Top Five Women Conductors on the Rise

Up-and-Comers Who Counter Contentious Remarks

Wednesday, September 04, 2013 - 06:00 PM

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.


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Comments [16]

William Zucker from Brooklyn, NY

Of those female conductors I have observed conducting or have discussed music with them, all taken together, I would include the following names:
Marin Alsop, Victoria Bond, Sybille Werner, Karen Pinoci, and Dorothy Klotzman (the last for many years director of the Music Conservatory at Brooklyn College). I would not include Joann Foletta, based on what I've heard from her.

Mar. 10 2016 10:05 PM
Margaret Sellgren from sarasota florida

Anu Tali with the Sarasota Orchestra is great!

Mar. 07 2015 11:39 PM

Why, in what little room you have to write about each female conductor, was important to mention that Alondra de la Parra is photogenic? That could have been left out. Yes she is beautiful but that has nothing to do with her being in the top five rising conductors.

Jun. 04 2014 06:38 PM
Jean Inaba from Denver, CO

Elizabeth Schulze definitely needs to be on the list. She took over for Barry Tuckwell at the Maryland Symphony Orchestra (Hagerstown, MD) and has been with the ensemble now for a dozen years. I'm not sure how she continues to "fly under the radar." Schulze is a world class conductor who also makes the international rounds.

Having worked with Schulze since she started at the MSO, I've been thrilled at how she's whipped the orchestra into a top notch ensemble. I find her extraordinarily talented as a charismatic conductor with the musical passion and chops to make a difference! Having recently relocated to Colorado, I can only hope to find an orchestra with a Music Director of her caliber.

Jan. 01 2014 09:20 AM

Having played under many good and not so good conductors, I have to side with the Maestro here and take the impolitic stance. Women really do not make great conductors at all much like most white males don't hold a candle to blacks in basketball or track and field. I make this observation having played under a few female conductors. Conducting is a masculine job. It requires leadership and decisiveness. I have played under Joann Falletta by the way, when she was a guest conductor with an orchestra I was in. I do not think much of her abilities.

Sep. 14 2013 04:35 AM
Robert from NYC

Apparently this needs to be reiterated:

The article head specifies these are women conductors "on the rise." The subhead refers to "up-and-comers."

JoAnn Falletta is 59. Eve Queler is 82. Sarah Caldwell DIED in 2006 at age 82.

What's regrettable (and embarrassing) is that some listeners of WQXR can't read.

Sep. 08 2013 06:13 PM
Karen Davidowitz from Flushing, NY

Even though she conducted mostly opera especially with her Opera Orchestra of New York,Eve Queler should have been on your list next to Sarah Caldwell. She is a fine conductor & her performances were usually well received.

Sep. 06 2013 11:38 PM
Edward Alley from Sarasota, FL

In your excellent article, you neglected to mention Anu Tali, the outstanding Estonian conductor who has just been named Music Director of the Sarasota (FL) Orchestra. Although primarily known in Europe, she is certainly a conductor on the rise, and Sarasota is her first American appointment. As Chair of the Search Committee for the Sarasota Orchestra, I can proudly state that she was the first and only choice after an intensive 18 month search. Just remember the name: ANU TALI!
Edward Alley, Sarasota, FL

Sep. 06 2013 05:13 PM
William White

To all of those calling for the inclusion of Joanne Faletta, I think you've missed the point of this post entirely. These are female conductors ON THE RISE. Ms. Faletta is a thoroughly established conductor.

Iona Brown was a fine leader as well, but certainly no longer on the rise. At least, I hope not...

Sep. 06 2013 08:27 AM
Mikael Oskarsson from Stockholm

Dont forget Joana Carneiro!

Sep. 06 2013 02:43 AM
Camille from Nassau County

Terribly disappointed you left out JoAnn Falletta

Sep. 05 2013 08:33 PM
Henry Rosen from New York, NY

I had the great pleasure of seeing Karina Canellakis conducting on several occasions in New York over the last couple of years. She is a tremendous talent and recently was awarded the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship
She is a deep musician and I hope that she has an important career. Watch out for her!!!

Sep. 05 2013 06:34 PM

Embarrassing that you left Faletta out of this selection.

Sep. 05 2013 05:55 PM
sangerinde from Copenhagen, Denmark

What about American conductor Karen Kamensek? Terrifically talented opera conductor, now GMD in Hannover.

Sep. 05 2013 04:23 PM

None of your five can hold a candle to Joanne Faletta, one of the best conductors in the world. In fact, three of your five have little, if any, talent.

Sep. 05 2013 03:44 PM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

Petrenko now clearly regrets this misstatement.Even the most rudimentary list of this nature would include such names as Sarah Caldwell,Victoria Bond,JoAnn Falletta,Jean(ne) Lamon,Simone Young,Iona Brown,and Monica Huggett.

Sep. 05 2013 12:56 AM

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