orchestra of the 21st century?

orchestra of the 21st century?


norman lebrecht

November 15, 2007

Running my eye down the list of players, as I do when I haven’t heard a band in a year or so, I noticed that the principal horn in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is a woman (Elspeth Dutch) and the principal harp a man (Robert Johnson).
Not much to raise an eyebrow over these days but as little as a decade ago either placement would have been almost inconceivable. In the 20th century, blowing was for guys, plucking for gals. Today, gender equality rules and long may it do so.
There are two bastions of resistance – the antediluvian Vienna Philharmonic, and the concertmaster’s seat which remains overwhelmingly male in major symphony orchestras.
Apart from the impressive Clio Gould at the Royal Philharmonic, I see few lady leaders in the whole of western Europe. Why is that?


  • Michael Srba says:

    I am afraid it’s just a sign of mere prejudice (male chauvinism). Can’t really think of a logical explanation. In any case, it has little to do with authority or “being better than” (in my career, I have experienced bad male principals as well).
    PS – come to think of it: In ensembles specialised in ancient music, female occurence (among the instrumentalists (and therefore principals/concert-masters as well) is much higher …

  • Greg Tiwidichitch says:

    Here in America, we have several female concertmasters in major orchestras: Emmanuelle Boisvert in Detroit, Jorza Fleejzanis in Minnesota, and Cecelia Arzewski in Atlanta.


    The VPO is not so much “antediluvian” anymore: as can be seen on the 2007 New Year Concert DVD, the orchestra now boasts several women (and though the harp is played by a man, the list of musicians on the accompanying booklet cites a woman harpist as well).
    NL: The women are brought out for show at New Year and on US tours, to limit protests and legal action. When I last checked the membership list, there were only two female players who had full and equal rights.

  • john mclaughlin williams says:

    I observe far more women in the business today generally. Men are abandoning the field for more certain ways of supporting their families.
    NL: It’s the same in general medical practice. These are career paths that are friendly to child care and can often be job-shared.