‘Women conductors? It’s not getting any better, only worse’

‘Women conductors? It’s not getting any better, only worse’


norman lebrecht

March 31, 2014

Jorma Panula has been the most successful spotter and trainer of conductors for the past 30 years. His pupils include Esa-Pekka Salonen and at least 20 others who hold international posts.

Panula, however, is 83 years old and a man of strong, old-world views. Over the weekend, he had an outburst against women conductors on Finnish TV. It translates as follows:


Q: Do you think it is good that women enter the profession and become conductors? JP: No! What the hell, we have men already. It is such a limited profession… They can try, but it is a completely different deal. I can’t comment on media or public opinion. But women… Of course they are trying! Some of them are making faces, sweating and fussing, but it is not getting any better – only worse! They can come [to my masterclasses] and try. It’s not a problem – if they choose the right pieces. If they take more feminine music. Bruckner or Stravinsky will not do, but Debussy is OK. This is a purely biological question.

Panula’s comments have provoked outrage in Finland. Salonen has tweeted (in Finnish): ‘Conducting is about skill, not biology. There is no reason why women cannot do it equally well or better.’

The row continues.


  • I’d like to know what Panula thinks of a “feminine” music? Does he think our little brains can’t cope with constant time changes and many different lines.

    Women sing Wagner. This is something that requires considerable musculature and stage presence (in addition to musicality).

    He thinks Debussy might be OK, but why if a woman has got inside the workings of a Bruckner Symphony can she not conduct it. Women have enough stamina to endure childbirth.

    This strikes me as misogyny of the worst kind. Thank goodness his pupil (Salonen) has more sense.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Simone Young has recorded a number of the Bruckner symphonies in Hamburg (and the performances are quite “muscular”, not at all “feminine” in the sense in which Panula seems to want to use the word), as well as a complete Ring – taken from live performances. So apparently, she does not have any stamina problems.

      Annoying and outdated as Panula’s comments are, I don’t think this is “misogyny of the worst kind” though. I think cutting off the fingers of girls who want to learn how to read or ritual mutilation of female genitalia are far worse forms of misogyny. That doesn’t make Panula’s comments any better, but we should not forget that not having as many female as male conductors in the field of orchestral music is not the worst problem we have on this planet when it comes to suppression of womens’ rights.

    • Barenboim once looked at me, startled, if not aghast, after I told him I had conducted “EIn Heldenleben” and exclaimed “but that’s not feminine music!!!!” I wrote him a letter afterwards asking him to explain to me the difference between masculine and feminine music, never answered.

      • Anonymus says:

        Really? Barenboim had no problem letting Simone Young being his assistant and conducting all kind of music, regardless of any implied female or male character.

        I also have a hard time believing this, since he enjoyed an intimate and working relationship with the great cellist Jaqueline du Pre, and if he had the same approach then, the two never could have made music together, yet they did.

        When did he say that?

        • This was about 15 years ago, after a concert in New York where he had conducted “Heldenleben”. Now that I think about it more, the exact quote, as far as I remember, when I told him I had conducted it as well, was “but that’s not a feminine piece!” I guess gut reactions are sometimes different from well thought out actions, such as supporting Simone Young. As far as Jaqueline du Pre, I can’t see how his professional and personal relationship with her has anything to do with his attitude towards female conductors.

          And then there was Christoph von Dohnanyi, assuring me that they had found the right MAN (emphasis his) for the job of assistant in Cleveland after he failed to even give me an audition which had been promised to me by the administration. And he added “female conductors are like female soldiers – one only takes them when there are absolutely no men available.”

        • This was about 15 years ago, after a concert in New York where he had conducted “Heldenleben”. Now that I think about it more, the exact quote when I told him I had conducted it as well, was “but that’s not a feminine piece!” I guess gut reactions are sometimes different from well thought out actions, such as supporting Simone Young. As far as Jaqueline du Pre, I can’t see how his professional and personal relationship with a cellist has anything to do with his attitude towards female conductors.

          And then there was Christoph von Dohnanyi, assuring me that they had found the right MAN (emphasis his) for the job of assistant in Cleveland after he failed to even give me an audition which had been promised to me by the administration. And he added “female conductors are like female soldiers – one only takes them when there are not enough men available.”

  • Halldor says:

    Elderly man holds outdated views – shocker!

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Panula is probably the most successful conducting pedagogue of the last fifty years so we should listen to his views if not agree with everything he says

    He’s right to question why do we need women conductors when we have so many mediocre men already? Yes, conducting, at the highest international level is a limited profession- a very small market in which few achieve any real success (and they are all men). A woman currently does not occupy a post with any of the major American or European ensembles. But what Panula could do, in his position, is to encourage more woman to conduct generally. Regional/community choirs and orchestras are crying out for good/properly trained conductors of whatever sex.

    I believe him to be wrong on the suitability of women in certain repertoire. Its nonsense to suggest that the feminine personality is not suited to conducting a Bruckner Symphony for example. It would be cynical of him to accept women on his very expensive courses in the belief that they were destined to get nowhere in the conducting world owing to their femininity (this is certainly the impression he gives off).

    From my own extensive studies in conducting and watching female conductors first hand, some of them very talented, I’ve made some observations. Firstly, women have to work far harder physically on the podium to get their results than men. Female conductors, for instance, have to gesticulate much more than a man to get a dramatic sound out of an orchestra. Most male conductors can do this with much more economy of movement.

    Secondly, women conductors are up against the centuries old entrenched and sexist views of the players themselves. I could bet if you asked the average orchestral player in the UK today whom they preferred to play under- male or female conductor- they’d say the former.

    • Anonymous says:

      Marin Alsop is music director of the Baltimore Symphony, so there ARE female conductors who hold big posts.

      I think if you asked the average orchestral player anywhere except maybe Austria who they would rather play with, I bet they would answer that they don’t give a #$%^&* whether the conductor is male or female, just whether or not they are good.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        If that is so, how come there aren’t a whole lot more female conductors out there holding significant positions everywhere except for Austria?

        • Anonymous says:

          Because of sexism? Also, orchestral musicians often have very little(if any) say in who their music director is.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            So how then do you that “they would answer that they don’t give a #$%^&* whether the conductor is male or female, just whether or not they are good” everywhere except for Austria? Also, don’t have quite a few orchestras female managing directors now?

        • DrewX says:

          I am always amused when people stare such obvious things in the face as sexism in classical music and say “what? I don’t see anything here.” To my mind, it would be like going to the deepest, southest part of Mississippi and claiming it is a bastion of racial equality.

          I agree that it’s changing, slowly. Marin Alsop is just one example, although not “of many” but rather “of a couple.” I don’t think the sexism is quite so blatant or dominant anymore, but it’s still so baked in to the system that it will take another couple decades before women even begin to approach parity in the top ranks of conductors. (Remember, woman have only recently approached parity with men doing the exact same job in the larger American economy, and it’s been decades and decades since the most egregious institutionalized sexism could really be blamed for the inequality; it just takes a long time to catch up.)

      • Anonymus says:

        The question of female conductors is a great exercise in the art of logical thinking. Now if as you say the gender is irrelevant to most musicians and they only care if they are good or bad, you must under the dictate of logical thinking also leave the possibility open, that among the good are fewer women. Simply because the reason is not predetermined. It’s only predetermined to the ideologists on both sides, those who are not thinking logically.

        What I would like to see, for arguments sake, is a consistent argument, why women are equally capable as conductors as men.

        I sometimes wonder, if not the simple fact that 99% of the music in the classical repertoire was composed by men (another discussion and can of worms) has something to do with the apparent lesser appeal of the orchestra conducting profession to the female gender. I see no gender imbalance for instrumentalists and vocalists, but why for conducting?

        I guess Sigmund Freud could give us a lead. It must be a sexual thing. Conducting as an artistically refined expression of male sexuality with a dominant character. Why not.

        • WD says:

          And the facts also show that women were actively discouraged or excluded from such opportunities until recent generations. W.A. Mozart’s sister showed great musical talent as well, but was not permitted to make a career of it for one reason – she was female. The numbers you ‘cite’ do not reflect lack of talent or apptitude, but lack of opportunity. If you want to suggest being logical, try starting with logic yourself.

          • Anonymus says:

            My numbers apply to today obviously, not to Mozart’s time. So I think it is rather logical to assume other factors than sexism must contribute to the particular absence of women in numbers from the orchestra conducting profession.

            You can disregard the past and present altogether and just look at the future, count the orchestra conducting students in the top music colleges. Women are represented equally or have the majority in most of the music performing subjects today. Except for a few subjects.

            Brass players… rather easily explained with social and physiological factors.

            Composers… well, not so obvious, but those studies about male brain performing better at creative mathematical tasks might play a role.

            Orchestra conductors… we are wondering…

            The discussion is boring with all these ideologically charged opinions. Where are the free thinkers?

          • Pamela Brown says:

            Agreed. Nannerl was initially the star of the family. When Wolf began to compose, her talents were forgotten. As a result, she harbored emnity toward Wolf and even managed to get him virtually disinherited from their Father’s estate.

            Alma Mahler is another example of a woman who was told she needed to sacrifice her gifts for Gustav’s ‘greater’ ones. She also harbored resentment, and why would she not?

          • WD says:

            And you are *obviously* so free of “ideologically charged opinions.”

            This very article proves that women are still – to this day – actively discouraged from this career path.

            Clearly, logic is not your strong suit. But keep up the “free thinking,” by all means!

          • M.A. Steinberger says:

            Fanny Mendelssohn also.

    • Rgiarola says:


      Unless you think Baltimore Symphony isn’t a major American orchestra, you are wrong on your statement.

      • Mark Mortimer says:


        Yes- you’re right about Alsop (a fine musician) in Baltimore. A good orchestra no doubt but hardly one of the world’s great ensembles that make your hair stand on end every time you listen to them.

        • Stereo says:

          She certainly doesn’t make your hair stand on end and I speak as a retired member of Bournemouth SO.

        • Denny James says:

          I have heard Marin Alsop conduct the LSO in Brahms 1st to great effect. A standing ovation by 3,000 people says something about her ability to wow an audience.

          • Anonymus says:

            Ability to wow an audience and ability to be a skilled and efficient conductor are barely related issues. 3000 people in standing ovation says not much about the abilities of an conductor, only that he or she can’t be a complete failure, but that should have been preselected by the market before an invitation anyway. There are concerts where the conductors “moves along” and the orchestra pulls something magical off.

            As for the audience, the price of champaign in the intermission probably has a higher inverse correlation to the demonstrated enthusiasm at the end of the performance, than the conductor’s actual abilities.

          • nyer says:

            No it doesn’t. It means they never heard Brahms 1 before.

    • john daszak says:

      Simone Young…Hamburg Staatsoper…..

    • john daszak says:

      Xian Zhiang…..Milan….

      JoAnn Falletta….Belfast….

      Just a few who I’ve worked with personally.

      Perhaps the reason their aren’t many more has nothing to do with their sex, but more to do with sexism?? Let’s bring ourselves into the modern world.

      • Anonymus says:

        Classical ideological rhetorical pseudo argument. Starting a sentence with “perhaps” only to draw preconceived conclusions anyway (sexism).

    • Nancy Daby says:

      Hmmmm…. Maybe you need to ask the musicians of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra about this gender question.


  • Anonymous says:

    Age really shouldn’t be an excuse for dumb and offensive comments.

  • @ Mark: I was already to launch into an attack after your first sentence when I read the rest of what you wrote.

    The point is there are mediocre me out there, and this will also mean there will be mediocre women. Yes regional choirs and orchestras are crying out for good/properly trained conductors of whatever sex. This is far more than being able to beat a steady three or four in a bar (although that helps) but also includes all of the score preparation, and necessary skills in effectively communicating musical ideas to other musicians.

    I wonder whether this physical effort observation you have made is height related. There is no logical reason for it. Use too big a movement and too much is the gesticulation department and all you get is an exhausted conductor. Lots can be done through a well placed glance or a smile.

    With your last question, with the ‘old school’ of player, they would almost certainly prefer working with a male conductor, but if a player or set of players were working with an especially talented woman conductor who was personable, took a good rehearsal and got result, they may change their mind. The only was for things to change are for the good female conductors out there to serve as worthy ambassadors and open up the doors to other good people. There should be no room for mediocrity whether the conductor is male or female. As a woman, I would not want to see anyone be tokenistic, and yet there isn’t room for old-fashioned misogyny either.

  • Darren says:

    It is always a shock to get one more proof that being a good ( or known) musician doesn’t necessarily mean you are a good human being.

  • M. Hurshell says:

    Simone Young, Hamburg. Karen Kamensek, Hannover. Important posts, successful women. Basta.

    • The article is about Simone Young conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in 2005. The article notes that so many members of the orchestra didn’t play that various sections had 60 to 80% substitutes, and that many of the subs seemed to be sight-reading the music. The Berlin Phil has the third lowest ratio of women in the world.

      • Anonymus says:

        The Berlin Phil also has the second lowest ratio of Vodka drinkers and the fourth lowest ratio of Birkenstock sandal wearers in its ranks.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      RW2013 says:

      Women conducting Bruckner.

      As I pointed out in an earlier post, Simone Young made a number of very good and generally very well received recordings of several of the Bruckner symphonies with her own orchestra in Hamburg, so whatever went wrong in this last-minute debut (the review says she stepped in at short notice for Mariss Jansons), it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with “women conducting Bruckner”.

      william osborne says:

      The Berlin Phil has the third lowest ratio of women in the world.

      So? What does that have to do with whatever went wrong there?

      • RW2013 says:

        Fact is, Mr. Schaffer, that many Philharmonic players did not want to play under this Maestra, a choice that the Hamburg players unfortunately do not have.

        • Anonymus says:

          There are also a lot of MaestrOs some Berlin Phil players don’t want to play under.

          But some people really only have a hammer so every problem looks like a nail.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          I don’t think this necessarily follows from the review. The review, and the two comments, do seem to agree that the concert(s) was/were not highly successful, below the level of what one can usually expect in BP concerts, but they strongly disagree about what the causes for that supposedly were. The reviewer seems to lay the blame more on the orchestra, the comments both agree that it was more Young’s fault, they even say her conducting was clumsy and overemphatical. But who knows? I wasn’t there. Were you?

          I don’t quite believe the reviewer though when she says that in many of the sections, most of the players were substitutes, some from other Berlin orchestras, most of the from the orchestral academy. The academy doesn’t have nearly enough students to fill out “60-80%” of the orchestra. They have just 2 per instrument, 4 for the violins.

          So maybe there were a few more substitutes but it doesn’t follow from that that many BP members did not want to play under her. Especially since that was her debut, so they didn’t know yet how good she would be or not. So whatever happened there, one shouldn’t read too much into it. Sometimes orchestra and conductor just don’t “click”, that’s just the way it is.

  • Bryan says:

    Really? Biology? If this guy were in a situation where the uniquely masculine features of human biology were actually necessary, he’d be dead before someone could start a stop-watch to time his demise.

  • mbhaub says:

    In the US, many of our smaller, regional and community orchestras are shockingly populated by – women! String sections in these groups are overwhelmingly female. Why? Is playing string instruments too feminine? Or are the men too busy in school playing sports to take up music? (Again, a feminine pursuit.) As the voices in the orchestras get lower and louder the men appear. Hence, more testosterone in the low brass and percussion. But since our orchestras are so well served by women in the ranks, why not on the podium? In my 50 years of concert going, the Brahms 2nd conducted by Sarah Caldwell remains the most thrilling, hair-raising performance I’ve ever heard.

    • Kenneth Berv says:

      The lower voices? More testosterone? What about the invasion of women in the horn sections of the great orchestras-The Met (Julie Landsman, retired)and several others), the Philly (Jennifer Montone et al), the Berlin (Sarah Willis)the Concertgebouw (Julie Studebaker, retired). And the “lowest” of all, the great tuba player.Carol Jantsch, in Philly.

      If the conducting pedagogue merits his role, he would take the time to detail and explain WHY women should not conduct-IF accurate, are there correctable issues? In spite of Larry Summers query at Harvard re the relative dearth of women at the very pinnacle of the hard sciences, the political reaction to his comments prevented any useful investigation.

      Here the initial comments are too inflammatory to raise the serious questions.

    • Anonymus says:

      There is a trend in the western world, dominated by the American culture, or should we say “culture”, where sports are in higher regard than the arts and arts are “for the weak”, for women.

      While in older days, classical education and with it playing a classical instrument, was regarded highly in predominant culture, and as a part of a good education was seen as a social vertical upward mobility tool, also for men, today we see a dumbing down of the society into consumer zombies, that do not use 99% of their cerebral brain for anything and use the remaining 1% for counting baseball scores and for comparing iPhone prices.

  • operafan1 says:

    this is just all absurd! there are simply good or less good conductors. Lots of men conductors sweat and gesticulate enormously on the podium, even very famous ones today in the younger generation and in the older one too. They make faces and open their mouths as if they were yelling thru the music. This is generally seen as ” charisma” . But if a women gesticulates, its seen as ridiculous. This being said, there are mediocre conductors out there, male and female and there are great conductors out there, equally good and bad. the important thing is the musical result, it has nothing to do with physicality. If the conductor is a good musician, prepared and has something to say is what counts. As Salonen said, it is not a question of biology. Charisma and musical preparation have nothing to do with gender.

  • Guy Chapman says:

    What a silly thing to say. Gender has very little to do with musicianship. I have been conducted by Sarah Tennant-Flowers, I think she is exceptional.

    Not so long ago the idea of female brass players was considered outrageous. Now the CBSO has a female principal horn, Elspeth Dutch, and there’s no question but that she got the seat on merit – she’s great.

    The problem in classical music is not that women can’t do the job, it’s that insecure men won’t let them.

    • Halldor says:

      Elspeth Dutch has held the CBSO position since 2002. Before that, the same position was ocupied for 12 years by Claire Briggs – who had previously been principal at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in the late 1980s. (Both these orchestras also had long-serving and highly-respected female percussionists as far back as the 1960s).

      Female principal brass players are not a new development in UK orchestras (and it’s perhaps worth noting that in each case they were auditioned, trialled, and finally awarded the job by “insecure men” – no need for stereotyping in either direction) I’ve not encountered anyone in the profession in the UK, for many years, who’d argue in seriousness that there’s any orchestral job that can’t be done equally well by either a male or female player.

  • Liz Garnett says:

    Heh, I bet Debussy would be delighted to be cast as girly music. Guys, you should try directing La Mer with a pink sparkly baton, you get a much more authentic sound…

    I would have thought that the ostensible mediocrity of most male conductors is every reason to expand rather than restrict the profession’s demographic pool.

    • Will Duffay says:

      Ha ha! Excellent! I wonder though: are there not pieces which have boy movements and girl movements? Should orchestras employ male and female conductors to deal with particular movements? I’m imagining a wrestling tag-team type of thing – and the music is about to get all slushy so off bounds the man and, high-fiving on the way past, the girl daintily hops onto the podium (she’s wearing Stella McCartney, ladies and gentlemen) to take us through the next 7 minutes of pink music.

      The idea that there aren’t enough jobs to go around anyway therefore women shouldn’t bother is … well, it’s both missing the point completely and quite utterly absurd.

      • M.A. Steinberger says:

        Love this idea! In music that alternates mood every bar or so, it could be like ballet up there. Or, perhaps, a new pairs Olympic event. Speed, artistic merit, points taken off for collisions, baton hand-over technique & style… endless possibilities.

    • Tee hee, hee Liz, personally as a woman I’d rather prepare the score for The firefbrd with a black baton complete with metal studs!

      The idea of there being feminine music is absurd unless it is an aria written for an adult female voice and character, then I’d like to see the bloke willing to sing that! (Us women are happy to trouser up at any time!).

      The bloke who conducts Pelleas et Mellesande wearing a pink dress will be a brave person indeed.

      I do not want to banish men from the concert platform, but neither do I want to see a second-rate bloke get a job where there is a good woman candidate. (or vice versa)

      • Liz Garnett says:

        The idea of there being feminine music is absurd

        Well, yes and no. There is gendered music inasmuch as there musical codes that represent gender in music (I did my PhD on exactly this 20 years ago as it happens). But to conflate this with the personnel performing the music is indeed ridiculous, as the rather delightful images of tag-team conducting in this thread demonstrate.

        • Liz: Wome, music and gender issues are very much the flavours of the moment as far as current musicological trends are concerned. However, whether a woman can bring something fresh to the works of a man is another issue.

          Congratulations on the PhD.

          • Liz Garnett says:

            I did not mean to dismiss those interesting questions of identity and subjectivity you allude to Joanna, my apologies. It was the simplistic conflation of gendered codes with gendered performers implied by the quote that started us off that I was lampooning.

            Glad that you consider gender is coming back into the musicological mainstream. I recently came across a paper I presented in 2003 that charted a significant decline in publications in this area since the wonderful flowering of the early-mid 1990s (that was a heady time to be a postgrad). It would be good if that turned out to be a temporary downwards blip.

    • Jennifer says:

      I have the solution here:


      Thank you, Dr. Garnett for the inspiration.


  • Paul Pellay says:

    Just been listening to Falletta’s new recording of Gliere’s “Ilya Murometz” Symphony, as “alpha male” a Russian symphony as any I know, and as far as I’m concerned it has nothing whatsoever to fear stacked up against my favourite performances of it (Farberman & Downes on CD, Sinaisky in concert). I recently heard Mei-Ann Chen in Memphis conduct a Prokofiev 5 easily comparable to Previn, Rozhdestvensky and MTT. Panula is one of the great conducting pedagogues alive, but this is one time he would have been wiser to keep his opinions to himself.

  • operafan1 says:

    I hear a wonderful young italian female conductor was just conducting don giovanni at Finnish National Opera and had huge success at the house and with the public…wonder what Panula thinks of that? apparently she also played all the recite from the forte piano ….

    • Wilhelm says:

      I heard so too… actually, Dalia Stasevska, Eva Ollikainen, Anna-Maria Helsing and most successfully, Susanna Mälkki are all great examples of (Finnish) conductors, taught by Panula, who have managed to create interesting and successful careers based solely on their artistic and technical substance as well as their great musicality. Just check their videos from YouTube – they’re women who will be talked about and followed for the next decades.

      When it comes to the Italian female conductor, Speranza Scappucci at FNO; yes, she is apparently a talented musician, but in my opinion a bit inexperienced as a conductor to make such a major appearance. She couldn’t really master the big machinery of opera, and it was difficult to understand her phrasing and ideas of formulating the work. Tempos were constantly either too slow in fast movement or too fast in slow movements, unfortunately, so some of the singers were dying every now and then. But I’m convinced that any of the above-mentioned conductors would have done a great performance of Don Giovanni, IMHO. Or, maybe it’s just a matter of taste. Nothing to do with gender though; like Ms. Helsing points out in her interview for YLE, “there are terribly weak male conductors and very strong female conductors all around. [To be successful as a conductor] is not a question of gender but a question of skill”. So true. http://yle.fi/uutiset/kapellimestari_anna-maria_helsing_tyrmaa_panulan_vaitteet_naiskapellimestareista_naurettavaa_ja_kummallista/7165775)

      • Mikko says:

        I remember seeing Mälkki and Panula being interviewed together on Finnish television some years ago, when Mälkki’s conducting career was taking off. They were talking about the nature of conducting and the reasons one should become a conductor and the reasons one should not. The two seemed to be in perfect agreement about these things, and neither referred to gender at all.

        By now, Mälkki has certainly conducted her share of music that I guess Panula would deem ‘not feminine’, with very high-profile orchestras.

        Panula is known for speaking bluntly, of course, and he doesn’t bother trying to dilute his strong Ostrobothnian dialect in Finnish. He also seems to tend to talk in maxims, at least in interviews, declaring this or that approach or practice useless. A lot of the time, he’s right, but I guess when he’s wrong, he’s very wrong. Maybe he’s getting old.

      • William Safford says:

        I look forward to attending an upcoming concert to be conducted by Susanna Mälkki:


      • Mozartiane says:

        I was at one of the performances , I am a musician and love don Giovanni. I was sitting in the front row and I thought Scappucci’s conducting was stunning! Energetic, musical , full of nuance , dramatic in the strong moments like opening and finale and incredibly colored in the more tender moments, like “Vedrai carino ” and “Non mi dir “. Not to talk about her fantastic rendition of the recits and the ease with which she seemed to pass from the keyboard to the musical numbers. I read her bio and she has worked next to some amazing conductors of today. She seemed to have a wonderful grasp on the opera and support of the singers. The fact that you say that all the Finnish conductors mentioned could have done a good job is certainly a fair and sharable comment, but sounds a bit nationalistic…

        • Wilhelm says:

          Then we can just fully disagree about this performance (don’t know if it was the same we attended) and the interpretation of the work. To me it sounded painful. Working as an assistant doesn’t mean being experienced conductor in the pit. Talented she is, no doubt, but not complete yet. Wish her all the best for the career, which I believe will be successful in the end. Still not a question about gender nor nationality. I’m therefore sorry if my comment sounded nationalistic – didn’t mean it so. The FNO, as you know, has actually a (marvelous) German chief conductor and by majority international guest conductors. Sadly, they have during the recent years engaged regularly only very few Finnish conductors (excellent Dalia Stasevska would be one of the few exceptions). Would be lovely to see more of these talents in the pit, aside of the great variety (also by their skills) of international conductors.

          • Mozartiane says:

            Being an assistant does not make you necessarily great in the pit, right, but most conductors , even the FNO’s German music director started off as an assistant …he was apparently Gergiev ‘s assistant for years ,, Pappano was Barenboims assistant, etc etc Being around great inspiring conductors surely does not make someone as great as them , but there certainly can be great influence. And everyone has to start from somewhere and build repertoire. Give her time, From what i saw and heard that night , i am sure she has the charisma and drive to be a great conductor!

          • Mezzojen says:

            I have had the pleasure of working with Ms Scappucci in her coaching assistant conductor years at the Met and Chicago Lyric! She truly is an amazing musician who understands the voice and the Italian style! She has been Muti’s right hand for years and prepared his operas and coached his singers: surely learned a lot from him also orchestrally. From the way she plays the piano it was always clear she has a conductor’s mind! looking forward to her Washington and Santa Fe appearances next season!

  • Iain Scott says:

    Clearly he us not “the most successful spotter and trainer of conductors for the past 30 years.” Given his closed mind and blinkered outlook. You might want to amend that opening paragraph.

    • Anon says:

      Why ‘clearly’? Regardless of the views he holds, about women conductors, religion, or the best restaurant in town, unless you can think of another spotter and trainer of conductors with a higher success rate, those opening words remain accurate, no?

      • Iain Scott says:

        Well I used the word clearly because he has a set of parameters to judge what is good and talented. Those parameters are obsolete . So a restaurant critic that does not like a place purely because the chef is a woman displays his or her bias as opposed to an open and receptive mind.the music world is full of these people pontificating their way to the top. A few weeks ago Susan Makkli conducted the RSNO . It was a clean musical performance . Was it a girly performance? No just a good one.

    • john daszak says:

      Very good point Iain. I would agree that he should not be described as ” the most successful spotter and trainer of conductors” perhaps “widely regarded as the most successful….” Since he has obviously overlooked and disregarded over half of the population in his work….Perhaps Norman would amend this?

  • Tammy says:

    There *are* up-and-coming female conductors out there. Because they have faced many hurdles, it’s only today that we’re seeing more and more conductors working their way through the ranks.

    If you will indulge me. Lidiya Yankovskaya, the Artistic Director of our small-ish but vibrant music company in Boston, was just chosen as one of Maestro Maazel’s three conducting fellows this summer at Castleton. She is steadily making a mark, and Lorin Maazel clearly does not agree with suggestions that women cannot or should not conduct.



  • Roy Lisker says:

    Its not a matter of old-world but of old-brain. No, women do not feel that men have the right to stupidly insult them.

  • Ah Panula: are you saying that men are not good conductors of Debussy?

  • Tempered Woman says:

    I personally agree with him as a woman.

    Lots of people want to see only male conductors and male musicians, but unfortunately this is not PC nowadays…

  • Rauno says:

    And so Jorma Panula answer back to all of you “Satana perkele jumalauta!!!!”

  • Jonathan Baker says:

    He’s a product of a different time and is 83 years old. No one has to put up with his nonsense for much longer.

  • Barbarona says:

    I have never paid much attention to Marin Alsop because she has vulgar taste. She is not a great conductor. She is pretty good, and masculine enough to hold attention. Most women do not have the command and force needed to lead orchestras with any number of men in them. Panula is correct to state his views, and it is shameful to dismiss them because they may sound unfashionable. If a woman was truly driven to conduct and conduct well, NOTHING would stop her. If so many men fail at it, why should women? Those who succeed are being given advantages men do not have. It’s not like men are all helping each other. Far from it. There are fundamental differences between men and women. And lesbians are most likely to succeed as conductors, as many are more masculine. Masculine and feminine qualities are very important in music. You cannot erase that under the banner of social politics. A greatly talented woman can succeed and probably will, because talent is preferred in at least some cases. But the women I saw recently who became somewhat successful did not have real talent. They had incredibly weak and ineffectual beat patterns, and could only lead by players making allowances. It is for the same reasons that, as far as I know, most male conductors are heterosexual. They tend to have alpha-male personalities and a lot of drive.

    • Julia Castaglione says:

      Not only does Marin Alsop have vulgar taste, she is a very poor conductor, with not a shred of technique. Sian Edwards is also a very poor conductor.

      • I beg to differ. And so did the late Ilya Musin, who was Edwards’ (and Gergiev’s teacher). He told me so.

      • Iain Scott says:

        But if you want a truly dreadful conductor go for Charles Dutoit. If that’s an example of masculine conducting I’d rather have Marin Alsop and Sian Edwards both if whom conducted in Glasgow-Alsop was Principal Guest Conductor of the RSNO for some years and both of whom are good musicians

    • steve says:

      interesting points here but some notable exceptions to your generalisation about most successful conductors being straight.

      Bernstein,Mitropulous,Levine,Karajan(subtle hint in the Osborne biog) Christie, Britten, Markevitch,Boulez etc.

      None of the above quite fit your model though it’d be true to say the more ‘out’ examples (Mitropulous)experienced homophobia.

    • john daszak says:

      “It is for the same reasons that, as far as I know, most male conductors are heterosexual”

      Haha…yeah sure! Levine…Thielemann….Bernstein….etc….

    • Drea says:

      Is this meant to be satire?

    • Anonymus says:

      I agree mostly. As I said above, there is a sexual quality to the conductor-orchestra musician relationship where the conductor is expected to take the dominant role and the musicians take the receiving role. It is a psychological role game that apparently is in average better played int he role of the conductor by men. Which doesn’t exclude the occasional female in its rank.

      But the fact that women excel in so many roles and aspects of professional life, but not in orchestra conducting, gives reason to conclude, that there must be other factors than only simple discrimination at play.

    • Mark Mortimer says:

      Thats an interesting point Barbara about most male conductors being heterosexual. In fact, a high proportion of extremely celebrated conductors past and present have been homosexual or at least bisexual.

      A fair number have tried to cover up their sexuality, fully aware of the image that a conductor should have, as you say, an ‘alpha personality’ and be a symbol of male strength and virility. You may be right that lesbians might make better conductors, but there is not a great deal of evidence to support such a claim.

      An even higher % of male concert pianists are homosexual and are understandably more open about it. They are just required to play the instrument beautifully and the huge ego, so essential for a conductor, does not come into it.

  • Vittorio Parisi says:

    To be a great teacher does not mean also to be a great human being or to have an open mind. I have, and I have had, very good young women conducting in my Milano’s class and in my masterclass in other cities and countries. To be old is not to be 83, it’s just to be out of time. It can happen at 20 too.

  • PJ says:

    No-one has remarked so far the utter stupidity of the question he was asked.

  • Can anyone find that Salonen tweet? I sure can’t. But I found this! https://twitter.com/esapekkasalonen/status/427292188746067968

  • Dr Michelle Castelletti says:

    This is outrageous – and ludicrous – and the fact that media make so much of things, just amplifies it all. I wish people would just stop writing about this. As a conductor myself, I sometimes feel that doing this sort of thing helps negatively affirm the fact that there is a perceived issue, which should not be an issue. Would we ever discuss make pianists or harpists or flautists or female trumpeters, percussionists etc? There is no reason to do so; nor should there be.

  • Julia Castaglione says:

    I am a woman and I understand Panula’s oddly-constructed comments. Women should not be given gold-plated conducting careers for the simple fact that they are women. Sian Edwards for instance is a woman with very poor conducting skills, who ‘paints by numbers’, so to speak. Yet, she has taken over the conducting class at RAM, and judgeing by many people’s comments, she will bring nothing remotely interesting to the course.

    • Sian Edwards conducted here in Finland last fall and I went to see both the dress rehearsal and the concert (Brahms Requiem). In my opinion she is a very good professional with excellent conducting technique, and I am pretty confident that her conducting class at RAM will be a success.

  • John M. says:

    The fact that women exclusively are conducting the most famous Video Game concert to date should say something about this… (Eimear Noone and Susie Benchasil Seiter) And they were chosen for their skill on the podium, and not for any other reason. Also, seconding (or thirding or fourthing or whatever…) that another fine conductor, JoAnn Falletta leads the Buffalo Philharmonic, which is a great regional orchestra. I’m an aspiring male conductor and the fact that I’ve been more inspired by more women than men at their craft (these women in particular) hopefully should speak volumes.

  • Andrew Shaw says:

    The Greek conductor Zoi Tsokanou will surely be a name for the future. Bernard Haitink and David Zinman

    both recognise her promise. She has real charisma.

  • Appalled says:

    This beggars belief! Either Panula didn’t learn anything from the outcry at Vasily Petrenko’s equally outrageous comments last year, or he just couldn’t resist claiming his own few minutes in the spotlight of controversy!

  • Florence Sitruk says:

    More than reading Jorma Panula’s ideas, it is thrilling to read all opinions here. They are great, witty, humourful thinkers out there! And positively spoken, Panula made us think. Of course, needless to say, that I cannot take his outburst for serious. And I say this as a female harpist, who once took conducting lessons with him. Maybe his last female student did not want to flirt with him, or the bottle of wine wasn’t great.

    The battle men-women seems the last battle to be fought and it is an ugly one on many levels. The first book written in which the female protagonist did not have to die, was only written in 1912.

    The ‘female being’ has been drawn, written and declared over hundreds of centuries by male thinking. Last but not least, a classic symphony orchestra is of (old-fashioned) hierarchical structure; contemporary music ensembles invite many female conductors.

    Yes, of course, there is gender sociology involved. Principals in orchestras are mostly older siblings or single children; string players mostly come from academic parents, whereas brass players started in the local brass sections. So far a German research on our orchestras a couple of years ago. Not to mention that studying music is a “breadless profession”, so some parents prefer their boys “getting a real job”. More women are ready to take up the challenge of an uncertain future, it seems, judging entrance numbers at music universities. But how would it look, if one day the only men remaining is the male conductor?? It would not make anyone happy.

    After these general observations, I would personally like to add that Mozart would never have said or even have thought such aggressive unmusicality. His operas are an outstanding example of equality. Still a long way to go…

    • cabbagejuice says:

      @Florence I found your post interesting about orchestral players, not so sure about how it plays out statistically. Anyway, just out of the hat, Jane Eyre didn’t die at the end of the novel and neither did quite a bit of Dickens’ or Hugo’s protagonists. So what did you mean by citing 1912?

      Also, BTW I found as a piano teacher over the years that girls tend to bang more than boys. Maybe the latter are more sure of their strength so don’t have to prove it.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      The first book written in which the female protagonist did not have to die, was only written in 1912.

      What about “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865, by Lewis Carroll)?

      Or what about “Parzival” (ca 1200, by Wolfram von Eschenbach)? That one has a number of very strong and positive female characters, and none of them have to die. That’s 700 years earlier.

      • Halldor says:

        Laxdaela Saga, written no later than 1260. Gudrun Osvifsdottir drives the whole plot and is one of the few central characters to survive into old age.

        So, can we put this particular bit of nonsense to bed now?

  • David Grandis says:

    Why do people waste their time commenting on this idiotic statement? Please, ignore. Panula is a great teacher but apparently he has some stupid ideas…nobody’s perfect.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Old age does not prevent one from making unwise statements (or, as the German saying goes: “Alter schuetzt vor Torheit nicht”). I have great respect for Jorma Panula’s huge achievements as a musician and teacher, and will hold no grudge against him because of unwise remarks. These are best forgotten, and, at any rate, proven wrong by formidable women conductors (one of whom has made a splash with Bruckner recordings and a very fine RING) as I write this comment. Brava maestra!

  • John says:

    In another forum I saw a reference to an article pointing out that there is much more gender equity in the ranks of orchestra musicians. I hope that will help to foster greater acceptance of greater gender equity on the podium. Here in Denver we were treated to over a decade of Marin Alsop’s leadership of the Colorado Symphony, and she has moved on to international stature. And there are so many others. I think that the old guard will continue to rant and rail about one gender’s superiority, and they will look foolish when they make silly pronouncements, as maestro Panula appears to do here. In the meantime, more and more talented conductors, women and men, will ascend and exceed. Talent is the key!

  • Kathy Pisaro says:

    I had no idea that the extra few inches of flesh hanging between your legs was a better gauge of conducting ability than talent, knowledge of the score, ability to inspire, and all the other important features of conducting. Good to know. How he can state that with a straight face is amazing.

    • Anonymus says:

      Read a bit about biology. There are fundamental differences between the brains of males and females and their mental processing. Not that it would prove anything here, but just saying that there is more than just a bit of flesh or fat here and there.

    • cabbagejuice says:

      @Kathy “Straight face”, ha, ha! I had to do a doubletake, or rather triple to figure out who or what it was in the picture.

  • Interestingly Michelle, I don’t feel particularly feminine when playing the piano. There may be this stereotype, romanticised in fiction, where women play minatures in drawing rooms to the admiration of their companions and suitors.

    Yet many pieces for piano, Beethoven sonatas for example require quite a lot of strength. It can be a full work out especially during longer forte passages where full-arm or body weight are required to produce a good tone (or it can simply sound like “hitting the piano”.

    I have conducted, yet would not call myself a conductor. One does need enough charisma and authority in order to get the best out of ones forces. It does not need to be as physical as some conductors make it. There is a conflict between perceived ideas about femininity, in particular a certain demureness that some sectors of male society find a comforting. This does not fit with the post-feminist age where qualities such as being self-assured and assertive as seen as universal rather than something that women need avoid.

    Yet there are men who are lacking in the skills necessary and should not see this as failure. Sure, due to the physiological differences between men and women, most men find it easier to build muscle than most women. They tend to be taller, and they are associated with having lower voices – all things that can create an illusion of authority.

    Surely, however, knowledge, time-management and other more human aspects can convey authority. A woman does not need to be “butch” to be a good manager, or able to convey authority to large groups of people.

    When I accepted that my speaking voice was high, and my stature was short, I found other ways of gaining the necessary trust of others on the occasions when I have conducted. Assertive body-language and knowing I belonged there. An intimate knowledge of the score, a good ear, reasonable conducting technique, clear concise instructions and the ability to listen to the needs of fellow musicians were as useful. Owning my speaking voice, and not pretending the tessiatura was different from what it was, not being apologetic for being short, yet still taking time to ensure everyone could see my face and my beat.

    Those qualities are actually universal, and it matters not a jot on gender. A woman may have to work harder at it, but so do some men. Maybe this is where Panula’s comment about there being incompetent men is correct. Yet the answer is not to bar women from the top of the pile as far as being a conductor is concerned, but for all conductors male or female, famous or obscure, at the top of their profession or simply starting out to aspire to. One may not need a huge ego, but one does need to portray a sense of “this is my place, and I’m doing the job”.

  • cabbagejuice says:

    Debussy, feminine music? What crepe! Ach, this proves that the old walrus didn’t understand his music at all.

    One of the best choir conductors I sang for was a very tiny woman but with a will of steel. Unfortunately, this is what has been keeping her hanging on for years now in a nursing home with MS and the use of only one hand.

  • Gerald Brennan says:

    Even if what the old man says is completely true, the responses here would be essentially the same. Because this isn’t about the suitability of women as conductors, it isn’t even about music.

    It’s about politics and sociology, which in the context of actual art, is boring and off-topic.

  • Anonymus says:


    There is a new PISA international assessment study on the Creative Problem Solving capabilities of 15 year old pupils. In the top tier of the best 20%, in average there are 60% male and 40% female students. The study also finds better capabilities in mathematics with males than with females.

    So maybe we can discuss what many have known already, that there ARE differences between the sexes and that the conducting profession might just be one example where these differences play out in the extreme.

    • As one of the girls from whom mathematics came easily, I am aware that this was a trait more readily shared amongst my male friends than female friends (although given a number of my female friends are scientist, physical scientists at that, the nemebers are scewed to closer a 50/50 balance).

      My children’s godparents have twins, one of each. Both of the godparents come from a physics and engineering background, yet it has been clear watching the children grow up that their daughter and son did do typically girlie and boyish things. Unsurprisingly both are good at maths and sciences. I have two sons, am married to a physics graduate and my mother has a good Cambridge MA in Natural Sciences. My sons are both good mathematical thinkers, and are good scientists (they also demonstrate musical aptitude).

      I don’t know how much is nature, how much is nurture, and how much is related to the sexes of these children.

      What is the case is all these children can think. Their interests may conform to traditional gender types. Both my sons’ godmother and I are the type of people who make things whether it is sewing, knitting or cookery and will happily pick up a saw or a hammer or paintbrush (in the home decor direction). I find it odd that more men don’t sew, save that tailoring often requires more processes than basic dressmaking. Using a sewing machine and following a pattern require the same sort of gross and fine motor controls that I’ve seen in typical male past-times such as building balsa models, assembling and running model railways, or driving remote controlled vehicles.

      I’ll be the first to acknowledge differences between the sexes, but how that transfers to conducting an orchestra is not immediate. There are skills that either men or women can naturally excel in and that can be seen as masculine or feminine that can be brought to such a role. The best conductors bring their natural assets to the job, the rest can be learned.

      Whilst I would like to see more women get the top conducting jobs, it has to be achieved by merit. Personally, I’d be very cross if I ever secured a position doing anything due to an all-women short-list. I’ve got far too much respect for men for that.

      However even though there are differences between the sexes, there are differences within them. Just like the fact that there are mathematical women, there will be creative, expressive men who are hopeless at maths. It would be better to celebrate diversity in general and allow people to achieve the best they can rather than conform to any rule-book here. People are individuals. I note that the statistic is that amongst the top 20% that there 60% are male 40% female. Allowing for a standard deviation of 5% on each number that is nearly 50/50 (55/45). Men can’t have all the cake and eat it, bu then again neither can women.

    • It’s not a biological study. It shows that *social* conditioning of gender and assuming inferior roles becomes especially strong when girls reach adolescence.

      • Anonymus says:

        No it doesn’t show that. That would be conjecture. It shows that there are certain skills that boys (statistically!) are better at than girls (and vice versa).

        What you do is a logical fallacy. You have to show conclusively what you say, not just claim it.

        We also know scientifically, that male and female brains are structured somewhat differently, regardless of the factors you mentioned. So that would speak against your thesis.


        • Differences in stats are shown, but not causes. There is no scientific proof that women’s brains are inferior, hence the focus on social conditioning. My last word, since I avoid wasting my time with people using anonymity to vent bigotry.

          • Anonymus says:

            Nobody said “inferior”. Everybody said “different”. But we can see how your brain works. It’s called a Pawlowian reflex, you are conditioned to see discrimination of women, even if that’s not the case.

          • Pamela Brown says:

            The underlying problem seems to be bullying. In general, and especially in the arts, men have had a tendency to block women from doing anything that they consider a threat to them. They do compete with each other, but seem to be comfortable playing dirty tricks on women that they would not try on other men. In short, women have been, and still are in many cases ‘locked-out’ and have to fight for every tiny bit of credibiity.

            Then, of course, there is Wolfgang Mozart, who men will automatically claim as a supreme example of male genius, but whose male colleagues took no second thought about deliberately sandbagging him to drive him into debt and into the grave…so it is not a simple issue…

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Pamela, we talked about this before, “Amadeus” was a brilliant play and entertaining movie, but neither the play nor the movie are at all historically accurate. Mozart died from an infectious disease, as so many people did in those days when medicine was still in its infancy, not because he was “sandbagged into the grave”.

            BTW, the one poster here who invoked Mozart as a higher authority was a woman, not a man.

          • Anonymus says:

            “Then, of course, there is Wolfgang Mozart, who men will automatically claim as a supreme example of male genius,..”

            I’m a man and it would have never occurred to me to claim Mozart as something specific male. I don’t like the way you talk about men, it sounds degrading.

            Are you saying that women do not know the art of intrigue and how to bully? Seriously? All love and peace on the women front?

          • Pamela Brown says:

            It is refreshing that you may have an objective viewpoint of Wolfgang Mozart.

            I can only speak from my own experience. Not only have I been targeted, but my children as well. I apologize if I am not politically correct as a result.

            I agree that women are not perfect either — while men seem to be able to work together even after competing against each other, women seem to have a tendency to turn on each other. And yes, there are women capable of subtle duplicity with devastating result. To return to Wolf as an example, his sister Nannerl succeeded in effectively causing him to be disinherited in his Father’s will, which put him into a very unhappy state.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            I can only speak from my own experience. Not only have I been targeted, but my children as well. I apologize if I am not politically correct as a result.

            No problem. PC usually means boring anyway. So non-PC is more fun. 🙂

            Targeted – by whom? For what? Do you mean you have been targeted by some kind of anti-Mozart conspiracy group for speaking out the truth about what really happened to Mozart? I may have lost you at some point here.

          • Pamela Brown says:

            By a cadre I call “Monostatos”. The intent was to silence me as a person and a musician. That hasn’t happened though. 🙂

  • Prudence says:

    The irony to me of Panula’s rant and many succeeding comments is that musicians generally ~ almost as a rule ~ hold themselves out to be great humanists in possession of fine sensibility… except this exchange reveals that only 49% of the human race deserves the right to self-determination, respect, and nurture.

    As a music lover and supporter (yea, verily, a FEMALE member of an orchestra board), this gives me pause. When we consider guest conductors, music directors, and a multitude of pleas to fund artists, composers and orchestras, I will now be scrutinizing their views on 51% of the human race. I have worked with enough of the male “greats” to know that not one of them is perfect. I guess I have Mr. Panula’s honest opinion to thank for that. It is 2014. Wake up!

  • Julie says:

    Nicolette Fraillon, Music Director and Chief Conductor of The Aistralian Ballet. 11 years in the job, highly esteemed and a bloody great conductor.

    Also a leader in training young ballet conductors through the Robert and Elizabeth Albert Fellowship and in the 3rd year of running this program a woman (Vanessa Scammel) has won the Fellowship for 2014.

    Brava maestra!

  • John says:

    Here’s another one: Ewa Strusinska (previously with the Hallé orchestra) is now Music Director and Principal Conductor of Szczecin Philharmonic Orchestra. In September 2014 she will be opening a brand new and amazing concert hall there!

  • Pamela Brown says:

    Michael Shaffer said, “Pamela, we talked about this before, “Amadeus” was a brilliant play and entertaining movie, but neither the play nor the movie are at all historically accurate. Mozart died from an infectious disease, as so many people did in those days when medicine was still in its infancy, not because he was “sandbagged into the grave”.’

    Since discussed this before, perhaps my response was not clear enough for you to understand my position. AMADEUS is anti-Mozart. It consists of a collection of rumours and misconceptions. Its only redeeming feature was, of course, the soundtrack, which is exquisite. The ‘did Salieri kill Mozart’ question is a strawman. The actual question is ‘what happened to him and why’.

    You are entitled to your opinion of how Mozart died, as I am to mine. I undoubtedly have a much different understanding than you do, and it’s ok with me to agree-to-disagree. Even if he were to have died a ‘natural’ death, which I doubt is true, surely you will not disagree that his good name and reputation were, in fact, poisoned?

    • Anonymus says:

      Mozart was an addicted gambler, drinker, and saw countless prostitutes. It is not surprising at all, that his health might not have been the best and that he had above average chance of catching infectious diseases. In those days without antibiotics, his life style was a gamble with death, and he lost.

      • steve says:

        Given his extreme lifestyle it’s all the more startling that he managed to write so much music!

      • Pamela Brown says:

        You are entitled to your opinion. I think it is wrong.

        You seem to be repeating anti-Mozart rumours in the AMADEUS vein that are simply distractions from what was really going one. Mozart had a gift that was different from those of his colleagues and they despised him for it. To make an analogy,try to compare a perfect interval with a major or minor one. You can’t. Mozart was no angel but he was also slandered as a result of this gift, making an understanding of his character difficult.

        • Anonymus says:

          “anti-Mozart rumours”, that’s cute. What incentive should one have today to spread “anti-Mozart rumours”? Too funny.

          • Pamela Brown says:

            I don’t find the term ‘anti-Mozart rumours’ to be ‘cute’. The incentive to slander, if you prefer, is to cover up the truth about what happened to Mozart and why. The truth is a bit esoteric and mysterious, so those believing the rumours are blind to it. Those who understand can benefit from Mozart’s experiences.

            And what do I mean by esoteric and mysterious? Start with Mozart’s last major opera and add in Mahler’s last words…

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Pamela, do you also think that the pyramids were really built by aliens?

          • Pamela Brown says:

            No. But I have to wonder what would prompt a guy to make a dismissive statement to a woman in a thread on the challenges faced by women. Your choice. :-0

          • Pamela Brown says:


            But I do believe that a guy posting a statement like that in a thread about challenges women face in dealing with men speak volumes. :-0

          • Pamela Brown says:

            Michael Shaffer says, “Pamela, do you also think that the pyramids were really built by aliens?”

            I always keep an open mind, Michel. Perhaps you’ve noticed that.

            And I also believe that any post from a guy making a statement like that in a thread about challenges facing women who are being treated shabbily by men speaks volumes. :-0

  • Andrew Haveron says:

    In my experience as an orchestral player in the UK and beyond, the music industry I work in is a sexism free place. It is foolish to suggest that we players hold any sexist views about other players; one look at the make up of any UK orchestra will reveal the truth.

    Orchestras don’t need excellent conducting technique to play well, nor do they need testosterone or some display of strength or stamina.

    Might I suggest – cautiously – that when players look up into the eyes of, say, Sir Colin Davis, Bernard Haitink, Maris Jansons or any number of people who look anything like Toscanini, that there we might, for a fleeting moment, see a facial expression that mirrors exactly that of whichever dead male composer we happen to be playing? This is the only good and convincing reason that older men seem to be more sought after in this business; The look fits.

    This is no argument for why it should continue ad infinitum of course…

  • David Murphy says:

    I remember my conducting guru, Leon Barzin (1900-1999) saying that the “trash that usually passes for conducting these days” is only dwarfed by the rubbish spoken about it. His career spanned most of the twentieth century, and he was way ahead of his time in pushing for both racial and sexual equality in American musical life from the 1930s onwards. Barzin maintained genuine conducting (as opposed to sweaty posturing) has nothing whatsoever to do with gender.

    • Mark Mortimer says:

      Since I’ve heard of you as a conductor David- please enlighten us as to what consitutes genuine conducting as opposed to ‘sweaty posturing’?

      Of course, in conducting there’s a fine balance between boring old time-beating, and vulgar exhibitionism. And how you get the power of the music across and the ability to galvanise orchestras/choirs without having to resort to theatrics.

      • David Murphy says:

        I believe the road from sweaty posturing to genuine conducting is a long one. At the beginning of the process it is possible to look wonderful from an audience perspective but be worse than useless for the orchestra. (John Sloboda’s research estimates that it takes 10,000 hours of quality practice with an instrument to achieve a professional level as a player and I believe this is equally true for conducting.

        The economics of the music business seems to dictate that a few selected, usually young, conductors are immediately placed in front of the worlds great orchestras. These orchestras will sound beautiful on the surface in any case, regardless of whether the conductor contributes to or detracts from the overall artistic level of the performance.

        I believe the first stage on the road to genuine conducting is to learn to really listen to the orchestra, moving towards an ability to hear each musician individually as part of the collective whole. This is a far, far deeper level of listening than the generic checking of tuning, balance, ensemble, “expression” etc. Research has shown that this level of listening is impossible unless your head is virtually still: if you are “thrashing about” you are living your own internal fantasy of conducting rather than experiencing an intense connection with each musician.

        Before this connection stage is reached, conductors tend to either a) give up or b) get swept up in a frenetic PR whirlwind and succession of high profile dates when they have only spent a few hundred hours (often considerably less) in front of any orchestra. An inexperienced conductor, put in this situation may well appear involved and generate some excitement by fulfilling peoples expectations of what a conductor should look like but if there is no real connection with the orchestra, they are superfluous. The problem is that when conductors begin their careers like this, they don’t even realise that they are superfluous. They can go through the motions for years and achieve professional and material success without realising what they are missing. It usually takes some kind of crisis before the penny drops.

        The deep connection with players I mentioned above is the turning point in a conductor’s development. It gives the conductor immediate feedback and also has a profound effect on the sensitivity, subtlety and pliability of gesture: the barriers go down, the body relaxes and becomes intuitively responsive to the musical vision. The conductor, now acutely sensitive to the orchestra begins to learn in exquisite detail that “if I do this, it creates this sound” that’s when the process of genuine conducting begins.

        • Couldn’t agree more!

        • Marioara Trifan says:

          Extremely true!!! But what a luxury to be able to rack up 10,000 hours of face-to-face orchestra time. What you end up doing is, by necessity, “practicing on the job”. Ideally, though, the principle is as equally applicable to conducting as it is to instrumental playing or singing. Thanks for bringing it up!

        • Liz Garnett says:

          “Research has shown that this level of listening is impossible unless your head is virtually still: if you are “thrashing about” you are living your own internal fantasy of conducting rather than experiencing an intense connection with each musician.”

          Do you have a reference for this research please David? It is a subject I have written about myself (http://www.helpingyouharmonise.com/stillness) , but my conclusions were based only on close observation of conductor behaviour. I would love to read about the perceptual processes that underlie this.

        • Mark Mortimer says:

          Tx for all that David. You’re spot on about the folly of young conductors and the ability to listen to the orchestra- but this, as you rightly say, comes with experience.

          I would add that a photographic memory for every detail in the score is essential for any aspiring conductor. If you don’t you- its easy to pull the wool over the eyes of the impressionable audience and the odd critic, but the players will rumble you quick.

          Many young conductors starting out (and I was the same) think its a smart move to ape the gestures of such charismatic figures as Leonard Bernstein and Carlos Kleiber, forgetting that they were supreme musicians first and foremost. Passion without direction is pretty pointless. But what this has to do with gender divide- sorrry we digress?!

  • Rob Kerr says:

    It’s unfortunately still the case that, if a man should be terrible at something, people will think, “Wow, that guy really sucks at doing that thing,” but if a woman should turn in a similarly bad performance, people will think, “Wow, women really suck at doing that thing.” It’s _that_ judgement double-standard that needs to change.

  • Dr Michelle Castelletti says:

    Joanna, that is all I meant… That there should not be the need to “defend” this. Men, women, painters, authors, musicians, artists in general; just like people in all walks of life…

  • Ludwig says:

    When the music industry (with its marketing army) finds it necessary to have a woman conductor on the spotlight then it will happen…it has happened with male conductors before and there are plenty of capable women to step up for the opportunity and challenge.

    • Anonymus says:

      And their names are? Capable conductors of the younger generation are rare these days, regardless of their gender.

  • Fred says:

    Mario Del Monaco THE star tenor of the fifties and early sixties, a glorious otello and not a sissy tenor at all, was the FIRST (and only?) star tenor to hire a female conductor to accompany him :


  • Liz Garnett says:

    And just when everyone’s exhausted by this discussion, some thoughts on some of the arguments the thread has produced: