Report: 13% of US music directors are women

Public television in Seattle has broadcast a report on the state of equality in the US podium.

In the top 25 US orchs, with budgets over $15 million, there is only one music director – Marin Alsop at Baltimore.

But down the budgetary scale there does seem to be an upturn, slow at it may be. Watch.

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photo: Sarah Ioannides

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  • Who cares? You seem very hung up on this. Believe me, in about 20 years there will probably be more women than men, as in many other professional fields, as fewer and fewer males are sticking to anything, from studies to trades. ALL my doctors (including dentist, physiotherapist, GP) are female already, in dominantly female practices. Every production credit I hear on the radio seems to be 80-90% female. There are more women than men enrolled in ENGINEERING, of all things, in some universities. (When I was an undergrad, they were rarities — as in physics and chemistry). My pharmacy is staffed 80% by females. If there are fewer women than men in classical music, it is because they do not wish to pursue it, not because they will not be welcome. Except perhaps in Vienna.

    • “Except perhaps in Vienna.”

      Why this comment?
      Tell me more about your country and we’ll see how “evolved” you are…

      BTW, how many African-Americans are music directors in the USA? No, wait, here’s a better one: how many African-Americans are simple members of the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Symphony TOGETHER?
      Probably less than women in the Vienna Philharmonic…
      Funny that no one -not even Mr. Lebrecht- comments on that…

      • About 60% of the students at Vienna’s University of Music are women, and have been for decades, while they were entirely excluded by the VPO. African-Americans only have a small representation among classical music students, and they are not excluded from orchestras (or at least not for the last 50 years or so.) This isn’t to minimize the problems you mention, but you are missing fundamentally important aspects of the history of discrimination in the VPO and some other orchestras like the Berlin Phil, which still have massive under-representations of women even though many highly qualified women musicians are available.

        • “About 60% of the students at Vienna’s University of Music are women ”

          Could it be that since a big proportion of those students are not Austrian, they go back to their home countries once they graduate? I’m just asking.

          “the VPO and some other orchestras like the Berlin Phil, which still have massive under-representations of women even though many highly qualified women musicians are available. ”

          So should they advantage women and, for example, hire a woman who finishes second instead of a man who finishes first when it happens?

          • “So should they advantage women and, for example, hire a woman who finishes second instead of a man who finishes first when it happens?”

            No; and your question is too hypothetical. Just recall the notorious case of Sabine Meyer, the extraordinary clarinettist, who was, as I recall, appointed by Karajan and driven out by the players who seem to have objected to her because of her gender.

  • These are important times when we see the rise of many women conductors on the podium, whether it is in the realm of symphony orchestras, chorales or concert bands. But what distresses me most is that while many women are ascending to the directorship of orchestras, the lack of African-American women being considered to conduct these same orchestras, whether as a guest or invited to take directorship, is totally invisible.

    That said, there are a number of women conductors of color that remain unknown to most, if not all, of the general public, including Tania Leon, Kay George Roberts, Jeri Lynne Johnson, Yvette Devereaux and Marsha Mabrey, the last two with an interesting history with the Seattle Philharmonic, Dr. Devereaux as a finalist in a conductor search, and Dr. Mabrey as its former music director from 1996 to 2002. This is totally a minority within a minority of African-American conductors as a whole, as there are very few black male conductors who presently hold directorships with any orchestras in America or Canada such as Michael Morgan, Andre Raphel and William Eddins.

    It would have been nice to have located Marsha Mabrey, who seems to have disappeared off the radar.

    • Hi Kevin, Today is July 16,2020. Just read your article and your comment “It would have been nice to have located Marsha Mabrey, who seems to have disappeared off the radar.” I am alive and well and have been living in Seattle, Washington. You can reach me at mmabrey@gmail.com
      Not sure why your research did not locate me-I was in Bellevue from 1996-2007, and have been in Seattle from 2007 to this current year of Covid 2020. Please feel free to contact me. As an African American conductor- it would be nice to be included. Thank you.

  • While this newscast is very important and should be heard more, there remains a minority within a minority that is all but invisible to the classical music listener – the black female conductor.

    Very few African-American women are considered for guest conducting positions, let alone directorships, and the few that are out there – Tania Leon, Kay George Roberts, Jeri Lynne Johnson, Yvette Devereaux and Marsha Mabrey – have proven to be excellent maestras of the baton, but rare do you see them in front of a major American orchestra. Dr. Mabrey was the former music director of the Seattle Philharmonic from 1996 to 2002, and from last reports is living somewhere in Washington. It would have been nice to have included her in this report, if she was even considered at all.

    There will be a continued rise in women conductors on the podium, but very few women of color. Very sad.

    • I would be slightly more concerned about this — including the paucity of male conductors of colour — as it suggests a gap in the opportunities for music education in the non-white community. But it may not just be a matter of deprivation or poverty.

      Those of European descent, or Europeans themselves, have a long history of classical music behind them. Black musicians come from very different traditions, which it has been their pride to excavate in recent decades for the edification and education of all of us, and their contribution to and achievement in music of other styles is legendary, from jazz through blues, R&B, soul, etc. to hip-hop, as well as bringing the international music from Africa and the Caribbean and elsewhere to worldwide attention.

      However, as we have seen many gifted exponents of classical music from the non-white communities over the years, it would be distressing to think that it was a matter of “thus far and no further” was in play. I would prefer to think tastes drive people elsewhere, not that doors are closed to them.

  • Maestra Anu Tali has done — and is doing — a magnificent job as Music Director and Conductor of the Sarasota Orchestra.

    • Anu Tali will be guest-conducting the Milwaukee Symphony next February, as the MSO seeks a successor to Music Director Edo de Waart.

  • Honestly, if you only listen, without pickaboo-ing, can you hear the difference between the Brahms 4th with the Wiener Philharmoniker with Bernstein and Carlos Kleiber? Can you detect wether it’s Böhm or Krips or Erich Kleiber or Karajan or Furtwängler or Kempe or Keilberth or Krauss or Knappertsbusch or Schuricht conducting the Unvollendete at some point in the late mono-years?
    I bet you need the eye to evaluate great conducting!
    So, my question is, can you detect the gender in who’s conducting?
    Can you you detect the gender in Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes and wether it’s Giles or Richter or Lady Myra Hess or that jewel who was Klara Haskil? Or does ir f*cking matter at all??…

    • If you can’t hear the difference between these two– Karajan or Furtwängler–maybe you are simply not a qualified judge of performances.

      As for women conductors, I have heard superb performances from JoAanne Felletta and Marin Alsop.

  • These discussions/lobbies do a huge disservice to everyone and the artform – it can create tokenism and political correctness. All artists want to be judged on their ability and individuality not whether they are Female, Black, Jewish or any other section of the community that have could have an axe to grind. I have many Black friends who are conductors and they often that they think they’ve got a ‘gig’ because of their color – now that’s demeaning.

    • Utterly agreed. The political correctness behind giving a damn about sexual or racial makeup of orchestras is completely at odds with the demand for excellence. As long as the opportunity to start in music is increased for all who WOULD, then it is up to the individuals to make the grade. This number-crunching is preposterous.

      • Are you trying to argue that only white males can be excellent musicians? Or are you arguing that equality of opportunity already exists?

        If the latter, how do you rectify your view with the fact that the vast majority of conductors remain white males?

        If the former, then that viewpoint would certainly explain why people who believe the same hire almost exclusively white males.

    • If Mr. Boughton is so opposed to considerations of gender, perhaps he’d like to explain why about 98% of the top conducting jobs go to men. Apparently this is not discrimination for him. Nothing to discuss! It is only excellence that counts, and that’s why women only have 2% of the top positions. Thank you for your profound wisdom and deep sense of social justice, Maestro Boughton!

      • I am very open to considerations of gender and would like to see the end of discrimination against women in slaughterhouses, garbage collection and infantry, coal mines and on fish trawlers.
        Whereas the over 90% quote of female primary teachers in high income countries ( 2012, Unesco statistic ) is of course OK as men only need to apply.

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