$500,000 grant for women conductors

$500,000 grant for women conductors


norman lebrecht

November 18, 2015

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has given Dallas Opera half a million dollars to support its training program for conductors of the under-promoted gender.

‘This innovative program is designed to support the career aspirations and advancement of women conductors in the field of opera, while addressing the thorny problems resulting from ingrained gender inequality at the top of the profession.‘ More from the press release below.

marin alsop Chris Christodoulou_17

The inaugural institute is scheduled to take place in Dallas from November 28th through December 6, 2015 with participants (six institute fellows, four additional US observers) selected from more than 100 qualified applicants originating in 27 countries around the globe.  There is no comparable program today for addressing the needs of talented young female conductors seeking to make their mark on the world’s top opera organizations.

            Although “Level One” opera companies in North America (as defined by OPERA America) produce approximately a hundred different opera productions each year, women conductors will stand at the podium for only around 5% of the total number of productions during the 2015-2016 Season. 

            The situation is equally dire in the symphonic world: of the top symphony orchestras in the U.S., only one is led by a female music director (the Baltimore Symphony’s Marin Alsop, pictured).

            Recent trends indicate the gender gap may, in fact, be widening.  Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that over the past decade, 44% of Masters Degrees and 30% of all doctorates in conducting went to women.  Nevertheless, a mere dozen female conductors are positioned to lead the top 103 high-budget orchestras on this continent (League of American Orchestras report, 2013).  “To some extent,” opined The Independent (U.K.) in 2010, “the scarcity of female conductors is a vicious circle.  With so few women…in high-profile posts, the role models have not existed to inspire more, so the situation becomes self-perpetuating.”


  • John says:

    What a shame to see this kind of sexism. We should be rewarding our best conductors, independent of sex.

  • JJC says:

    This is blatantly sexist, should be illegal (it certainly would be if it were the other way around) and will likely be counterproductive.

    • Emil says:

      What is sexist is the underlying structure promoting male conductors. Yes, correcting inequality takes some pain and compromises. Yet, it is easy to see how it can be necessary. Do the trick: name 10 famous women conductors and name 10 men. Then name 10 more. I strongly suspect you will run out of good women conductors before you reach 15, while you will not run out of top-class men before you reach 30, and much later if you include good male conductors (who are not top class). Do you see the problem?

      • Gerhard says:

        If you would play the same little game with female and male professional harpists, you would arrive at the same point at least as quickly. The only difference is that nobody would feel compelled to install some artificial promotion process to counteract a situation which is due to the simple fact that far less males than females study this instrument in the first place. Ms. de la Parra seems to be a good example that nowadays some female conductors are given chances one could hardly imagine would be open to them if they were male. I have no problem with this, but perhaps we should think about whether every numerical disparity warrants to be labeled as discrimination, and whether we really do this labeling at least indiscriminately.

        • Emil says:

          Ms de la Parra is ONE woman. One example does not demonstrate the end of structural discrimination, just like the election of Barack Obama does not mean that race relations in the US are all perfectly fine and well.

          As for the harp, you are of course right. I believe, however, that you will find that it is a reversal of the same form of discrimination that you find in the orchestra at large, i.e. women can’t play the trombone, but we’ll grant them the harp. If one ends, the other will end as well.

          PS: By the logic of your own argument, the fact that Xavier De Maistre is the greatest active harpist would show that all is fair and equal between harpists.

          • Gerhard says:

            I’m sorry, but this is nonsense. My point is not at all that statistics could never give an indication of existing discrimination. What I’m saying is just that they cannot serve as sufficient proof of anything that goes beyond their data without further demonstration of their relevance. Of course, M. de Mestre’s existence doesn’t proof anything either way aside from the fact that he is a fantastic musician. Also Ms. de la Parra I haven’t mentioned as proof of something, but merely to suggest that maybe there is not only discrimination against women but also some gender favouritism in specific cases, too. Your stance appears to be that any statisticial data are proof enough by themselves as long as they seem to support your convictions. On the other hand you are obviously not prepared to regard entirely similar statistical facts the same way if they don’t seem to help your agenda. This is what I consider illogical.

      • Will Duffay says:

        It’s absolutely extraordinary that people are attacking this. Unbelievable. Just how wrong can some people be?!

        • CDH says:

          It’s quotas, simple as that. Justified to try to reverse a historical wrong. Criticised because good people were left out for less good ones, caught in the crossfire of history through no fault of their own.

          Luckily the numbers involved in this one profession do not seem likely to ruin lives because of opportunities denied due to social engineering. And let’s see how many takers there are.

        • Holger H. says:

          Will, you have to sit in the chair of a young man, who is the best candidate in a job interview but losing the job to a woman which is supported by legislation and the gender mainstreaming lobby, in order to understand that to hire a women instead of a man, because she is a woman, is discrimination. Simple as that.

          You want to tell the young man that his grandfather generation suppressed women on the job market?
          Has it ever occurred to you, that in any country that considers itself modern and with a rule of law, that collective punishment is illegal?

      • Holger H. says:

        I see the problem. The problem is your lack of understanding the difference between corellation and causation first of all.

        Counting the gender ratio, then immediately blaming discrimination for it without bringing the proof of causation to the table, is first of all a fallacy and then also quite obviously just stupid or of mean intention or both.

  • Holger H. says:

    “The underpromoted gender”??
    That’s paradox. As far as gender related promotion is concerned, ONLY women are promoted in our days.

    It could have made some sense to refer to the “underrepresented gender”, but that again might have caused rational debate, why women actually are underrepresented in that field, and nobody wants rational discourse in the ideological gender mainstreaming crusade.

  • Brian Hughes says:

    Regarding the numbers of master’s and doctoral-level women conductors (and I’ve known many): could it be that they are pursuing teaching instead? I would guess that very few of the top male conductors possess a doctorate.

    Of course, one could ask why more orchestras (both at home and abroad) are not hiring more conductors from the U.S.?

  • Holger H. says:

    81% of elementary school teachers are women. So to all the short minded gender mainstreamers in this blog: Are you supporting financial grants to bring the level of male elementary school teachers “to at least 51%”, which will include stopping hiring women altogether for a few years?

    You can’t say no if you want to be at least consistent in your pseudo “argument”.

    • William Safford says:

      If male elementary school teachers were victims of sustained, entrenched, systemic gender discrimination, then yes, I would support it.

      But they’re not. You know it, and I know it.

      So your analogy does not even qualify as a straw man. It’s merely specious.

      • Holger H. says:

        Now you are close to a revealing insight, William, don’t stop here. Find proof, that women in orchestra conducting today are “victims of sustained, entrenched, systemic gender discrimination”.
        We are waiting. I’m sure for ever.

        In the same line of thought, also think – I know that’s hard, compared to believing – about possible other reasons why women could be underrepresented in the field of orchestra conducting.

        • William Safford says:

          The facts are at your fingertips. You just have to have the will to look for them, and the strength of character to change your mind when you realize you’re wrong.

          Here is just one example of the attitudes that women conductors face on a daily basis:


          “Q.: In your opinion, could a woman conduct?
          A.: In my view, no.”

          And a view from the trenches:


          Do some research, then take a long, hard look at yourself. Do you want to learn, or do you want to hold your erroneous opinions near and dear to your heart?

          • Holger H. says:

            William, I guessed you would come up with this. Because there is not much more to find than this Temirkanov interview. Temirkanov is from Russia. And he is very old.
            There is also one french professor who said something alike, and then there is the ambiguous V. Petrenko interview. And that’s about it.

            Anecdotal cases. A single man’s, or three “last mohawks” opinion, is not “sustained, entrenched, systemic gender discrimination” and you know it.

            I’m not even arguing that there is no discrimination against women even today sometimes somewhere. Of course there will be cases, that’s not the question. But there also is discrimination against men today, in some areas much more than against women, and actually, that discrimination *is* systemic.

          • William Safford says:

            You are tenacious in holding onto your prejudices and false premises.

            Of course the information I offered is not proof. The evidence is, however, the result of a mere 15 seconds or so of net searching.

            Discrimination against men? Please.

            The information is out there. The first person testimonials are out there. Or just ask any woman conductor.

            Or hold your false prejudices close to your heart.

            It’s your choice.

  • M2N2K says:

    The same old story – confusing equality of opportunity with “equality” (proportionality) of results.

    • William Safford says:

      And isn’t it sad when there is neither equality of opportunity nor equality of results.

      • M2N2K says:

        The latter is irrelevant and you still have not offered any proof of the former.

        • William Safford says:

          It is relevant and it is real.

          Just ask any woman conductor.

          • M2N2K says:

            As an American musician, I have been performing with many female conductors for decades (as a soloist, concertmaster, principal), so naturally I have talked to most of them on numerous occasions and actually count some of them among my close longtime friends. Not a single one of them has ever complained of being discriminated against because of her gender, or even mentioned anything that can be considered anywhere close to it.

          • William Safford says:

            As an American musician, I have been performing with many female conductors for decades. I have talked to many of them on numerous occasions. When the topic has come up, several of them have spoken to me privately about their travails of being on the receiving end of gender discrimination.

            Are things improving? Yes. Is there yet an equal playing field? No.

          • M2N2K says:

            You must have been really unlucky with female conductors you have encountered. It is true that the playing field may not be exactly equal: if anything, female conductors are being promoted more vigorously and eagerly than their male colleagues. This post is a case in point: a similar program for male conductors cannot possibly exist in any civilized country.

          • William Safford says:

            Why do you automatically assume that I was “unlucky” with the quality of female conductors who spoke with me privately about the gender discrimination that they have faced?

            Why do you assume that they must be bad conductors?

            Until very recently, a program for male conductors would have been redundant; for centuries, conductor programs *were* for men, and *weren’t* for women. So why do certain people now decry the idea of a program for women conductors? Hmmmm….

            It’s only very recently that the doors have even been open in any significant way for women conductors. Name one woman principal conductor of a major U.S. orchestra in the 20th Century who isn’t Marin Alsop. (Do Buffalo or Virginia qualify as “major” U.S. orchestras?)

            Considering the small (albeit gradually increasing) number of women conductors who have been able to make inroads on a national or international level, there is still a huge amount of progress to be made, and obstacles to overcome.

            I like to think that most people now applaud the idea of opening doors to women conductors.

            Except for those who think it’s “unlucky” to have to work under a female conductor who is candid in private about her gender discrimination experiences?