Poll: A Glass Ceiling for Women Conductors?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

JoAnn Falletta, the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony, added another post to her resume this week, becoming principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland. Her appointment comes just weeks after the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera named Kayoko Dan, a 33-year-old Japanese-American, as its new music director.

In 2007, Marin Alsop, a former student of Leonard Bernstein, became the first woman to serve as music director of a major American orchestra, with her appointment to the Baltimore Symphony. While there have been other orchestra-leading women who have broken through the glass ceiling -- including Alondra de la Parra, Anne Manson and Emmanuelle Haïm -- they remain outnumbered by men.

What do you think? Is the conducting field still a boy's club? Take our poll and leave your comments below.

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Comments [10]

yicihara from NJ

I came back to this topic and read thru all the comments after my initial comment.

Yes, yes, the playing field is not level even yet. As Russ, Barry, and Justin pointed out, for one thing historical issue – long time male dominance everywhere, not just orchestra world, but business world as a whole it was exclusively boy’s club. It has started changing but slowly.

Also, what Anna mentioned is very interesting to me; not many females studying classical music are interested in becoming a conductor. Really? I was interested in! In my 7th or 8th grade, my fun was reading orchestra scores. (Well, I might have been a rare case.) When I was 8th grade, I actually conducted my middle school class for the school’s chorus contest. I was enthusiastic about conducting and felt so good. Why then I did not become a conductor was, my primary music study was violin. Also, I did not think that I was really talented in conducting, as much as able to become a professional conductor.

Why not there are many female music students who aspire to become a conductor may be similar to how many or what percentage of female workers in Corporate America has an ambition to become a CEO. It too still is few. But consider this; for a long time business and political world was a ‘forbidden planet’ dominated by males.

Solution? As Russ stated, give more opportunities to girl’s club would be necessary. As Justin stated I too believe that true gifts in music have nothing to do with gender. But like once affirmative action was needed, something that helps wake up and grow the true talents among the still minority, prospective female conductors, is required. Encourage, experience, and exposure.

May. 18 2011 12:53 AM
Michael from Manhattan

The controversy over Berlin Philharmonic clarinetist Sabine Meyer was not over her playing nor her gender. Von Karajan summarily appointed her to the job without consulting the orchestra whose bylaws state that orchestra members vote on all appointments. She has since gone on to a successful solo and chamber career.

Another woman to watch is Keri Lynn Wilson.

May. 17 2011 12:48 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

Perhaps "boy's club" is not the best label to use here but simply trace the history and traditions of conducting. Yes, it has been a male-dominated field but consider the make-up of orchestra personnel. That too, was male dominated until recently (I'm thinking the last 25-30 years or so). Remember the controversy when the first female member of the Berlin Philharmonic took her place in the clarinet section? I couldn't imagine the day-to-day pressure! Sadly, race and gender bias exists even today - consider the country clubs that still excluded African-Americans when Tiger Woods turned pro. Unlike "blind" musical auditions, there is no curtain to conceal a conductor's race or gender when applying for a position. Considering a women's right to vote is less than 100 years old, the broken color barrier in baseball is approx 64 years old, I'm afraid we shant hold our collective breath for legion of female conductors to come forth any time soon - that's too bad and a d*** shame! Congratulations however, to the few who have broken through!

May. 12 2011 11:11 PM
Russ from Plainfield, NJ

Strictly by the numbers, the proportion of male conductors is out of balance with the proportion of male musicians. To my knowledge, there are no requirements relating to physical stature or musculature that would have an influence. The key factors, to me, are opportunity and encouragement. I’d really need to hear from more women. If, as Anna L states, very few women WANT to conduct, I’d like to know why.

May. 12 2011 05:16 PM
Justin from Florida

I can not bring myself to vote on this since conducting is about artistry and not gender. Conductors should be appointed for their musicianship and artistry not for their gender.

If, however, I had to vote I would say the playing field is NOT level, but simply because there are more men conducting students/proteges than there are women, so we could say the pool of candidates is not gender equal.

If executives and boards still have stigmas about gender when they are hiring/appointing, then they should resign.

May. 12 2011 10:46 AM
William from Manhattan, upper West Side

Conducting is a real talent that too few have. It requires a kind of ego and self-confidence that most musicians, male or female just don't possess. The news of the appointment of another woman to be a music director is good for classical music. May she succeed beyond her wildest dreams. But this should/would be the case if the appointee were black/African-American, gay or any other heretofore not well-represented demographic.

May. 12 2011 10:16 AM
Anna L. from New York

Bernie from UWS asked if there are barriers in conservatories. Well, I'm female, I'm a musician, I went to conservatories for almost 20 years, both abroad and here in the US. Let me just say, that out of ALL the female friends who are close to me and those acquaintances whom I'm only loosely associated with, only ONE is INTERESTED in conducting. She actually is a conductor, sometimes we even hear her here on WQXR. But my point is, many, many young girls start out wanting to play instruments, and stay in that field. I've never heard any of my female friends complain how they want to be a conductor, but there are "blocks" preventing them to do so.

May. 12 2011 07:33 AM
joseph rutkowski from new york

This is wonderful news! Maestra Falletta is a consummate musician, inspiring conductor and remarkable human being for too many reasons to list here.
Kudos to the selection committee for this appointment!
`joseph rutkowski
concert clarinetist
instrumental music teacher, great neck public schools

May. 10 2011 11:01 PM
Bernie from UWS

I can't believe there were two voters who actually believe that the playing field is level! That's insane. Why aren't 50% of conductors female out there? Is it because women don't want to go into this profession? Perhaps, but it also has something to do with the barriers that are placed in their way - whether at conservatories, orchestras, etc.

It's time the classical music field take a hard look at itself because times are changing and it's looking increasingly irrelevant.

May. 10 2011 07:25 PM
yichihara from NJ

In my eyes, female conductors are still too few. Orchestra music world shouldn't be KABUKI world. What are real blocks? We need to examine and help removing those road blocks.

May. 10 2011 06:30 PM

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