First person: Changing sex in a symphony orchestra

First person: Changing sex in a symphony orchestra


norman lebrecht

June 11, 2015

The new issue of Das Orchester, monthly journal of the German orchestral industry, sets its focus on diversity. Hearteningly, it covers the entire gamut of possible prejudices from race to trans-gender.

In one absorbing article, a member of the second violins of the Bavarian State Orchestra describes how he transitioned from male identity to female with enlightened support from the organisation and the musicians.

Daniela Huber passed the audition for the orchestra in 1978, as a married man with small children. In the mid-1990s, Daniela underwent gender realignment surgery and returned to the orchestra as a woman.

Daniela was fortunate to find a sympathetic doctor in the company. He brokered a meeting with the intendant, Sir Peter Jonas, who told Daniela that he had a similar experience in his own family and knew of another orchestral musician in Bavaria who had transitioned the other way. Daniela felt totally supported.

Not every musician would find it so easy. This is a heartening story of compassion and respect for human difference, an object lesson for organisations in handling the infinite varieties of human difference.

daniela huber

The article, which is in German, is not online; you will have to lay hands on a copy of the magazine to read it.



  • Nick says:

    Not the first – although probably one of the first to go public. I was associated with a major orchestra in Asia when a male violinist transitioned to female more than 30 years ago. Despite the very conservative nature of Asian societies then, it was the musicians and staff who helped ensure acceptance of the transition in the kindest and most compassionate way possible.

  • Julian Reynolds says:

    There’s got to be a VPO joke in here somewhere !

  • Ivan Martinez says:

    Correct pronoun is she. Respect begins there.

  • Blair Tindall says:

    Not orchestral, but Sara Buechner, anyone, with whom I attended conservatory when she was David Buechner. A pioneer and wonderful pianist.

  • Gareth says:

    Would you mind changing the male pronouns in your article to female? You misgender Ms Huber throughout, I am sure unintentionally.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I have used ‘he’ for the period before reassignment, as a matter of factual accuracy. If the person involved has objections, I am sure we will be advised.

      • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

        Many thanks for bringing this to light, Norman. I have a client on contract at Karlsruhe, with a wonderful Intendant who has offered indefatigable support. FYI, a trans woman will always wish to be referred to as she, no matter when the events you describe occurred. Her gender, you see, was always female. It’s just her body did not match her gender.

      • Jenny says:

        It’s an understandable mistake to make, but the standard way of looking at it is this: that although a person’s gender expression may have changed, their gender hasn’t. So it’s polite to refer to Daniela Huber as ‘she’ rather than ‘he’, even when referring to her pre-transition life. The German website you link to uses ‘sie’ pronouns. Not that Daniela Huber is likely to be reading this, but it can be very upsetting for transgender people to be referred to by invalid pronouns, and it seems like the polite thing would be to amend your post. By referring to her as a ‘he’ you appear to bring her gender into question.