The five most powerful women in US music

The five most powerful women in US music


norman lebrecht

December 10, 2013

Looks like the power rankings have changed a bit today:

1 Deborah Borda, president LA Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl

borda dudamel


2 Deborah Rutter, president-designate Kennedy Center, DC.

3 Renee Fleming, has the President’s ear

renee fleming barack obama

4 Marin Alsop, music director Baltimore Symphony

5 Hilary Hahn, top-selling instrumentalist, names her own rep


hilary hahn

… any we’ve forgotten?


UPDATE: So here‘s the next five.


  • Warren Cohen says:

    How about Catherine French, who helps Music Organizations make terrible but predictable choices for Music and Executive Directors?

  • ed says:

    How about Atlantic Records group chairman/COO Julie Greenwald? Isn’t she the highest ranking female executive at any major U.S. record company?

  • Marshall says:

    Seems to be a strange mixed category. Hahn and Fleming are top performers and have power in that sense, and Alsop is a music director, and conductor, but the others are really “powerful”, in the executive sense. Dare I say, they are not merely performers.

    Another name-might be Francesca Zambello, who runs Glimmerglass, recently named artistic director in Washington, and is a leading opera director, though I personally don’t care for everything she does. (is tottering on the brink of Eurotrash)

    • Janey says:

      I would certainly put Zambello ahead of Hahn and Alsop. Further, I think the 2nd position is a tough one. I believe I would choose Fleming ahead of Rutter by virtue of her positions in Chicago and Cambridge. But I am not sure I would not put Zambello ahead of both.

  • Robert Levin says:

    I am thrilled for Deborah Rutter, but what a huge loss for Chicago. It is only because of her that Muti is here, and our great orchestra has never sounded better!

  • Laurie Buss says:

    Add Jeanette Sorrell, founder and director of Apollo’s Fire, the internationally known Baroque orchestra.

  • David Rowe says:

    Most powerful in US? Dear Norman, how could you have overlooked Jane Moss at Lincoln Center? Even allowing for the subjective nature of the endeavor, she is not only one of the obvious top 5, I would say she is clearly – and deservedly – #2 behind Deborah Borda!

  • As ambassador, how about Pamela Rosenberg?

  • Antonio says:

    Fleming… powerful? If she had any power before, she certainly squandered it in her shameful apperarance on Letterman.

  • Hasbeen says:

    Why the mean spirited remarks about Catherine French, who does not deal with music directors, and Renee Fleming’s good humoured appearance on Letterman, which is not a serious forum ? These women, in fact all the women mentioned deserve praise not cheap shots !

    • Warren Cohen says:

      The Catherine French agency is hired on as a “consultant” to some orchestras-often organizations with modest budgets, incidentally- in choosing both Executive and Music Directors. Henry Fogel was a pioneer in this approach to “helping” organizations choose Music and Executive Directors, and I think the Catherine French agency is, after Fogel, the most commonly used consultant. For many reasons, which would take me a long time to explain and enumerate, I think this has been a bad idea.

  • Allison Vulgamore in Philadelphia. She snagged YNS. And has been steering the ship through the rocks of bankruptcy.

    • Philadelphia Orchestra member says:

      The ironic problem many of these so called “great” orchestra administrators are people with highly skilled management/ business talents but absolutely lacking the real love and the deep knowledge of classical music. Deborah Borda is an exception, she knows deeply orchestral repertoire and how to program and to sell them to the wider audience. Sadly someone like Alison Vulgamore has not even a clue that Mahler third symphony has a huge part for the solo trombone. When a person mentioned to her how great our principal trombone played after the Mahler 3rd concert, she looked so bewildered and lost, total shame that the CEO of our orchestra has no clue about the repertoire we played. We aren’t surprise many of these orchestra CEO actually don’t like to listen to classical music. My colleague at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra told me their CEO Jonathan Martin prefers rock music instead of the beefy classical repertoire.

      • Iain Scott says:

        How can anyone run an organisation of any kind if they don’t love the product? It might be cupcakes or cars but if you are not passionate about what you do you should not do it.

        All sectors of society are suffering from the rise if the managerial class. Schooled in corporate gibberish and polishing their cvs these dreadful people kill great businesses as well as great orchestras .

        So how do they get there? Bad recruitment,schmoozing with people who are influential and like the corporate speak.

        What’s really missing in the arts world is. entrepreneurial spirits.

        Can we have a list of the most enterprising arts managers to start things rolling?

      • This doesn’t compute. In the course of my work, I have been with both Allison and Jonathan in programming meetings. Each was extremely knowledgeable and articulate about programming, and particularly creative in how to present it. This is not true of all leaders, by the way. These two are particularly knowledgable. Look at the artistic product that their organizations deliver.

      • JStrauss says:

        Bravo the the Philadelphia Orchestra member! And bravo to the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra for taking ownership of their comments and having discretion to do so freely without it being censored. You survived what can be described as a vicious attack on your artistry and standards. I don’t see any reason why Ms. Vulgamore is deserving of any cheers neither any CEO’s that subscribe to the “structural deficit” approach to curtail benefits, salaries, and season length.

        I don’t care about the CEO’s musical likes or dislikes as long as the hunger for capital to sustain the highest artistic goals is met. Orchestras need CEO’s that can match the level of those in companies like Starbucks, Apple, IBM, etc…For sure the musicians are at the top level of their area of expertise, unfortunately most non-profit CEO’s don’t come close to expertise and love to make it an obsession for their orchestras to thrive. Perhaps if the MD world would return to the era when and MD really took affection to an orchestra as “theirs” and not living from “orchestra hopping” along cushy MD salary, selling the orchestra product would be easier.

        I applaud Maestros such as Muti, Dudamel, and Tilson Thomas for being amazing ambassadors to their respective orchestras = increased audiences, community visibility, contributions and quality of work conditions.

    • You’d have incentive to do well at your job too, at a $750K annual salary…

  • Alison Ames says:

    Although she’s retiring from the Metropolitan Opera after this season, SARAH BILLINGHURST should also be on this list.

  • Alvarus says:

    I nominate Karen Brooks Hopkins at BAM.

  • Hasbeen says:

    Alison Vulgamore has taken over a difficult situation in Philadelphia and turned it around. Her job is to manage the orchestra and staff. If on one occasion when she may have been preoccupied she didn’t respond about a musical point I don’t think it should be held against her. Yet again, another mean spirited comment about someone devoting her life to the good health of musical organisations. Again, the Catherine French Group would not be successful if they were not working successfully for the best interests of the organisations that engage them.

  • S says:

    Dawn Upshaw, muse to many composers, who might not have written great new works if not for her.