The hopes and passion of six women conductors

The graduates of Dallas Opera’s pathbreaking course have been speaking out.

‘Not once in my life has it occurred to me to do anything else than conduct. It’s like a little miracle. Picking up a stick and turning paper into sound is without a doubt the most amazing experience of my life.’

Read on here.

women dallas opera

Photo: Karen Almond/Dallas Opera
L-r:: Jennifer Condon, Jessica Gethin, Stephanie Rhodes, Anna Skryleva, Natalie Murray Beale and Lidiya Yankovskaya.

 

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  • “Picking up a stick and turning paper into sound…”

    I see conductors the world over (regardless of gender, sex, age, ethnicity, religion or belief & sexual orientation) seem to be labouring under the same lucid self-delusion.

  • I recall a New Yorker cartoon in which the conductor reads the instructions on his podium: “Wave the stick until the music stops. Then turn around and bow.”

    I don’t have a problem with Ms. Condon’s quote. I’m sure she understands that the musicians have something to do with it. But conductors need to ha
    ve egos, don’t they?

  • Exempting Anna Skryleva, who is a very talented pianist, my question is, how bad were the other 100 applicants that these conductors were chosen? The article begins by asking the question, how many female music directors are at the helm of American opera companies? I’m sorry, but the organizers of this masterclass demonstrate a huge failure to understand what it takes to be a music director of an opera company. After reading the article and doing some research on the participants, I do not see the raw material and talent that should make orchestras continue to invest energy furthering this shallow pool of talent. By not allowing natural selection to take place (which means, that orchestra musicians and not just agents or other elements determine the trajectory of conducting careers) we are just producing a fresh crop of Alondra de la Parras. Take gender out of promoting conductors and let them ascend by nature of their own musicality!!!

    • Translation: you do not care about addressing discrimination against female conductors.

      Your opinion notwithstanding, it is a good thing to address this discrimination.

      These students are just as able to succeed or not as other students. But at least they have an opportunity to learn that they might not otherwise have.

      • Do not be so rude as to suggest the above poster is discriminatory.

        All he or she has claimed is that conductors should be promoted based on their musicality, not their sex. It is a perfectly reasonable opinion and something with which the vast majority of music-lovers agree.

        The real problem is people like you, who think being a woman should give someone a free ride over a better qualified male. Perhaps you should learn to focus on music, instead.

        • No, the problem is people such as you and people who think like you, who attempt to conceal your discriminatory beliefs behind a veil of ersatz evenhandedness. It is your attempt to maintain an uneven playing field to preserve the discriminatory status quo, while simultaneously making false claims of discrimination against men.

          Note your assumption that a putative “better-qualified male” must take precedence over a presumably-inferior female candidate. Would’t it be better if there were equality of opportunity for both women and men? Well, there isn’t, at least not yet. The numbers speak for themselves.

          An all-women Institute such as this one does not represent discrimination against men; it represents an attempt to address the continuing institutional discrimination against women, to help bring about equality of opportunity.

          Kudos to the people who organized this event. It shows that there are people who feel that discrimination is wrong, opportunities should be created, and doors should be opened.

          • Would you dare to call me discriminatory in person, Mr Safford? I would have you for slander.

            You seem to misunderstand fundamentally everything to do with this. You talk about an ‘equality of opportunity’. Note that such an equality does not result in an equality of outcome.

            Equality of opportunity means at no point discriminating between men and women: that is, sex should at no point be taken into account. That is precisely what I believe and fight for, yet what you are focused against. You have repeatedly claimed it is acceptable to discriminate between men and women to make sex an important part of the decision-making process. This is not equality of opportunity. Equality of opportunity means not letting sex have any relevance.

            I am involved in interviewing undergraduate mathematics candidates at one of the most prestigious universities of the world. I can assure you that all of my decisions are based on the ability of students and there is a complete equality of opportunity. This does not result in an equality of outcome: more than 80% of our students are male. I am proud of the fact we only accept the best students who apply, and dismayed with your approach that suggests we should be hindering better male candidates in favour of weaker female ones.

            You are utterly misguided with much of what you claim: indeed, your ‘positive discrimination’ is actually illegal in the United Kingdom.

          • So, what made you angry — did you just see yourself as you present yourself to the world? Do you not like what you see?

            I do not need to call you discriminatory in person. You do this work by yourself with your own postings.

            Your words show that you wish to maintain the status quo. For example, you just made clear that your version of “equality of opportunity” is to maintain inequality by denying that inequality exists or should be addressed. You presume a supposed level playing field that, at least in the big picture, does not currently exist.

            Or, you argue that there is equality of opportunity, and women are inherently less capable of being conductors.

            Which is it?

            For example, you wrote:

            “Surely this is not a problem at all as long as they have earnt their places through ability and not just because they are women.
            I went to a talk a couple of years ago by a very senior manager of one of the big London orchestras. He explained he avoids gimmicks and simply chooses the conductors he thinks would be best. It was for this reason, he said, that he only allows one woman to guest conduct the orchestra: Marin Alsop. He does not consider any other woman to be sufficiently good.”
            – See more at: https://slippedisc.com/2015/10/lucernes-summer-of-women-conductors-gimmick-or-breakthrough/#sthash.GNyM2Qtd.dpuf

            It would be interesting to attempt to harmonize this with:

            “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians Claudia Goldin, Cecilia Rouse Discrimination against women has been alleged in hiring practices for many occupations, but it is extremely difficult to demonstrate sex-biased hiring. A change in the way symphony orchestras recruit musicians provides an unusual way to test for sex-biased hiring. To overcome possible biases in hiring, most orchestras revised their audition policies in the 1970s and 1980s. A major change involved the use of blind’ auditions with a screen’ to conceal the identity of the candidate from the jury. Female musicians in the top five symphony orchestras in the United States were less than 5% of all players in 1970 but are 25% today. We ask whether women were more likely to be advanced and/or hired with the use of blind’ auditions. Using data from actual auditions in an individual fixed-effects framework, we find that the screen increases by 50% the probability a woman will be advanced out of certain preliminary rounds. The screen also enhances, by severalfold, the likelihood a female contestant will be the winner in the final round. Using data on orchestra personnel, the switch to blind’ auditions can explain between 30% and 55% of the increase in the proportion female among new hires and between 25% and 46% of the increase in the percentage female in the orchestras since 1970.” – See more at: https://slippedisc.com/2015/06/six-picked-for-first-women-conductors-course/#sthash.FcTDRlk5.dpuf

            (Alas, biases in hiring practices of conductors cannot be remedied by blind audition.)

            You are not alone in this, mind you, but you certainly have been vocal in these threads.

            Nor are your comments limited to discussions of discrimination based on sex. For example refugees:

            “Terrible idea. Vienna should be focusing on music, not getting its patrons to cough up cash for a group of ‘asylum seekers’ (yes, those who have passed through numerous safe countries on their quest to sponge off Europe). – See more at: https://slippedisc.com/2015/11/vienna-philharmonic-launches-syrian-refugees-appeal/#sthash.loOsTIOd.dpuf

            or

            “‘We came to Germany in 1995 as a Jewish family on the refugee quota, but by plane and with a permanent residence permit,’ says Igor. Unlike the hundreds of thousands illegally crossing Europe right now, many of whom not being genuine asylum seekers at all.” – See more at: https://slippedisc.com/2015/11/world-class-pianist-plays-for-syrian-refugees/#sthash.RWwgImq5.dpuf

            or

            “Absolutely. Imagine your taxes being used to pay for a group of criminal immigrants who have illegally crossed international borders to live in your village. Still, anyone who opposes them is branded a racist.” – See more at: https://slippedisc.com/2015/10/just-in-vienna-philharmonic-fund-a-house-for-refugees/#sthash.KWMAtpdT.dpuf

            That is to say, your reputation — created by your own words — precedes you.

          • Nonsense, Mr. Safford. And what John said.

            “…Would’t it be better if there were equality of opportunity for both women and men? Well, there isn’t, at least not yet. The numbers speak for themselves.”

            The numbers do not speak for themselves at all. Please educate yourself about basic logic and the most common fallacies that defy logical thinking.
            Are men discriminated against in the teaching profession? Because about 80-90% of elementary school teachers are women…

          • You are entirely deluded, Mr Safford. I have maintained throughout that equality of opportunity is paramount, so your accusations of discriminations are unfounded and rather offensive. Two different users here have guided you to your ignorance of common logic, something you continue to ignore.

            You are again confused about the different between equality of opportunity and equality or results. Just because men outperform women in many different fields, there is not necessarily evidence that discrimination is taking place: it could simply be that men perform better, whether this is inherent or they choose to do so. A problem is stubbornness in insisting that women should always be achieving just as much as men

            You have a valid point about blind auditions. In my field, the final stage of the application is based on multiple written tests that are made anonymously. There is absolutely no way a candidate can claim to be discriminated against other than a lack of ability. Note that we end up with more than 80% male students: can you see how an equality of opportunity does not, and should not, cause an equality of outcomes if men are outperforming their female peers?

            It is not in our interests to dismiss good female students, and it is not in an orchestra’s interest to reject a better female conductor for a worse male one.

            Your ad hominem attack on ‘refugees’ shows how petty you are, Mr Safford. It is an entirely different issue, but perhaps I should explain it to you in simple terms, under the assumption you are prepared to consider any opinion that is not your own. Refugees are people who are fleeing for their lives from their homeland. Under European law (the Dublin Convention), they should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. That is, after all, what they seek. Why are these people illegally scrambling across Europe in attempts to reach the wealthiest European countries? They want more than just safety and are breaking the law to do so. They are economic migrants. In addition, hundreds of thousands of these economic migrants are not even from dangerous countries, but claim to be so in order to find a way into Europe. My position on this is no different to that of the British government and the majority of the British people. Nonetheless, it is one that you, and other people on the naïve and sensitive left, get hysterical about.

          • Actually, no, John. With the following comment:

            “Just because men outperform women in many different fields, there is not necessarily evidence that discrimination is taking place: it could simply be that MEN PERFORM BETTER, whether this is inherent or they choose to do so. A problem is stubbornness in insisting that women should always be achieving just as much as men – See more at: https://slippedisc.com/2015/12/the-hopes-and-passion-of-six-women-conductors/?replytocom=92090#respond” (emphasis mine)

            You just showed everyone your true colors.

            If anyone is deluded, it is you.

          • Sorry, Mr Safford, I forgot that there can never be an occasion where men outperform women!

            That is sarcasm, of course. People like you cannot handle the fact that, sometimes, men do better and, other times, women do better. How do you cope with the hard truths of the world, William? Do you just try and pretend they do not exist, as you are doing here?

          • You have already admitted your beliefs that women conductors are inferior to men and that you have contempt for refugees (whom you describe in less flattering terms).

            Do you really want to keep digging yourself in deeper?

          • I see you have ignored my arguments above! Can you not justify yourself? Do you have no reasoning or logic behind your thoughts?

            Currently, male conductors are outperforming female conductors. That is what I have admitted and it is something that would be supported by anyone who does not let stubborn politics get in the way of obvious truths.

            I have made it clear that my problem is with those ‘refugees’ who are (often illegally) taking advantage of the system. Can you not read, Mr Safford? This stance is the same stance as the British government and the same stance as the majority of British subjects. Is it unacceptable just because you disagree?

            Please try and focus on the arguments here, instead of avoiding the pertinent questions.

          • Wow, you doubled down on your prejudices. I give you points for tenacity.

            I did, in fact, review your arguments. In fact, I saw right through them.

            Your doubling down reinforces the ugliness behind your arguments.

            When you come to realize how wrongheaded you are, that could be a moment of self-reflection that leads to further growth and progress in your life. I hope you can allow yourself to do so.

          • My opinions are ‘prejudices’ because you disagree with them? How silly.

            You have been unable to provide any kind of support for your own position. In fact, it is impossible for anyone to see what points you are making, other than just describing my opinions as something you do not like.

            Perhaps we should start it simply.

            Do you accept that equality of opportunity does not necessarily result in equality of outcome? This is the gap in your logic that has been pointed out by multiple users here. See whether you can answer that question.

            The underlying point is that, at least in terms of conducting, when there is equality of opportunity, men are doing better than women. It is a shame you let your emotions stop yourself from admitting this.

    • My hope and passion is that they get on with the job, and realise that some of them will have a talent for it… and others won’t.

  • So far on this thread, WS, as usual, has failed to demonstrate that female conductors are still discriminated against in USA. He showed that numbers of female orchestral players increased significantly since 1970 after introduction of “blind” auditions. But he does not mention that between that time and now the number of female conductors appearing with orchestras has increased as well, in comparable proportion – without any need for “blind” auditions – mostly because of the change in attitudes and thanks to active promotion. There is really no systemic discrimination against female conductors in USA in 2015.

    • Please name a female principal conductor of a major U.S. orchestra whose name isn’t Marin Alsop.

      There has been some progress. What is a pity is how much discrimination remains, and how much resistance against female conductors and even students is still out there.

      Just look at this thread for evidence of this.

      • Please name ANY female principal conductor of a major U.S. orchestra in 1970. Take your time. How about 1980? Maybe 1990? Or even 2000…
        There has been HUGE progress in a rather short period of time. Since you like numbers so much, you should not avoid those that show the frequency of female conductors performing with major American orchestras in 2015 compared to 1970. The difference is remarkable.
        In any case, the kind of numbers you have cited here show results only – not the reasons.
        The only “resistance” I see in this thread is to your tortured logic that leads to gross misrepresentation of reality. Please name ANY female principal conductor of a major U.S. orchestra in 1970. Take your time. How about 1980? Maybe 1990? Or even 2000…
        There has been HUGE progress in a rather short period of time. Since you like numbers so much, you should not avoid those that show the frequency of female conductors performing with major American orchestras in 2015 compared to 1970. The difference is remarkable.
        In any case, the kind of numbers you have cited here show results only – not the reasons.
        The only “resistance” I see in this thread is to your tortured logic that leads to gross misrepresentation of reality.

        • You make some valid points. One female conductor in a major orchestra is better than none. (I am not being sarcastic, but see below.) Women conductors are better off today than they have been: there are more of them, and they are getting more work. I can list a few music directors of local and regional orchestras off the top of my head, as I’m sure you can. One sees them more often in college positions.

          That said, they still lag significantly behind men in terms of their presence on the podiums of our stages, and in the opportunities offered to them. Nowhere is this more evident than with the top orchestras, but it is not limited to them.

          One continues to see opposition to them and biases against them, for example people who have posted in this thread.

          Marin Alsop put a crack in the glass ceiling in her appointment to the Baltimore Symphony — although even it engendered significant controversy. (To be fair, it is not entirely clear how much of the controversy had to do with her being a woman, vs. how management handled the appointment. That topic is worthy of another thread.)

          However, it is telling that no other U.S. major orchestra has followed suit since her appointment in 2007. There certainly is not a dearth of worthy candidates, and there have been openings. Again, I can think of several off the top of my head.

          So, what about the next generation? That’s the beauty of a program such as the topic of this thread. Since conducting schools and music schools were synonymous with *male* conducting schools and music schools for most of history, it only makes sense to help offset this structural imbalance.

          Again, kudos to the visionaries who created and support this program.

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