily be perceived in the wrong way.
- I have the outmost respect for female conductors, for instance the extraordinary talented conductor  Marin Alsop and the famous Veronika Dudarova. I’d encourage any girl to study conducting. How successful they turn out to be depends on their talent and their work, definitely not their gender. I also want to add that my beloved wife is a choral conductor.
- I’m truly and deeply sorry that I expressed myself in a way that made people misunderstand me, but I’m also glad that the misunderstanding brought about so much discussion that I now can take the opportunity to clarify what I really mean. The dicussion shows that this is a specially important issue, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the Norwegian society better and to learn more about the important issues here.
- And I wish that all the people  who participated in the discussion also would come to a concert to experience what it’s all about;  that is the quality of music and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra – regardless of the gender of the conductor or of the musicians.
Firestorm in a teacup, then.
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  1. “Firestorm in a teacup, then.”


    Just closed minded men.

    • Tom Gossard says:

      Oh, come on. Petrenko’s explanation for his remark is perfectly understandable and acceptable. Culturally, he’s saying women aren’t considered suitable for x, y, z reasons. It’s not they’re reasonable or defensible. It’s the cultural norm he’s referring to. We need to listen more carefully to what Russian men and women are saying, and not take it out of context. Culturally the entire world isn’t of a feminist viewpoint yet. Some day surely as we become more and more a global civilization, not just national or regional, or religious.

  2. What a poor appology to a miserable interview by Petrenko….
    His accusing of “the situation in Russia” can only explain why he is so narrow-minded and chauvinist.

    Talia Ilan
    Music Director of the Israel Stage orchestra
    and the Campus symphony Orchestra Ramat Hasharon
    a proud female conductor and a very proud mother and a wife, who has the most caring and understanding husband, who is equally sharing with me the taking care of our daughter. (He can understand me the best…He is a conductor himself!)

  3. Anonymous says:

    It’s a lot more than a firestorm in a teacup. Not for Harth-Bedoya, but Petrenko’s comments were outrageously insulting to women. His apology is totally irrelevant and doesn’t have anything to do with his comments.

    • Completely agree Anonymous. His apology does not address the comments he made – just clumsy backtracking.

    • I think it’s also pretty insulting to male musicians in the orchestra to suggest that they can’t keep their minds off of sex long enough to do their jobs. Also, the orchestras in question include a lot of women. How can they focus on playing when there are such radiant young men on the podium? (Never mind gay men – there shouldn’t be any in Russia, I understand.)

    • I think you are blowing this waaaayyy out of proportion. It was a careless remark, but certainly not “outrageously insulting”.

    • Actually I feel he is insulting me as a man, that I would only think about sex if I see a woman on the podium.

    • Marguerite Foxon says:

      Agree with you. He can go through all the apologetic contortions he likes, what he saids stands for exactly what it is, and its an outrageous sexist statement.

  4. Strange enough, I hear more negative comments about the issue of women conductors from women musicians than from men.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      “Misogynist: a man who hates women as much as women hate each other.” – H. L. Mencken

    • Samuel Adler says:

      I was wondering if someone else was going to mention that fact. The only thing more insulting than a close-minded individual is one who doesn’t know enough but chooses to pass judgements anyway.

    • Will Lang says:

      i don’t believe you for a second.

    • Marcel Lockhart says:

      That’s because many men are afraid to be labelled as women haters.

  5. Orchestras want good or great conductors. Male or female does not matter. Same goes for Airline pilots.
    if they get the job done, gender is not an issue. Stupid question. They should ask the Maestros about music instead. These are musicians, not politicians!

    • If this was true, wouldn’t you expect to see more than a dozen women among the hundreds of music directors and well-employed conductors out there in the world?

      • bratschegirl says:

        What musicians want, and what managements and boards (who are the ones who hire the conductors) want, often do not coincide. In general, managements, boards, and audiences tend to be much more conservative on this subject than players, and this has much more impact on the continued dearth of visibly successful women conductors than any imagined resistance from players. I couldn’t care less whether a conductor is male or female, as long as they have something to offer artistically, the technique and rehearsal skills to get that across to their musicians, and the ability to stay out of our way while we realize their vision of the piece.

  6. I hope this doesn’t mean that I’ll be foced to “unfriend” Pretenko as one of my Facebook friends

  7. Adina Spire says:

    What a nonsense they talk. I am in Russia, i am a woman, i have a family and i conduct.

  8. Miguel H B answered reasonably.

    Petrenko’s apology is completely false – and just as insulting to the reader as his comments were to women!
    By the way, if you take a tour of the Vienna Philharmonic’s hall, the Musikverein, the tour leader will explain the lack of women in the VPO using exactly the same logic. It’s a refuge for small minds, apparently.

  9. PR Deltoid says:

    Petrenko’s statement is actually more insulting to men. He implies that they are unable to control their sex drives when doing their jobs.

    But anyway, who cares? He’s an excellent up-&-coming conductor, and as far as I know, not in a position to prevent women from picking up the baton even if he wanted to.

  10. What? No comment by Mister Osborne?
    Ah – silly me: the story concerns Oslo, not Vienna.

  11. So how are Harth-Bedoya’s remarks unguarded?

  12. Petrenko evidently has a talent for quickly changing his tempo.

  13. If he back-pedals any faster, he can travel back in time.

  14. What a moron. He should be expelled for life. Another boy who thinks he is maestro. No chance. Boooooooo…..

  15. If Miguel Harth-Bedoya is indeed “in hot water” and is being accused of “provoking a firestorm of media protest”, it is extremely unfair to him, because judging by what is quoted here he did not say anything that can be described as even remotely close to objectionable or offensive.

  16. I Think it’s an exaggeration to include Harth-Bedoya’s comment here. I can’t see any misogyny in what he says.

  17. Yeah well well well… why there are not more women presidents is a good question, but if women are just as influential as men, then who cares! Of course any woman who wants stuff can go ahead and get it. Right?

  18. robcat2075 says:

    “…orchestra musicians respond better to men at the podium. They have less sexual energy…”

    Petrenko admitting that Russian men are lacking in that department?

  19. Petron Schmid says:

    I completly agree with Vasily Petrenko’s first opinion. Women should concentrate on their own metiers and not trying to become as similar to men as possible.

  20. Bob Thomas says:

    Why would anyone have a problem with what Harth-Bedoya said?

  21. My hometown orchestra, the Virginia Symphony, is led by a woman. JoAnn Falletta does a fabulous job. Her pre-concert talks are legendary. She is a teacher to the community and a consummate musician.

  22. I don’t understand why Miguel Harth-Bedoya’s comments, which seem completely reasonable and fair minded to me, are being grouped with Petrenko’s, or referred to as “slightly less bombastic”. They’re not bombastic at all! Perhaps some nuance is lost in the translation? I know Miguel, and has no hint of bias- Mei-Ann Chen has been a regular guest at his orchestra in Fort Worth, just to cite one example. Petrenko is on his own to defend his comments, but Miguel doesn’t deserve to be any part of this backlash.

    • Agree, Brinton. MHB is blameless here. His comments were appriopriate, non-offensive & politically correct. He is a conductor who supports women professionally strongly, and his comments reflect this.

  23. Bassolirico says:

    The conductors’ comments tell everything about their own cultural heritage.
    Harth-Bedoya’s statement seems to be nothing but perfectly alined with a typical Latin-American view about women. Petrenko’s statement instead makes me think about the nouveau-riche Russian behaviour in a western restaurant. Many points of last decades’ progress in human civilisation flushed down in a couple of lines.

  24. To me it is obvious why Vasily Petrenko’s statement causes outrage, which is hardly diminished by his attempted “clarification”. But I cannot see the fault in Miguel Harth-Bedoya’s answer to the journalist’s question. Why is he then roasted on the same grill together with Mr. Petrenko?

  25. Anonymous says:

    The agency that brings Petrenko and his orchestra to the Proms next week, also represents Marin Alsop. Perhaps a debate with both conductors could be arranged.

  26. Scandinavian Observer says:

    The Oslo Philharmonic has made many big mistakes recently. Apart from the absolutely stupid, sexist and old-fashioned comments by their new music director, Vassily Petrenko, they are an orchestra adrift, without a truly international leadership. In the days of Mariss Jansons and even Andre Previn, the Oslo Philharmonic had an international reputation and was probably the best orchestra in the Nordic countries. They then started down a very narrow, not headline making and provincial route by naming Jukka-Pekka Saraste as their music director for a period of six seasons. This has now been followed by Mr. Petrenko who is surely more exciting than Saraste as a conductor, but his recent comments show that he lacks what is ever more important to be a top respected Music Director, namely emotional intelligence and good public relations. In that he has already failed miserably. One must also look at the management structure of the Oslo Philharmonic, which from comments and rumours that I hear from various managers in London, is nothing less than small town amateurish. It is sad, as this orchestra was once the beacon of Nordic orchestras, able to hold its own next to many of the best. With their current way of doing things, they will just return to being a decent orchestra from a small Nordic country, but not a major player on the world stage, as they once were.

    • PR Deltoid says:

      “Mr. Petrenko who is surely more exciting than Saraste as a conductor, but his recent comments show that he lacks what is ever more important to be a top respected Music Director, namely emotional intelligence and good public relations”

      Well I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, musical talent is only about 1000 times more important in a conductor than the other stuff you name.

      Perhaps all conductors should henceforth be forced to answer a series of questions on hot-button issues, to make sure all their views are “acceptable” before they are offered a post. After all, who cares about quality of musical performance? Being in line with current PC beliefs is so much more important.

  27. the first STAR tenor to use a woman to accompany him as a conductor was the superb Mario Del Monaco in 1962, all praise to him

  28. Shulamit Maneev says:

    Where is an English translation of Petrenko’s words?

    Actually, I am not surprised – our world is male dominated in every area of life,
    including the arts.
    The male conductors, as insulting it sounds, spoke their mind.
    Apologies aren’t needed.

  29. Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Obvviously, these two maestros are utterly inept when it comes to making statements in the media. Both need a pr assistant with whom they regularly rehearse how to behave appropriately when dealing with the media. Hopefully, they will not have lost respect among the members of their respective Oslo orchestras. I assume they have learned their first important lesson in regards to Do’s and Do Nots in Norwegian society.

  30. A. Penner says:

    Petrenko’s Shostakovich work with Liverpool is impeccable.
    Couldn’t care less about his personal thoughts. The question should have never been asked.

  31. Petrenko, petrenko… What an Idiot!

  32. die, political correctness, die! maybe our children will live in a world free of this hyperbolic oversensitivity. i really doubt i’ll see the end to it in my lifetime.

  33. John Deacon says:

    Yes, these replies are so riddled with PC that nobody was found able to understand the question or even start to address it. Underlying his comment was the question as to the absence of “great” female conductors yet nobody even thought to try to answer the question. It is a profoundly difficult question but let me add that there are (also) no great female painters, mathemicians, architects or chess players. Go contemplate – I’ll leave it there.

  34. Martin Haub says:

    I’ve played with enough female conductors, and heard enough concerts conducted by women, that anyone who thinks the greatest conductors are men needs to get out more often. And why not? Many of our orchestras in the US are predominantly female – especially in the string sections. They don’t play any more lightweight or “effeminate” than Chicago or Vienna. What does puzzle me, and has for many years is this: why are classical music devotees nearly all male? I’m a rabid cd collector, and all the friends that I have who are also collectors are all male. I do not know nor have I ever met a female cd collector, a woman who reads American Record Review, Fanfare, Gramophone. Every Mahler-nut I know is male. And yet, and the Seattle Ring this summer, the audience was evenly split.

    • PR Deltoid says:

      “why are classical music devotees nearly all male?”

      Don’t you mean “why are record/CD collectors and audiophiles nearly all male?” That’s what your wording implies, and that’s my experience too. There’s no shortage of female classical music lovers, but they don’t seem to get into the collecting and high-end stereo thing.

  35. Will Duffay says:

    One person’s ‘political correctness’ (and by god aren’t we all sick of that tired and lazy phrase?) is another – more thinking – person’s politeness and consideration. So when somebody says that there are few female conductors because orchestras don’t respect them and sex gets in the way, objections aren’t political but because such a comment is clearly absurd and offensive.

    Let’s be clear: Karajan and Solti used sex, albeit in a different way. And orchestras are full of professionals trying to make good music, and their ability to see beyond the question of their attraction to the person in front of them is only that of any normal grown-up.

    Most orchestras, at least in the UK, are 50% women, more or less: do they have difficulty getting the sex issue out of the way when hot geezers like Petrenko are in front of them?

    And come on: the authority issue is old and tired and wrong. Women are CEOs, University Vice Principals, MPs, writers, political thinkers, public speakers – their ability to exercise authority is the same as that of men. Anybody who says otherwise is a tired old dinosaur who needs to open his eyes a bit more.

  36. Lauren M. Lynley says:

    I am happy he spoke his mind, it helps me to know where not to spend my time and money. There is so much great music out there to listen to that we do not need to bother with emotionally and intellectually crippled types like Petrenko. There have been comments made that it doesn’t matter what he thinks so long as he as a good conductor. Great music is about emotion. If the conductor is an emotional midget, how good can he really be? I do not intend to waste any effort finding out.

  37. What a lot of twittery.

    Since Petrenko came to Liverpool, a great many of his media interviews focused on the differences between Russian and British Society: the people, education, musicians’ attitudes to rehearsals. He could have been made to sound “controversial” in any one of those interviews simply by leaving out the words “in Russia….” as a preface to a sentence.

    It says more about some of the people commentating on here that they give more credence to a journalist’s paraphrasings than the conductor’s own response. The journalist hardly covers himself in glory by referring to some completely bog-standard, inane comments as “less bombastic”.

    Has no-one thought that the author of the piece may have had an agenda?

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