Top Five Women Conductors on the Rise

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Last week, the Russian maestro Vasily Petrenko landed in hot water after making disparaging remarks about women conductors.

The incoming principal conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic told the Oslo newspaper Aftenposten that orchestras react better to male conductors because men "often have less sexual energy and can focus more on the music," adding that "a sweet girl on the podium can make one's thoughts drift towards something else." He also claimed that "when women have families, it becomes difficult to be as dedicated as is demanded in the business."

Petrenko later sought to clarify his comments with a post on the Oslo Philharmonic's website. Still, if there is any good to come out of this controversy, it's the open conversation about the state of women helming symphony orchestras. We looked into the demographics last spring, and male conductors still vastly outnumber women. However, maestros including Marin Alsop, Susanna Mälkki, Jane Glover and Emmanuelle Haïm are breaking down gender barriers, through which a generation of younger women is crossing. Here are five rising female conductors to look out for.

1. Shi-Yeon Sung

The first woman to win the Sir Georg Solti International Conductors’ Competition. Shi-Yeon Sung is currently the associate conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra in her native South Korea. Since capturing the Solti prize in 2006, Sung also won the Bamberg Gustav Mahler competition and was the first woman assistant conductor at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where she worked with James Levine for three years. More recently, she conducted at John Williams’ 80th birthday celebration at Tanglewood.

Shi-Yeon Sung (SPO)

2. Alondra de la Parra

Mexican-American conductor Alondra de la Parra is one of a few conductors whose renown has transcended classical music spheres. As the founding director of the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas (the organization disbanded in 2011), the photogenic de la Parra was featured on the Today Show, was named one of "40 under 40 New York Rising Stars" by Crain’s New York, and won a pair of Latin Grammys. Though she’s still well under 40 (she was born in 1980), de la Parra has been a guest conductor with Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, Phoeni and Miami’s New World Symphony orchestras, and maintains a very active conducting schedule in Latin America.

Photo: Lorena

3. Stamatia Karampini

A finalist of the 2012 Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competitions and only one of two female semi-finalists, Stamatia Karampini has been conducting for more than half her life. At 13, Karampini founded her own ensemble of more than 200 musicians in her native Greece. And she continued on an accelerated pace, conducting more than a half dozen operas in Germany, Sweden and Greece before turning 25. Now in her mid-30s, she's led the Bamberg and Munich symphony orchestras, the Komische Oper in Berlin, and made her debut at the Frankfurt Opera in Verdi’s A Masked Ball this past June.

4. Gemma New

The other semi-finalist at the 2012 LSO competition was Gemma New, an associate conductor at the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Originally from New Zealand, New got her Master's degree at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, where she is the director of the Lunar Ensemble, which commissions and performs contemporary music. After appearing at Carnegie Hall last season, New will continue to work with Jacques Lacombe this fall, as well as the New Amsterdam Symphony in New York and the Hamilton Orchestra in Canada. Not yet 30, she is the youngest member of this group.

Han-Na Chang (Luciano Romano)

5. Han-Na Chang

At 30, Han-Na Chang, the music director of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, will begins a stint as principal guest conductor of the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, and will debut at the Dresden Staatskapelle, as well as the Cincinnati and Indianapolis symphony orchestras this year. A trained cellist, she made a splash in the States in 2011, when she both played and directed the Haydn Cello Concerto in C Major with the Seattle Symphony. In addition to her lengthy musical résumé, Chang also studied philosophy at Harvard.

Honorable mentions: There are, of course, many other fine women conductors active today – too many to mention them all with the confines of our Top Five format. Some others include Joana Carneiro (Berkeley Symphony), Mei Ann Chen (Chicago Sinfonietta and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra) and Carolyn Kuan (Hartford Symphony). Share your suggestions below in the comments box.