If you’re a woman and you conduct, you should…

If you’re a woman and you conduct, you should…


norman lebrecht

March 21, 2016

1 Ignore insensitive remarks by maestros from another century and civilisation.

2 Recognise that the glass ceiling is shattered.

3 Click here to apply for the next Dallas Opera Institute for Women Conductors, where six candidates and four observers get a big push forward into the profession.

You will see ads for this enlightened program on Slipped Disc. We support the dream.


Lidiya Yankovskaya

pictured: Lidiya Yankovskaya


  • Eddie Mars says:

    But if you’re a woman who directs opera….

    …. you can expect to be pilloried on SD by quacks, know-nothings, “composers”, mountebanks, people who never go to opera anyhow, cracked-record pedants with bees in their bonnets, and the entire keyboard kommentariat of misogynist muggles who go to operas in the hope of “a ruck”.

    • Alexander says:

      But Katie Mitchell is not being “pilloried” because she is a woman directing an opera; she is facing criticism because people simply do not like her production. What Temirkanov is saying is that the reason why he does not like women conducting is, precisely, because they are women. Nobody seems to dislike, for example, Francesca Zambello, whereas Damiano Michieletto has come in for at least as much criticism as Katie Mitchell on these pages. It also seems unfair to write off anybody who has misgivings about a production as being ignorant, a misogynist, etc. The criticisms as I see them can be summarised in two points: (1) opera does not have to be realistic to be effective, and, indeed, most opera productions succeed in telling the story without depicting sex and violence realistically; (2) if an opera house considers it appropriate to issue a warning about sexual and violent content, that warning should be issued before tickets are sold, so that the audience can make an informed choice about whether or not to see the production.

      • Eddie Mars says:

        [[ she is facing criticism because people simply do not like her production ]]

        And yet the production is still in rehearsal, and no-one has yet seen it.

        So her critics are ignorant, juvenile, woman-hating pathetic BIGOTS.

        That’s BIGOTS, in case you missed it the first time, Alexander.

        • Alexander says:

          You claim to dislike pedants, yet seem, in fact, to be one yourself. Of course the production is still in rehearsal. What I meant, of course, was “people do not like what they have heard about her production”. The point still stands that if the opera house thinks it appropriate to issue a sex and violence warning that warning should be issued before the point at which tickets are sold. I do not, in fact, particularly mind sex and violence, but I also respect the fact that for some people these things are problematic and that they do not wish to expose themselves to them.

          I still do not know how you can know that everybody who criticises this production is an “ignorant, juvenile, woman-hating pathetic BIGOT”. I am sure that a good many of them are, indeed, ignorant or juvenile or woman-hating or pathetic or bigots, but surely most are not all of those things at once. Further, I still fail to see why people who dislike what they have heard about this production are described as misogynists. It is probably fair to say that Temirkanov is a misogynist, since he dislikes female conductors precisely because they are women, and he has made other statements which suggest that he does not have a particularly respectful attitude towards women. But I have not heard anybody saying, “I do not like female directors”, or, “It is a bad production because the director is a woman”. If I do not particularly like the music of, for example, Sally Beamish, does that mean that I hate women? I also do not particularly like the music of Harrison Birtwistle. I do, on the other hand, hugely admire Sofia Gubaidulina.

          • Eddie Mars says:

            Oh, I *do*apologise.

            You forgot to mention that your woman-hating bigotry is based on TITTLE-TATTLE.

            We think a whole lot more of you now, given the full facts.

          • Alexander says:

            If you are now accusing me of woman-hating bigotry I fear that you must have taken leave of your senses, as I have said nothing that is misogynistic or bigoted.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It would be instructive to have experimental performances set-up with a screen making the conductor/conductress invisible to the audience, to find-out whether some gender difference in the result is detectable.

    • DAVID says:

      Yes. And by the same token, it would be just as instructive to have blind tests of recordings of major works by conductors of wildly different repute, just to see whether some of the hype is actually justified — or by soloists of just as wildly different repute. We might be astounded at some of the results. We could apply the same principle to orchestras — blind tests of recordings mixing top orchestras with much lesser known, albeit quite capable, ensembles (though I suspect this test would be a little more conclusive than the former). Of course, the prime model for that sort of thing remains contemporary music: blind tests of contemporary works, mixing top names with aspiring composers. That promises to be a real hoot! In any case, that is precisely the sort of test which could decisively separate sheer sycophancy from genuine musical judgment.

      • Kyril Magg says:

        I have conducted blind tests with recordings. The severe problem that arises in doing so is that very many listeners are greatly influenced by the sonic qualities that different engineering decisions and different recording labels’ philosophies present. These aural-packaging qualities are sometimes extremely different, whereas the interpretive qualities of the various performers might be more subtle than expected. The only way to evaluate a performance is literally *in performance,* not as re-interpreted by a simulated, patched-together, microphone-dictated perspective. But before this causes a storm of righteous rejection, insisting that anyone with musical taste can consistently ignore sound quality when judging musical validity, just try it with your own jury sometime.

    • Peter says:

      The list of items that do not make a detectable difference, or only a miniscule difference that doesn’t justify the substantial price difference, in blind listening of music performance would be very long.

      You will not change the most fundamental law of music performance: hearing is believing.

  • RW2013 says:

    What sort of “big push” did the Dallas candidate, who said that she could “make music out of paper”, get?
    Just asking.

  • Paolo V. Montanari says:

    Dallas Opera Institute for Women Conductors??? What is a “woman conductor”? I am a feminist and gay activist but I think that the goal we should aim to is to have more competent conductors, regardless of their gender or looks or nationality. Unfortunately media seem only capable of speaking of the dress the pianist is wearing or the hair of the harpsichordist or the religious family background of the conductor or how he/she was shaking his/her hips while conducting… Where is music? And the situation for directors is even worse. Nobody seem to know what theatre is. When the people who choose those who will make a career and those who will not are so superficial, justice and equality will never be achieved.

    • Jon H says:

      Agreed. Prove it in the quality of your work.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Alas, justice and equality will forever remain at the horizon, as an ideal to strive after and to hope for. Meanwhile it would be fruitful to find-out what ‘equality’ means in reference to what? In art, ‘equality’ does not seem a very meaningful term. ‘Equal rights’, yes, but then?

      • Paolo V. Montanari says:

        Equal opportunities. It’s important to ensure to everybody the right to study, regardless of their census (first of all), gender, ethnicity, etc… But then it’s really humiliating to decide that a season must have at least a 20% of women conductors, a 20% of gays, a 15% of jews, a 10% of blacks, a 5% of sikhs… We should have 100% of the best artists. That’s all.

        • John Borstlap says:

          …. which shows that equal opportunities in relation to the people offering their capacities is not an easy match. If, for instance, an orchestral audition results in only male candidates, the felt pressure (conscious or unconscious) to get more gender balance may influence decisions which won’t be entirely artistic. With female conductors the anti pressures may create conductresses with an authoritarian and aggressive style which creates limitations, as we often see in contemporary music where composeresses demonstrate a ‘male persona’ even harsher and more fanatic than their male peers.

          One can somehow understand orchestras doing away with the entire gender question and stick to an all-male club so that focus on the music can take priority without any distractions, be them political or erotic. In the end, however defensible, the matter of gender equality has nothing to do with music.

    • Martine says:

      You are perfectly right!

  • Andrey says:

    Goodness me, this topic is getting REALLY boring. It’s everywhere, every day something posts something about that on my FB and it’s just boring and there is nothing to discuss. And that Temirkanov quote… This PR-crazy music world is just silly and stupid.