Fact: The best orchestra managers are women

Fact: The best orchestra managers are women


norman lebrecht

June 26, 2014

Deborah Rutter is leaving Chicago with a flourish after 11 years in the top job. The orchestra has not been this happy with its music director since Solti was in his prime.

The finances are stable; an extra $32 million flowed in just last week. The orchestra is socially engaged, interested in new music and thinking creatively about its future.


Deborah is one of four women who have turned around US orchestras. The others are Deborah Borda at New York and Los Angeles, Allison Vulgamore at Philadelphia and Anne Parsons at Detroit. No man has performed at this level in a generation. Fact one.

Kathryn McDowell at the LSO is the outstanding orchestra manager in London with a vibrant band, bursting the new ideas. No man &c. Fact 2.

Pamela Rosenberg was the best and brightest of recent managers of the Berlin Philharmonic. Fact 3.

There’s more evidence wherever you care to look. Discuss.



  • ruben greenberg says:

    The best everything are women! (with the possible exception of the best shot-putters)

    • Luca says:

      Your stupid statement about shot putting aside, you do realize that you’re being incredibly sexist ,right?

  • Halldor says:

    I suppose it depends upon what you mean by ‘a generation’ but I can’t think of any orchestral CEO (‘an ‘Orchestra Manager’ is a very specific and conpletely different job) who has achieved more than Ed Smith has.

    Having worked for both male and female orchestral senior managers, I’d say there’s no discernable gender difference. At that level, posts are occupied either by genuinely gifted leaders, or by pushy, well-connected bluffers. I’d say that the gender divide in each category is pretty much 50:50. Funnily enough.

  • Gerald Brennan says:

    Fact: the best composers are men.

    Now, can we please stop the silly sex stuff. Anyone deviating from the idea of: Get the Best Person for the Job Regardless of Sex, Color, Creed or Political Affiliation is pretty much beneath contempt.

  • Brian says:

    Why don’t any of the women mentioned hire women conductors? Obviously not all of the directorship posts have opened up under these managers’ tenures but it does seem odd how that discrepancy exists.

    • David Hutchings says:

      This is a really good point. I think this will start to change significantly over the next ten years…

      This year I saw a number of the choral conducting final exams at The RWCMD in Cardiff. There were several female conductors that day who I felt showed real depth and promise.

  • Brian says:

    My understanding is that Ms. Vulgamore, hired in 2009, led the Philadelphia Orchestra into its bankruptcy debacle in 2011, subsequently being rewarded with a huge contract renewal in 2012, including (according to the Philadelphia Inquirer):

    A “performance-based compensation” cash bonus of between $50,000 and $150,000 per year.
    POA board chair has the discretion to increase the maximum bonus to $175,000.
    A retirement contribution of $125,000 per year, less applicable withholdings.
    Up to $15,000 per year for supplemental disability insurance.
    “Executive health benefits” of up to $10,000 per year for costs not covered under the group plan.
    A car allowance of $5,000.
    Free parking at the Kimmel Center.
    Four weeks’ paid vacation.
    $2,000 a year to pay a financial planner.
    A one time, $50,000 bonus to be paid by June 2012 as part of an earlier bonus program for which she had not yet received payment.

    In Detroit, Anne Parsons was on the job when that orchestra went through a calamitous six-month-long strike, prompted by attempted salary reductions of over 30%. The orchestra’s endowment had been reduced to nothing and the debt on the Max M. Fisher Music Center, for which all monies had been raised, was instead invested and then lost in the crash of 2008. The debt remains but the money is no longer there to pay for it.

    One cannot argue with the substantial successes in Los Angeles and Chicago, nor how fortunate the Kennedy Center truly is: one can only hope that Ms. Borda will be able to expedite the departure of the ineffective Christoph Eschenbach. In the other cases, Norman, you’ve left out some important details here.

  • william osborne says:

    Gifted women administrators are pushed into the non-profit sector. 18.8% of the leadership slots at the top 400 charities are held by women, but only 4.8% percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions.

    Only 6.5% of the top 400 non-profit CEO positions are held by non-whites.

    The details for these stats are here:


    I haven’t seen any numbers, but I suspect women are not well represented in arts leadership positions in most European countries — even if we are seeing some improvement.

    • Mikko says:

      “Gifted women administrators are pushed into the non-profit sector.”

      I suspect that’s what’s going on. I did a bit of googling for the Finnish orchestras, and most of them seem to have a woman intendant, which is not surprising in the Finnish context. These are municipal management jobs in the cultural sector (except for the Radio Symphony, which is owned by the state). The list of women intendants includes those of all three full-size symphony orchestras in the country: Tuula Sarotie (Finnish Radio Symphony, since 2001), Gita Kadambi (Helsinki Philharmonic, since May) and Helena Hiilivirta (Tampere Philharmonic, since 2012).

      Hiilivirta was in charge of the Helsinki Music Centre (Musiikkitalo) during its construction and for some months after the opening, but quit in 2012 when the organization running it was revamped, seemingly in part to oust her and to install a male political favourite as director.

      Some of the women intendants/managers of the smaller Finnish orchestras that quick googling turned up: Emilie Gardberg (Turku Philharmonic), Leena Pälli (Oulu Sinfonia), Emma Anttila (Jyväskylä Sinfonia), Hanna Kosonen (Tapiola Sinfonietta), Ulla-Maija Kanerva (Chamber Orchestra of Lapland), Leena Harmaala (Pori Sinfonietta), Riikka Luostarinen (Kymi Sinfonietta) etc.

  • Delbert Grady says:

    “The orchestra is… interested in new music” I wish! The 2014-15 schedule is the most conservative I’ve seen in years. There were a few flashes of interest this season, however.

  • David Hutchings says:

    I don’t really see how this serves any useful purpose, other than discouraging young, aspiring male arts managers.

    There’s recently been several outcries when individuals have suggested the best conductors are male. This is no more a proven fact!

    Ok; I will accept that many of the most successful orchestral managers are female (as is the case with the most successful conductors being male). But both are the result of circumstance, surely?

    Gender equality is important. Many times, women have been held back from realising their potential by miserable and outdated assumptions about their innate ability to do a job well, properly, at the highest level. So why do we accept writing something like this about men?

  • Herbert Glass says:

    Referring to one of Brian’s comments: Why is Ms. Borda in any way responsible for Christoph Eschenbach? She’s in Los Angeles; he’s in D.C.