Conducting Guru Claims Women Shouldn't Be Conductors

Thursday, April 03, 2014 - 01:00 PM

Another outcry has arisen from comments about women being unsuited to be conductors. The remarks came from the Finnish conductor Jorma Panula, a veteran pedagogue whose students have included Esa-Pekka Salonen, Osmo Vänskä, Susanna Mälkki, Mikko Franck and Sakari Oramo.

Panula was asked in a Finnish television interview on March 30 whether he appreciated the fact that more women are entering the profession. “I do not!” he responded. “What the hell, it is such a limited profession. There are more than enough men. They can try, but it is completely different. Some of them are making faces, sweating and fussing, but it is not getting any better – only worse!”

The 83-year-old conductor added that women can try to be conductors provided that the music is “feminine.” For example, Stravinsky and Bruckner are not suitable for women; Debussy and Ravel are. “This is purely an issue of biology,” he reportedly said.

Panula’s remarks, which were reported by several Finnish media outlets and on the Slipped Disc blog, prompted a number of outraged responses online.

Conductor Salonen reportedly hit back with a Twitter message (in Finnish): “Conducting is about skill, not biology. There is no reason why women cannot do it equally well or better.” (The Tweet has since been deleted.)

A request for comment with Panula’s office was not immediately returned on Thursday.

Panula has been credited with helping to dramatically raise Finland’s profile on the international classical music scene by training generations of conductors at the Academy in Helsinki and elsewhere. He is currently teaching a masterclass in Vassa, Finland, where several participants are said to be women.

Panula’s comments come after a string of similar remarks made headlines in 2013. The young Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko told a Norwegian newspaper, perhaps ironically, that orchestras simply play better for men, and that “a sweet girl on the podium can make one’s thoughts drift towards something else.”

And Bruno Mantovani, the head of the Paris Conservatory, made headlines when he said in a radio interview that conducting is too demanding for women.

Below: a report of a Panula Masterclass (in Finnish):


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Comments [27]

J.K. from New York

I remember in the early 80s or late 70s when the NY Philharmonic started holding "blind" auditions for musicians so that they would not let personal prejudices -- possibly unconscious -- influence their hiring decisions. And the hiring of minority musicians and women went UP UP UP! It's one thing to have an opinion, but it's smart to keep some kind of opinions to yourself. I wonder what he would say about "crippled" violinists, or is that okay as long as it's a man? He'll be eating crow soon enough! What goes around, comes around!

Apr. 16 2014 09:07 AM
Alfons Tallgren from Helsinki, Finland

By the way. The city is spelled VAASA. And Panula actually said "what the devil..." and not "what the hell..." It might not sound important but the latter expression is considerably stronger in Finland.

Apr. 07 2014 06:15 AM
Alfons Tallgren from Helsinki, Finland

But despite his oppinion he never turns anyone eager to learn down because of their gender. We have girls in our class and Jorma TREATS them equaly.
Let's just not get too agitated over his peronal oppinions which he doesn't actually apply in his teaching. And please don't call him a second-rate conductor because he's a teacher. It just breaks my heart...
Jorma is one the best conductors in the world because his techinques are all about the music it self and talking while rehearsing is limited to a minimum so the musical intrepetation is built on silent gestures.

Despite his old fashioned thinking, you can see in the MTV3 channels original news report that almost all his students simply like this genius too much to judge him harshly. Let's just let him to contribute to the culture of the world like he always has.

Apr. 07 2014 05:41 AM
Alfons Tallgren from Helsinki, Finland

I'm one of Panula's students in his youth class in Helsinki and last saturday (april 5th) we talked about this reaction the world has had on his oppinions.
He said he was surprised that people didn't want him to speak his mind and if the world truly thinks that female conductors are equal to men, why aren't women then conducting the large orchestras? Why won't the distinguished selection boards hire women? The same musicians that are now saying that women are equal to men are the ones who won't choose to hire them. I think that's what he ment.

Apr. 07 2014 05:40 AM
Sabien Stols from Amsterdam/Hilversum

Dear Barry Wise,
Perhaps you'd be interested to know that female conductor and soprano Barbara Hannigan, who was conducting and singing last Saturday at the ZaterdagMatinee in the Royal Concertgebouw, commented on this topic in an interview with Dutch Radio4 programme Podium. In the interview with Hans Haffmans, Hannigan regrets Pamula's opinions, even more since he is her coach and teacher...
Listen for yourself: (start listening at 1:07:58)

Apr. 06 2014 05:01 PM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

Thanks Mr. Barry, we can all use a few laughs
Best wishes

Apr. 05 2014 01:24 PM
Barry Owen Furrer

Ms. Nardone~
If this "Maestro" is now on the teaching circuit, wouldn't this make him a semi-conductor?

Apr. 05 2014 09:46 AM
Concetta Nardone

Oh God, Mr. Furrer, ba-roomboom

Apr. 05 2014 07:29 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

Ouch! This is a real hot potato! Hey DuckDeadeye: Isn't Finland where most people drive Fjords?

Apr. 04 2014 07:07 PM
Larry from Rutherford

No fool like an old fool... The only measure for a conductor should be performance.

Apr. 04 2014 06:33 PM
Frederick from Los Angeles

Yes, he most certainly can have his opinion. And, he can express his thoughts. Fine. But he can be criticized for those opinions and I am entitled to think less of him for it. Fine

Apr. 04 2014 04:46 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Hi Carol, yes you are right, he is not worth wasting time and energy on a kerfuffle. They are fun. He is entitled to his opinion.
Best wishes

Apr. 04 2014 11:19 AM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

Hi Concetta,
Looks like we do have something of a kerfuffle going, although I'm not sure that this guy's comments are worth getting all upset about. As you said, he is entitled to his opinion. My opinion is that he is just looking to get attention by making such ignorant remarks.

Apr. 04 2014 11:03 AM
Eileen from New York, NY

Hey people - after all he does have every right to his opinion (however incorrect that may be) but, WE ALL know the truth on this matter!!

Apr. 04 2014 10:06 AM
Beth from Endwell, NY

Why are these comments being taken as serious rather than as sexism? We are quite clear now on when comments are racist. Why is the same not true of comments that are sexist? That WQXR is entertaining these comments as serious by promoting them as worthy of headline raises concerns. What is of concern is not that a famous conductor would say such a thing. People will continue to speak in sexist terms as long as they believe their ideas are acceptable. It is the response to such comments that is most worthy of note.

Apr. 04 2014 09:26 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

He is entitled to his opinion. My opinion is that he is an embittered old creep who believes women should walk ten paces behind the men folk, keep women barefoot and pregnant, should not vote nor drive. I guess women should not be doctors either.
Carole, I do not believe we can start a kerfufel going with this one. It has been some time since we had one going.
Best wishes

Apr. 04 2014 07:24 AM

Are "said to be" women? Either they are or they aren't (unless there are some sex change operations in the works).


Apr. 03 2014 11:55 PM
Wally from Manhattan

I think someone should let Terrance McKnight know that "
La Ci Darem Lo Mano " is from Don Giovanni not The Magic Flute

Apr. 03 2014 10:01 PM
Michele Berman from NYC

What a creep!

Apr. 03 2014 07:31 PM
Joy Darby from Cambridge

Of course I disagree with him, but just when was it we lost the right to express our opinion when we are asked a question?

Apr. 03 2014 06:41 PM
Yelena from NYC

How can anyone take this seriously?

Apr. 03 2014 06:06 PM
anne from New York City

"Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."

Apr. 03 2014 06:05 PM

I'd love to see him and Alondra de la Parra in a podium face-off… nothing beats Latina fire!

Apr. 03 2014 04:15 PM
High Note from USA

Ignorance and bigotry at its finest. Pity him. And does he not sweat? Contort his fleshy face? Spare me. He's too old to go public anymore.

Apr. 03 2014 04:06 PM

Yet again we see the diversity mongers go screaming mad when someone—even someone in far-off Finland—expresses an opinion that is just too damn diverse for them. How long will it be, pray, till someone calls Mr. Panula an anti-Semite? That'll show the evil pig what comes of having an unsanctioned opinion!

It should be no surprise to anyone that the Establishment's true position is that unanimity of belief and expression be enforced by every means at its disposal. Orwell, wert thou alive at this hour!

Apr. 03 2014 02:47 PM
Carolyn from NYC

He obviously hasn't heard Joanne Falleta conduct!

Apr. 03 2014 01:16 PM

If I said "nuts" in response to Mr Panula do you think he'd get my point?

Apr. 03 2014 01:00 PM

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