Only four women admitted to conducting finals

Only four women admitted to conducting finals


norman lebrecht

January 15, 2015

The Malko Competition has published its list of competitors.

Just four women have been selected out of 24 who will vie for a 20,000-Euro prize and engagements with 34 orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic.

One woman judge will sit on a panel of 16.

There is a helluva long way to go before classical music has a level playing field.

The Malko takes place in Denmark, by the way, where the prime minister is a woman.


maazel malko

Competitors selected:

Elim Chan (born 1986, United Kingdom)
Tung-Chieh Chuang (born 1982, Taiwan)
Yuga Cohler (born 1989, USA)
Conner Gray Covington (born 1987, USA)
Nicholas Hersh (born 1988, USA)
Seokwon Hong (born 1982, South Korea)
Trond Husebø (born 1979, Norway)
Risto Joost (born 1980, Estonia)
Stilian Kirov (born 1984, Bulgaria)
Dmitry Kryukov (born 1990, Russia)
Earl Lee (born 1983, Canada)
David Niemann (born 1990, Germany)
Jesko Sirvend (born 1986, Germany)
Giedre Slekyte (born 1989, Lithuania)
Jonathan Spandorf (born 1984, Israel)
Vinay Parameswaran (born 1987, USA)
Anna Rakitina (born 1989, Russia)
Andrey Rubtsov (born 1982, Russia)
Jesus Uzcategui (born 1988, Venezuela)
Benjamin Wallfisch (born 1979, United Kingdom)
Dean Whiteside (born 1988, USA)
Lu Yu (born 1989, China)
Noam Zur (born 1981, Germany)
Johannes Zurl (born 1979, Germany)


  • Germaine Lauren says:

    But accomplished women who are there. Elim Chan just won Flick Competition, and Tung-Chieh Chuang received 2nd in the Mahler Conducting Competition. Seems they need to win more competitions.

    I predict that the winner, following the recent trends, will be a woman, perhaps Giedre Slekyte, or a young marketable American talent like Yuga Coler or Dean Whiteside (look at Weilerstein in 2009).

    Bets for this competition, the biggest in the world? Competitions are–after all–as Bartok said, for horses.

  • Max Grimm says:

    Norman, I believe there are three not four women in the group of final competitors and the first prize is 20,000 Euro, not $/Dollars. Also, there are technically 2 women involved in the selection (another female judge sat on the “pre-jury” but is not involved with the jury of the final competition).

  • Peter says:

    It is conceivable these are the best 24, regardless of gender. Or do people expect 12 and 12? That’s not equality, that’s bias in a wholly merit based system.

  • MacroV says:

    You don’t say how many women were among the initial pool of applicants, even though even wouldn’t really be prima facie evidence of discrimination.

  • Anonym says:

    In Denmark there is a big male domination in the music life: In the Carl Nielsen Competition 2014 all jury members were male. In the newly founded Carl Nielsen International Chamber Music Competion all jury members are male. All managers of symphony orchestras are male. All heads of conservatories are male. Almost all heads of the big foundations are male. That means – more or less – that where the big money are and where the big decicions are made the control is male dominated.
    Therefore it is actually no wonder that the Malko Competition has only one woman, who even is a manger and has little influence.
    Though Denmark in general is a pioneering country for gender equality, there is still a very long way to go. The gender equality has anyways not – at all – reached the music life.

    • a man says:

      The president of the Carl Nielsen competition for many, many years was a woman. The Danish National Opera (Den Jyske Opera) is led by a woman. The head of the Opera Academy is a woman. The Esbjerg Ensemble is led by a woman. You fail to mention how many woman applicants there were for these other positions you speak of (those of them that can be applied for). The answer is 1 maybe 2 that I can think of in the last 5-10 years. What’s your point?

    • Jakob says:

      Competent women have no problem at all in Denmark to raise to top leadership positions. There are many examples. Denmark is among the countries with highest gender equality in the world. But its easy for any not so competent woman to play the discrimination card because she didn’t get the good paying job she wanted. Bad evil men with their evil competition complex.

  • Anonym says:

    Of course I am aware of those three (3!) positions headed by woman that you here mention.
    But they are really expectations! It is not good enough to say we have three woman in – even not that big – leading positions in the cultural life.
    My point is I guess, that as long as the music life is so largely male dominated, and as long as nothing is done to encourage young woman to apply for some of the positions with they big power in the music life, then the classical music scene will continue to seem much too unauthorized to a very big part of the population. – which in the end we cannot afford in order to actually be able to keep the orchestras. And as we all know: really many of these postions you cannot apply for. In that matter music business in Denmark is actually not a business – its a club.

    • A man says:

      Many theories and statements that are not supported by any facts. Saying that “nothing is done to encourage young women to apply” is something that cannot be argued in a sensible way, because it’s impossible to prove or disprove the veracity of such a statement. You are not present in all the classrooms or private lessons where young women are encouraged (or not, who knows) to apply for something.

      Who is suffering? What are the glaring issues or problems caused by the current male-to-female ratio of leaders in the positions that you consider important? There are none. Danish music life is ripe with brilliant female musicians. They are in concertmaster positions, they are soloists in front of orchestras, they are worldclass singers. The chairman of the board of the Royal Danish Theatre is a woman. The now slaughtered Radio Chamber Orchestra had a woman chief until only a few years ago. The Danish Radio Vocal Ensemble (best chorus in Scandinavia?) has a woman chief.
      There might be individuals who think they are being overlooked simply by virtue of being women, but I have never, ever in 20 years of music making in Denmark heard of someone being hired or not because of gender. In my experience, it is simply not an issue (in Denmark).
      There are issues of nepotism, surely, but that is equally strong from both genders.
      And what would those 4 women say to your claims that they are not even in very big positions? That’s insulting to anyone who would aspire to be in their place, male or female.

      • Anonym says:

        I think it is clear also for the 3 woman in leading positions that they dont have a really big power in music life. This is not insulting. This is a fact.
        It can become dangerous if the music business continues to be as male dominated as now. Simply because the existence eligibility also depends on many woman politicians. And the orchestras are state funded. Therefore they should reflect a broad and diverse mix of gender also in the decicion taking posts.
        And we cannot afford to loose talent. I have seen lots of exellent female musicians, who somehow never ends up in rooms where the big decicions are taken. The big boards of the foundations f.x. – even if they want to. But woman needs encouragement to go to this field. To raise your hand to try to enter a board or comittee only consisting of men, is very difficult for many woman. And it is difficult to identify one-self in such a company.

        And A Man – I can from your profile name guess, that you are not a female 😉
        Even after your 20 years in the business, I can assure you, that there are other views than this of yours:

        “but I have never, ever in 20 years of music making in Denmark heard of someone being hired or not because of gender. In my experience, it is simply not an issue (in Denmark)”

        😉 Best regards

    • Henrik says:

      “nothing is done to encourage young woman to apply”

      Why do women need encouragement? This is 2015, not 1900. We are talking about Denmark, not Saudi Arabia. Actually I think young men need encouragement these days, having been completely confused by gender mainstreaming policies, what their actual purpose in the modern society is…

      AFAIK, actually Denmark’s problem is one of inbreeding, not one of gender inequality. Typical problem for a very small country. And maybe the Danish mentality also plays a role, when women do not feel the desire much to apply for stressful leadership positions, after all life should be “hygge”, no? And those alpha animals that are required for leadership positions, “Jante law” will take care of that, they will be pulled down by the majority of “hygge” beta animals, right? 😉

    • Christian says:

      Tatjana Kandel used to be the director of the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, which actually had a world class chief conductor in Adam Fischer. The orchestra was axed by the female general director of the Danish Radio, Maria Rørbye Rønn, and the female director of culture, Tine Smedegaard, and the female Minister of Cultural Affairs, Marianne Jelved, of the female-led government of Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

  • CDH says:

    This is getting tiresome. We do not know how many women applied, so the percentage to make the finals may be high. (It may not, but we do not know on information given). And I do not care how many applied. I would like to hope the best candidates moved forward. I do not count the number of women in orchestras I see, though they are a very visible presence in most of them.

    From recent Master classes I have attended, there are more women than men chosen to to work with the “masters,” and I suspect based on eduction enrollment figures in any field that takes effort these days, we are not that far from a huge imbalance the other way in orchestra makeup, from conductors to players, let alone administrators. Boys and young men these days seem less disposed than females to tackle anything difficult.

  • Thomas says:

    One out of six is a female? Looks like a massive overrepresentation compared to what you can see in concert halls around the world.

    And Norman, you should learn how to read statistics.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    What is more significant is just one Brit in the final line up ( the very capable Ben Wallfisch- best of luck to him). That is an indication of our woeful training of young conductors in the UK- but this is a whole other topic.

    Norman is right to bang on about gender equality in orchestras- particularly campaigning for more women in the Vienna Philharmonic etc.

    But conducting is a different matter altogether. I will be probably be accused of gross sexism but I’ve said it before and will say it again. The majority of women struggle to make much of an impact on the podium. For Good or bad- conducting is a macho pursuit- requiring great physical strength and dominant personality. Most of the greatest conductors have been borderline evil personalities with huge egos. The majority of women are just too nice for the job. And those women who try to conduct like macho men end up looking butch on the podium and this is no good because it ends up irritating both the orchestra and public.

    So 4 female competitors in the Malco is about right. Probably also based on merit and that they were better than other male contestants rather than based on a token gesture.

  • Thomas says:

    Is the lack of male nurses a sign of discrimination? Is the lack of female carpenters a sign of discrimination? Is the lack of male secretaries a sign of discrimination? Is the lack of female pilots a sign of discrimination? Mr. Lebrecht, you’re an intelligent man. Remembers this: Every time there is less than 50% percent representation the answer is not DISCRIMINATION!

    • CDH says:

      Oh, so absolutely right. I am interested if there is an attitude of discrimination, but I am totally opposed to “affirmative action” in orchestra creation. If enough women want to do this, they will do it. And if there are enough, and if they feel they are being discriminated against, they will damned well say so.

  • JAMA11 says:

    The problem is that not enough women are encouraged and supported in the profession. It’s not as though the conducting world is 50% women but they get ignored by the big prizes and don’t get the good jobs. The conducting world is probably more like 15% women, and as such, there is no particular reason to expect that a conducting competition would end up with a 50/50 gender split. Calling this evidence of gender bias is putting the cart before the horse.

    • Anon says:

      “The problem is that not enough women are encouraged and supported in the profession.”

      That doesn’t make any sense. Men are not encouraged in that profession either.

      “[women] get ignored by the big prizes and don’t get the good jobs.”
      Evidence please. Again, it’s an extremely competitive field and women are definitely not excluded from competing, quite to the contrary. There are orchestras today which have made it a requirement to hire women conductors for a certain amount of productions per season, in order to promote women in that field… and still have problems finding enough good ones. This is of course discrimination against men.

  • RW2013 says:

    So many?!

  • Peter Rowland says:

    Who cares?
    I bet all most of them failed at their instrument and then went to get a masters in conducting. Then some of them will get exposure (for whatever reason that has little to do with music, and a lot to do with how they look, their connections, and how they behave around the right people) and give mediocre performances.
    That’s what is wrong with the conductors being churned out. They aren’t broadly educated musicians with years of performing experience behind them and experience in smaller communities.

  • Jakob says:

    For a great round of laughter, everybody head over to the competition website and study the list of winners over the years. Most of these names never made it to the top of the profession after they won their price. Particularly for conductors, competitions are absolutely useless. There is probably a lot of money spent in hosting this competition, that could find much better uses.

  • baron z says:

    We really need people pushing social political agendas into classical music, which is only to its detriment if they are admitting people of lesser ability and talent, which is what happens. What about pushing for more gay conductors? There are probably fewer successful gay male conductors than women. Basta!