29 May 2011

Female conductors

Ever since I've been regularly going to classical concerts (so for about 6/7 years now), I've counted the amount of female musicians in orchestras. I started doing this because I was kind of astonished by the lack of female musicians. Thankfully even in these past couple of years their numbers have been increasing and there seem to be more and more equality within orchestras (though still a definite lack of female concertmasters, even though the majority of violinists often is female.. weird, huh?). Of course there's still some exceptions (like the Vienna Philharmonic) but you'll always have some rotten apples somewhere, right? (What has pissed me off rather a lot though is that next season's Meesterpianisten (Masterpianists) series in the Concertgebouw includes 12 pianists and not a single one of them is female. One would think that this means there are no female masterpianists which is just simply not true and I find the programming rather offensive and very chauvinistic). One of the things that it's been difficult not to notice, however, is that there are hardly any female conductors at all.

This website has shown that there definitely are female conductors around, but for some reason I hadn't seen any until last friday when I was lucky enough to see Xian Zhang (the first woman EVER to be named musical director at an Italian symphony orchestra... seriously, first woman ever, in 2009) conduct the Residentieorkest in a program of Tchaikovksy and Rachmaninov. She was excellent. Really, really excellent, energetic, in control, enthusiastic, everything I want a conductor to be. She obviously had a great connection with the orchestra and seemed to really enjoy it. Like most other conductors I've seen and liked.

I can't help but think that because being a conductor is about being in control and being the boss, that a lot of people (male and female alike) will still find this job rather unsuitable for women and I wouldn't be surprised at all if female students get discouraged by this. This is of course just my own theory and I haven't studied the classical music world that well, but it's a well-known fact that even 10 years ago there was still a lot of blatent sexism going around. And besides, how many female conductors or even composers do you know? Yeah, exactly. And don't tell me that they're probably not "good enough", we all know that's rubbish. You can read an interesting article on female conductors here, even though it's from 2008, it still rings true.

Anyway, this post isn't just to complain, instead, I want to celebrate female composers. Therefore let me present you with a bunch of badass women conducting music.

Marin Alsop

Susanna Mälkki

Natalia Luis-Bassa

Anu Tali

Sian Edwards

Simone Young

JoAnn Falletta

These are just a few of the undoubtedly many more amazing female conductors around. I'd also like to point you guys to an excellent documtenary on youtube about Antonia Brico, one of the very first female conductors! You can see part 1 here, and trust me, it's worth a watch.

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