Which US orchestra has the least women?

Which US orchestra has the least women?


norman lebrecht

November 19, 2014

A new chart from Suby Raman shows St Louis Symphony is the first to have more women players than men. (Full chart here.)

Bottom of the chart among top-20 orchestras is…


boston so previn mutter


Just 30 percent women.

Buck up Boston.


  • soothsayer says:

    I feel like Boston gets a slight pass on this since they’ve had such a number of prominent principals and associate leaders who were female — Martha Babcock, Doriot Anthony Dwyer, Tamara and Elita in the 1st violins, Elizabeth Rowe, etc

  • Chris says:

    So those with the best string sections (Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia) have the lowest ratio of women. Maybe just coincidence? Also interesting from the stats, that women apparently refuse to play brass instruments. Come on ladies. Play the trumpet.

    • harold braun says:

      As for trumpets,St.Louis certainly leads.The legandary Susan Slaughter being principal for almost 40 years,followed by Karen Bliznik,and with Carrie Schaefer playing 4th/utility now!

    • NYMike says:

      Principal horn and two more out of six plus principal tuba in Philly are women. Third horn in NY Phil’s a woman. One trombone in addition to SLSO’s trumpets is a woman. Former Met Orch. principal horn now teaching at Juilliard is a woman along with a current Met woman hornist. Berlin Phil’s 4th horn is a woman. I could go on……

      • Chris says:

        Yes, anecdotal, but look at the statistics in the article, that’s the reality.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        Sarah Willis is actually 2nd horn.

        • Chris says:

          Let’s settle for “tiefes Horn” (low horn) which usually means one of the parts with the even numbers.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            No, you were right all along. Dunno why I thought that – probably because I saw her in concert as second horn with Stefan Dohr in a double concerto. But that is a different situation from normal orchestra work.

      • Nardo Poy says:

        The Met Orchestra may have more women in the violin section (certainly the second violin section) than any orchestra of which I’m aware, and it’s as good as any of the string sections mentioned above. The cellos, violas and winds are heavily populated by women as is the horn section (half and half). The Philly Orchestra tuba player is a woman.

  • sdReader says:


    Woman is a count noun!

  • Ed Barnes says:

    My god. Leave this tiresome subject alone. You have blind auditions already. In this ridiculous era of political correctness, must equality now come before quality? No wonder we are entering another dark age. At least we’ll all be equally miserable though!

    • JAMA11 says:

      Norman has amply demonstrated that he doesn’t understand how blind orchestral auditions work. It’s not surprising to me that he would get upset about this situation, which is completely out of the control of the orchestras in question.

      • Orchestra member says:

        Actually, for all but a couple of US orchestras (Detroit and maybe one other?), only the preliminary round is behind a screen. All other rounds are face-to-face with committee and conductor. They are NOT blind auditions.

        • Mark Henriksen says:

          You have strengthened the case that this data is meaningless for drawing any conclusions whatsoever. Because if women and men advance to the finals (in a blind process) in the same percentages as they fill positions, then there is no bias. In other words, for example, of 60% of the finalists are women and only 30% get the jobs in the end, that data may be relevant.

        • Nardo Poy says:

          Not true. Most US orchestra auditions are from behind a screen.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        Amply, huh? See other responses and check your ignorance.

        • JAMA11 says:

          Yes, amply.

        • M2N2K says:

          Actually, “orchestra member” is wrong. Apart from a couple of places where auditions are “blind” from beginning to end, the rest of major American orchestras use screens for all rounds except the very last one. In my orchestra, for example, virtually all auditions are in four rounds with the first three being “blind”. The very final round in which no more than a handful of surviving candidates remain is always the only one where the audition panel is allowed to see the potential winners. And by the way, when the music director joins the panel before the final round, (s)he is not seeing the auditioning players either until that very final round starts. The kinds of statistics that we are talking about here are virtually meaningless because they show nothing but the results without revealing anything about the reasons.

        • gerald brennan says:

          Yep. “Amply” works.

    • William Safford says:

      Why do you find the thought of equity “tiresome?” Why do you believe that “equality now come[s] before quality?” And why do you find “political correctness” “ridiculous?”

  • John Kelly says:

    Karin Bliznik, principal trumpet……………….St Louis Symphony………………

    • william osborne says:

      I’m surprised that no one has mentioned that the last two solo trombones in St. Louis have been women, Vanessa Fralick, and now Amanda Stewart.

  • Hank Drake says:

    Amusing chart. But Suby Raman should know that there is no “Cleveland Symphony Orchestra”.

  • Christy says:

    But here’s an even bigger question. Administration. Who rules the back rooms at these orchestras? In Boston, they have long had many women in power, *and* blind auditions.

    It’s important to distinguish between a culture of misogyny and simply a lower number of female players. These things are not the same.

  • Bob M says:


    When orchestras hire gender over contribution the audience suffers.

  • James of Thames says:

    Perhaps some are overlooking the fact that all the musicians in all orchestras are 100% human.

    As for the conductors…

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Fewest women… Next on, fewest musicians of color, fewest gays, fewest S&M adepts, fewest bald and so on… Here is a recipe for many, many posts to come.

  • Howard T. Howard says:

    The Met Orchestra has had all levels of auditions behind a screen (blind) since the 1970’s, and has had the benefit of hiring the best musicians during that period. At one time the gender in the Horn section was virtually 50-50, and for a while I remember the Flute section being three women and one male. Recently I noticed at a telecast an all male flute section, while the violin section seems to me to enjoy a preponderance of women now. I remember when I first joined the Orchestra in 1961 the women were represented by one harpist and one Violist (who is still with the orchestra).

    • Nardo Poy says:

      Hi, Howard! The Met horn section is still 50-50: Michelle, Julie, Ann and Barbara. Was Julie already there before you retired?

  • Lauren says:

    Thank you Norman for bringing stat’s to light. We can use our voices and purchasing power to equalise the situation if we choose to do so. I consider the music first but all being equal in terms of musicality, I give my cash to soloists and orchestras with gender parity.

    I study economics at uni. and have some bad news for the female-bashers, within 1-2 generations, majority of global wealth will be held by women. Then we will hopefully be dancing to a different, more harmonious tune.

    • Chris says:

      “to equalize the situation”… Which situation exactly? Do you believe, that all professions must be chosen with equal interest by the two sexes? Will we see 50% male elementary school teachers? Will you use your purchasing power to equalize the situation in the civic utility companies that collect your trash, where over 90% of the dirty work its done by men?
      Have you even thought about what the problem is, or if there even is a problem, before you came to conclusions? I don’t think so.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      And will that wealth held by women be generated by women or extracted from men?

      Men are 12 times more likely to die on the job than women. When, oh when will our social-justice warriors agitate to close that gender gap?

  • George E says:

    Lauren- I don’t see a single female basher here. Just experienced and intelligent people, mostly, who recognize that this is a made-up problem. There are many, many other reasons why there is are gender inequalities in the world that have nothing whatsoever to do with bias or “evil white men” putting women down. This is so sad to see that this is even being discussed seriously. Feminism really has rotted people’s ability to think rationally.

  • TruthDetector says:

    Several women in Cleveland. It helps to be related to the Concertmaster however. DOH!

  • Dave T says:

    I would like to know just what St. Louis is doing to rectify this egregious situation. Will they be instituting procedures and programs to recruit and hire more men?

  • william osborne says:

    Most orchestras use blind auditions except for the last round, but there are significant differences between orchestras in the rates for hiring women. This suggests that blind auditions might not fully stop discrimination.

    The Vienna Philharmonic, for example, agreed to hire women in 1997, but it was another 10 years before they hired their first non-harpist woman. The Berlin Phil began admitting women in 1983, but 30 years later women only represent 14% of its personnel (at my last count,) while in St. Louis its 54%. Blind auditions have been a major step in eliminating discrimination, but they haven’t fully solved the problem. There are still ways of circumventing the effects of the screen.

  • muslit says:

    There were 2 men playing in the first violin section of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra – maybe 3 now. Some people have called it reverse discrimination. Check it out:

  • Michael Endres says:

    ”Within 1-2 generations, majority of global wealth will be held by women. Then we will hopefully be dancing to a different, more harmonious tune.”
    Well spotted.
    According to Forbes it’s ” a record year for women on the Forbe’s billionaires list ”.
    Goot times ahead then.
    Glad to see the Nr.1 ,Christy Walton ( 36.7 billion ) comes from the Wal Mart dynasty, a company with that special difference…

    The ” harmonious tune” is already resounding….

    To put this very polite ( I am an old-fashioned gentleman ):
    for an economist you are breathtakingly naive.

  • Greg says:

    What ever happened to the concept of earning one’s position in life through MERIT? Equal opportunity (to audition, in this case) does not guarantee equal employment. I applaud any employer (in any industry) who hires based on what the applicant can contribute to their business/organization. Hiring via quotas and some PC-mandated diversity rubric is disingenuous at best and illegal at worst. There should be no fear of recrimination for hiring the most highly qualified people.

    • CA says:

      Exactly. Well said. Now let’s all move on.

    • Nardo Poy says:


      All these women in these orchestras got the job fairly and squarely (well, most of them), and I attribute this to the use of screens in auditions. The person whom played the best on that given day is the one who won the audition. I would say that’s earned by merit.

    • William Safford says:

      Your point presupposes equality of opportunity.

      Enormous progress has been made on this front in orchestra auditions.

      In many areas, there remains much room for improvement.

      • M2N2K says:

        That last sentence can be applied to just about everything in life. Making accusatory assumptions that are based on nothing but percentage counts is not going to improve anything.

      • Chris says:

        “Your point presupposes equality of opportunity.”

        Bring us verifiable proof, that there is any gender bias in today’s classical orchestral world hiring procedures. Leave the Vienna Phil out of it, they are a singular, anecdotal special case, but anywhere else, we like to see some justification for the otherwise baseless allegations.

        In my experience today there is complete equality of opportunity, if not even for the occasional preference for women, due to so called “gender mainstreaming” considerations.

        • William Safford says:

          Ah, the joys of quoting out of context.

          As people can read, my very next sentence was: “Enormous progress has been made on this front in orchestra auditions.”

          • M2N2K says:

            However, that sentence is surrounded in your comment by two other sentences that create the context which clearly implies that the equality of opportunity still has not been reached. So, the reply to it by “chris” is fully valid, regardless of whether one agrees with its content or not.

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    How about trans? Do they count twice?

  • M2N2K says:

    Our gracious host and some of the commenters here appear to still keep confusing the true equality of opportunity with subjectively selective “proportionality” of the results. The former is just and fair; the latter is irrelevant, as long as the quality remains the main criterion. Without the solid proof that inferior men are being hired instead of superior women, none of the objections and/or accusations based in these statistics has any validity.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Has nobody noticed the scandalous, almost criminal hiring policy of the Turino Mandoline Orchestra ‘Viva la Mama’, an ensemble made-up ENTIRELY of women? Especially in these times, with Italy on the brink of bankruptcy, often men audition there, and although auditions take place behind two velvet curtains, they are never accepted. (The rumours have it that the concierge, of female gender, makes sure the authoritarian, suppressing, patriarchal gender will be kept out.)

    Also the London Gentlemen’s Clubs seem to escape attention. They do not indulge in classical music, but there is a city council report that at Pall Mall occasionally a BBC 3 programme is overheard.

    • Michael Endres says:

      My heart goes out to these male Italian mandolin players, it is indeed heartbreaking to read of such tremendous injustice.
      As for those evil London Gentlemen’s clubs…I am a member of the Savage Club and there is reguarly classical music being performed there as quite a number of members are musicians .
      ( The great Moisevitch’s piano, which he donated to the Club is still sitting there and being used for evening entertainments . A wonderful 1920’ies Steinway…. )


    • william osborne says:

      Discriminatory clubs are not accepted by many. Beth H. Parker, president of the San Francisco Women’s Lawyers Alliance, says her group does not object to the social functions of such clubs but that the deal-making in an all-male setting ”is an impediment to women rising in the profession.”

      The San Francisco and Los Angeles Bar Associations have passed resolutions asking that there members not join clubs that discriminate. The concern is about deal-making and professional networking carried out in such clubs, and that women are thus put at a disadvantage. (As are racial minorities and religious groups that might be excluded.)

      City ordinances also reinforce this view. Philadelphia law prohibits the city from contracting with companies that reimburse employees for dues or expenses at clubs that discriminate in their membership policies. New York law defines clubs of over 400 members as places of public accommodation used for business purposes, thus making their discrimination illegal.

      And of course, European orchestras that receive public funding are breaking the law when they discriminate.