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Why Aren't There More Women Conductors ?

   It was only until fairly recently that the profession of orchestral and operatic conducting  was  an exclusively male  one,  as well as almost  exclusively white .  Was it sexism alone , or  a lack of women  aiming to make a mark in this  difficult, demanding and highly competitive field ? It's difficult to say . 

    It's never been an easy profession to break into , and  traditionally , one became a conductor by working as a rehearsal pianist in an opera  house as well as assisitng the conductor with rehearsals,  preparing the chorus , conducting offstage bands , which are  quite common in opera ,etc .  Eventually, if one showed one's mettle, one would be assigned  some performances to conduct , gradually  achieving more prominence , getting invited to conduct at other opera hpouses and eventually  moving to  concert halls to conduct  orchestral works . 

    So many  of the greatest ocnductors have started this way, and there is no better hands on training for this very difficult  and complex  profession .  They include such legendary names as  Otto Klemperer, Gustav Mahler, Bruno Walter, Sor Georg Solti, Herbert Von Karajan, Erich Kleiber and his son Carlos , Karl Bohm, Erich Leinsdorf,  George Szell , Antal Dorati, Fritz Reiner , and many others . 

    Beginning with the second half of the 20th century ,  conservatories and university music schools began to offer graduate degrees in conducting , and Leionard Bernstein ,  Leoard Slatkin,  James Levine ,  Riccardo Muti ,  and many more recent conductors have begun this way, studying with  eminent conductors such as Fritz Reiner , George Szell, Serge Koussevitzky , who taught not at conservatories but the Summer Tanglewood festival in Massachuissetts, among others .  Becoming the protegee of  a famous conductor was  they way to make contacts in the field .

    But where were women conductors all this time ?   The eminent  French composition  teacher Nadia Boulanger (  1887 - 1979) , who taught so many great  20th century composers , was active as a conductor and was the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic , but that was not her  primary  activity .  A  Dutch woman , Antonia Brico ,  had something of a career but never achieved  the prominence of the  greatest male maestros .

    In America ,  the pioneering Sarah Cadwelll (1924-2006)  founded the Boston opera , and performed many important 20th century operas by Schoenberg  and others  , as well as  staging them . Beverly Sills  was one of many  renowned singers who  were attracted to her enterpising productions, and in 1976 , she became the first woman to condut at the Metropolitan opera with Verdi's La Traviata .  She also conducted orchestral repertoire and  appeared with the New York Philharmonic ,Cleveland orchestra and other leading orchestras .

    Eve Queler (1936),  founded the Opera Orchestra of New York ,  which was devoted to  giving concert performances of  numerous rarely performed yet interesting and important operas  by Meyerbeer, Massenet ,  Rossini, Donizetti ,  and other composers  , primarily in Carnegie hall . She also attracted many of the greatest opera singers of  the time as well as giving opportunities for promising young vocal talents .  She used an orchestra consisting of some of New York's finest free lance musicians , and several of  her performances were recorded live . She has recently retired , but the  OONY as it is known, continues to the present day  . She has a very devoted and enthusiastic audience audience of New York opera fans .

    More recently ,Marin Alsop , (1956-) a protegee of Leonard Bernsttein at Tanglewood , has  become perhaps the most high profile woman conductor of the present day , and was appointed the first music director of one of America's major orchestras, the Baltimore symphony several years ago ,  and has recently been appointed music director of the Sao Paolo symphony in Brazil, as well as formerly heading  England's Bounemputh symphony, one of England's leading regional orchestras .  She has made recordings for  the Naxos label in Baltimore, Bournemouth and London  of a wide variety of repertoire . 

    Joann Faletta ,  a Juilliard conducting pupil of the distinguished Swedish conductor Sixten Ehrling ,  is currently music director of  the Buffalo Philharmonic in upstate New York , and has  appeared with leading orchestras all over America, Europe and elsewhere , also making recordings for  Naxos records .   She has been a champion of  long neglected orchestral works by many different composers, and is known for her advocacy of women composers . 

    Australian Simone Young, is currently  nearing the end of  her music directorship of  the Hamburg State opera , one of  Germany's most  presitgious, and has also conducted at the Metropolitan opera and elswhere .  American Anne Manson has conducted at the New York City opera  and was the first woman to conduct the tradition  rich and  highly conservative Viena Philhamonic , having conducted  Mussorgsky's great opera Boris Godunov at the prestigious Salburg festival .

    Xian Zhang of China is a protege of Lorin Maazel  and served as assistant and later associate ocnductor of the New Yokr Philharmonic  when Maazel was music director there several year ago , and  has been appointed music director of  one of the leading orchestras in Milan .  Susanna Malkki of Finland  has  achieved  renown as a specialist in contemporary music in Europe but also conducts  traditional repertoire , and and Anu Tali of neighboring Estonia  is also making an important career . 

    These are only several  of the increasing numbers of women  who have been  breaking the  glass  podium  .  The website of the  Kapralova society ,  named after a promising young early 20th century Czech composer and ocnductor whose  career was cut short by untimely death , lists  what appear to be  at least  300 or so women conductors active today  .  Things are definitely looking up for women conductors today, and it's about time !

Posted: Apr 08 2013, 10:31 PM by the horn | with no comments
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