Conducting Guru Claims Women Shouldn't Be Conductors

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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):