No women apply to women-led conducting course

No women apply to women-led conducting course


norman lebrecht

June 06, 2014

Sian Edwards, head of the Advanced Conducting Course at Dartington International Summer School, is more than a little surprised that not a single woman has applied this summer.

Sian, a former music director at English National Opera and head of conducting at the Royal Academy of Music, was apparently expecting a surge after Marin Alsop’s challenging words at the 2013 Last Night of the Proms. But her words have not percolated down to Dartington level.


sian edwards


Nicholas Daniel, this summer’s artistic director, said: ‘In our Summer School this year, I just wanted the best people. As it turns out two of them (Holly Mattieson and Sian) are brilliant and talented women, and one of them, Sian Edwards, has the important job of training new conductors on our highly respected Advanced Conductors Course. Given the same opportunities and training there is no reason why, as in much of the rest of our profession and in all of the training schools, more than half of the great conductors should not be women. That they are not already is an appalling stain on the front of the white shirted reputation of our business, and it must as quickly as possible be corrected.’

So why have no women applied?




  • Jonathan Brett says:

    Whilst it can be argued that there is discrimination and a glass ceiling in this arena, so far as I can see there is a quite healthy level of female interest in studying conducting. Over the five years Conductors’ Academy has been operating we have worked with a total of more than 60 students, of whom more than 25% are female.

    It would be interesting to know how other providers of conducting masterclasses fare in this regard, then we might get a more balanced picture of the situation.

  • Misha says:

    The answer is because there is no successful woman conductor to act as a role model for young students to emulate. This will change as soon as there’s a lady Furtwängler. 🙂

  • Ellingtonia says:

    No female role models?…………how about:-
    Susanna Malkki
    JoAnn Falletta
    Julia Jones
    Anu Tali
    Simone Young
    Emmanuelle Haim
    Marin Alsop
    They may not get the PR that many less talented male conductors get but I would suggest that they are a starting point as role models for many young women.

  • Misha says:

    Ellingtonia, I haven’t heard all the conductors on your list but of those I have heard none has done anything memorable. The only way to get more women into the profession is if one of them becomes a superstar, and that hasn’t yet happened. It’s not just PR.

  • Nicholas Daniel says:

    Yes it’s surprising that there are no women applicants but the course is fairly and equally open to Women and Men, as is the generous Bursary system we can offer, and that’s what matters. It’s nothing to do with Dartington Summer School that there are no female applicants, it is what it is. Time will change this.
    We’ve had highly successful women participants before, including Holly Mathieson, who has returned on the faculty, so highly do we think of her.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Misha, you conclude your response to Ellingtonia by saying: “The only way to get more women into the profession is if one of them becomes a superstar, and that hasn’t yet happened.” I am not sure whether the men who have become superstars enjoy this status because they have done nothing else but “memorable” – applying your logic that thus far no woman conductor has “done anything memorable”, and thus cannot be considered a superstar. There are men who are no superstars, but whose conducting can be, and is, certainly memorable. It all depends on: memorable for whom. And I am not at all sure whether being a “superstar” is a desirable qualification for someone who is, or intends to be, a conductor. Again, “superstar” and “memorable” are categories which tend to be very subjective. I do remember very well, and fondly, a sublime “Fliegender Holländer” under the baton of the late Judith Somogi at Frankfurt Opera in 1985 (she died, far too young, at age 47, in 1988). The production was decent and a bit traditional, but surely the orchestra in the pit and the singers onstage were set ablaze by this amazing Maestra, who, in my opinion, had the potential to become a superstar at least in the world of opera. Sadly, the time appeared not ripe then, and still seems to be not ripe today. To our detriment.

  • MarieTherese says:

    Ellingtonia, thanks for the list!
    Misha, try making use of Google or getting out more. While you may not have known, several of those women have led orchestras and opera companies counted among the finest in the world:
    Susanna Malkki -Personally selected by Thomas Adès to act as his assistant and she took over some of the performances in the UK.
    JoAnn Falletta- Music Director of several orchestras, served on the National Council for the Arts, nominated for numerous Grammy Awards and winner of several.
    Julia Jones- Conductor of several orchestras and opera houses including the Royal Opera House in London
    Anu Tali- Formed her own orchestra, won the Echo Classic Award for Young Artist of the Year and has been invited to conduct opera and orchestral works in many places.
    Simone Young- Has conducted opera on several continents and was the first female conductor of the Vienna State Opera. She is known for her recordings of Bruckner and Wagner.
    Emmanuelle Haim-A very well known conductor of Baroque and early music who has taken the podium for operas in Paris, London, Glyndebourne and Chicago.
    Marin Alsop- Current music director of the Baltimore Symphony and principal conductor of the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra as well being the first conductor ever to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. She has conducted all over the UK as well as the Last Night at the Proms and is a regular guest conductor in Severance Hall with the Cleveland Orchestra.

    It’s not just “PR” because it’s still not “PC” among many male musicians occupying those orchestral chairs. It’s changing, but far too slowly.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    I could compile a list of so called male superstar conductors who have never done anything memorable……….but that doesn’t seem to inhibit their careers, with critics (invariably male) fawning over them (e.g. Daniel Harding, competent conductor but no more than that, yet he gets gigs with the leading orchestras, I saw Takuo Yuasa conduct the BPO in Berlin, competent but unmemorable Shostakovitch 5).
    It is not lack of role models for young female conductors but often outright discrimination often topped with a good dash of misogyny that puts off young women.

  • anonymus says:

    Men and women are somewhat different. Women do not apply for mechanical or electrical engineering much either. Mathematics the same. More men than women.
    But sure, its ALWAYS the men’s fault. How convenient. (and stupid)
    I think the solution to equality in orchestra conducting is simple: More women need to apply for studying it. So far the applicants are still less than 20% women in average. A number I know first hand for central Europe.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    If it is not the discriminatory and misogynistic practices of men, then who is it?. Is there a third gender that I have never encountered in my 65 years that holds sway in the music industry?
    Do tell…………..

  • anonymus says:

    What stops a woman from applying for orchestral conducting at a music college in one of the liberal western countries? Nothing… they simple are not interested in numbers as men are.

    The “thinking” that anything women do not do as well or as often as men, must always be due to discriminatory and misogynistic practices by men is infantile “logic”.

    Twice as many women as men apply for studies in psychology and social sciences among other subjects where men are underrepresented. Due to discrimination against men? According to your “logic” it must be.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    The issue is not that women “do not do as well as men” it is the fact that they are often prevented form competing on equal terms to demonstrate how well they can do. Why is it that so few leading orchestras invite women to conduct? Is it your contention that NONE of the leading women conductors is capable of leading an orchestra.
    As regards your comment about applying for psychology courses, well there is nothing to stop men applying and gaining access (and many don’t apply because it does not have the appropriate status they seek, does not lead to highly paid jobs and in some countries is seen as a “womans” degree course)……….the same cannot be said in the musical field for women.

  • anonymus says:

    What is stopping women to apply for studying the higher paying jobs, e.g. engineering?

    And why it is that so few leading orchestras invite so few women to conduct? Maybe because there are not so many?

    Again, nothing stops a woman to become a conductor these days, except herself. Actually with all the media attention and equal opportunity support women get these days, they have it easier than men.

    Where are the female applicants for the job?

  • Ellingtonia says:

    In 2009, Ticciati was named Principal Guest Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, effective with the 2010-2011 season, for an initial contract of 3 years. In July 2011, Ticciati was announced as the seventh music director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera, succeeding Vladimir Jurowski as of January 2014. Ticciati is the first former music director of Glyndebourne on Tour to be named music director of the full Glyndebourne Opera company.
    Ticciati has had no formal conducting training but counts amongst his mentors Sir Colin Davies and Sir Simon Rattle

    – I quote the above because no woman with such limited experience (or even one with extensive experience) would have been offered those jobs without the “old boys club” connections, so to assert that women have “equality of opportunity” in the classical music world is inane.

    • anonymus says:

      you cite an exception. The norm is different. But obviously you do not want to let go of your intrinsic beliefs.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    And you have a great deal of difficulty acknowledging that there is a fundamental problem with women accessing the same kind of opportunities as men.
    As regards citing an exception, I think not, what I cited is illustrative of the uphill battle any female faces in the classical music world and there are other appointments that have been made which do not stand up to rigorous evaluation.
    Do you seriously think that Daniel Harding would have got the gigs he did at such a young age (and without much experience) without being a) male b) under the patronage of Rattle and Abbaddo (the old boys club again).

    • anonymus says:

      Daniel Harding… ok, maybe there is patronage, but patronage only gets you going for the beginning. If you can’t swim yourself you drown. Patronage is not exclusive to men anyway. Simone Young would have gotten nowhere without patronage (through Daniel Barenboim).

      Now what could be really interesting for you is to ask female musicians in major orchestras, which conductors they prefer and what they think about some of the female conductors named somewhere above in this thread. You might be in for a surprise, how women on the receiving end think about male and female conductors.

  • Bob M says:

    Discrimination via disinterest? Now I’ve seen everything!

  • Ellingtonia says:

    So some players prefer one conductor to another and this in your eyes is down to gender rather than talent? There are numerous orchestras who loathe and detest some so called male “top conductors”, if you have time look up the story of the leader of the LSO comments to one of the worlds leading conductors when conducting the LSO but this doesn’t mean the person is without talent, just that he didnt hit it off with one of the most “difficult” orchestras in the world ( possible only exceeded by the NYP).
    Toscanini, Szell, Thielman, Celibadeche all had / have reputations for being detested by orchestras for their appalling behaviour and some would say overblown reputations……… based on your philosophy there are no men capable of conducting if these men are disliked by an orchestra because that is what you seem to be implying by your reference to “how women on the receiving end think about male and female conductors”… mean that women orchestral players prefer male conductors, well I would like to see your evidence to back up this statement.
    As in all walks of life and professions there are different levels of ability but what I find difficult to accept is that of the growing number of female orchestral conductors, so few get opportunities to conduct major orchestras no matter how much talent they have………it is still an old boys club.

    • anonymus says:

      There is no club, no matter how hard you cling to your beliefs. It’s a lone wolf’s world out there for conductors, no matter if of male or female complexion.
      In orchestra conducting not only few women get opportunities, also few men do, no matter how much talent they have. Only women (like you) tend these days to blame it on misogyny and suppression more than other factors. So are the signs of our times… convenient times for some…

      • Ellingtonia says:

        I have been away at a conference in Germany for the last 6 days so have only just picked up your last comment. Why do you assume that I am a woman? I am in fact a 65 year old man but I do have a daughter and I know that in her “profession”of the law she has to fight an uphill battle simply to gain parity.
        Some of us males have been fighting for “equality of opportunity” for years, no more, no less and I shudder at the talent that has been overlooked.