Woman conductors: The power list

Woman conductors: The power list


norman lebrecht

May 27, 2016

It’s 2016 and we no longer get excited about a music director turning out to be non-male. Every few months, it seems, another young woman conductor rises to a position of authority.

Yet, when we survey the current field, we find no more than half a dozen women near the top of the profession and barely 20 in contention for real leadership.

It’s 2016. Way to go.

Here’s the Slipped Disc power list. Who have we forgotten?


1 Marin Alsop, 59, broke the glass ceiling at Baltimore Symphony.

2 Simone Young, former Generalmusikdirector, Hamburg.

3 Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, 29, incoming music director at Birmingham, UK


4 Susanna Mälkki, 47, chief conductor Helsinki Philharmonic; principal guest, LA Phil

5 Emmanuelle Haim, 54, founder Le Concert d’Astrée, France

6 Xian Zhang, 43, music director New Jersey Symphony

7 Han-na Chang, 33, ex-Qatar Philharmonic, now Trondheim Symphony

8 Ewa Strusińska, 39, music director Szczecin Philharmonic Orchestra, Poland

9 Gemma New, 28, Hamilton Philharmonic, Canada, and resident conductor, St Louis Symphony

10 Anu Tali, 43, music director Sarasota Orchestra

11 Alondra de la Parra, 35, music director Queesland Symphony, Australia.

12 Elim Chan, 29, music director at NorrlandsOperan in Umeå, Sweden

elim chan

13 Jo-Ann Falletta, 62, Buffalo Philharmonic

14 Tania Miller, 47, Victoria Symphony, Canada

15 Julia Jones, 55, Generalmusikdirektor, Wuppertal, Germany

16 Karen Kamensek, 46, ex-music director Hannover State Opera

17 Karina Cannelakis, 34, Solti prize winner

18 Sarah Ioannides, 44, music director, Tacoma Symphony Orchestra.

19 Joana Carneiro, 39,  principal conductor, Orquestra Sinfónica Portuguesa

20 Kristiina Poska, 37, first kapellmeister at the Komische Oper, Berlin

kristiina poska

Readers’ additions:

21. Nicole Paiement, principal guest conductor, Dallas Opera.

22. Anna-Maria Helsing, 44, ex-chief conductor of Oulu Symphony, the first woman to head a Finnish orch

23. Speranza Scappucci, 42, former Muti assistant now working at the Met and Concertgebouw.

24. Mei-Ann Chen, music director of Memphis Symphony and Chicago Sinfonietta

25. Laurence Equilbey, 54, Chief Conductor of the Insula Orchestra (Paris)

26. Joana Mallwitz, 29, GMD at Erfurt, youngest in Germany.




  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    I often wonder what happened to Anne Manson. Excellent musician and conductor.

  • cherrera says:

    A sure sign that women conductors are dominating will be when they stop conducting with batons, the ultimate 12 inch phallic symbol extension of the male ego (except for Gergiev who inexplicably conducts with a toothpick). (To think, the baton evolved from a body-length rod that one grasped with one’s entire hand and moved up and down to mark time… or enjoying the music.)

    Tongue in cheek aside, I am quite serious about this post, so much of tradition having started out as subconscious manifestations, and remain vestiges, of male power. If women started out as conductors, would they have used a rod or a 12 inch stick? (Let me not digress on the female shape of the cello and how one straddles to play it.)

  • Nigel says:

    Two older conductors not on the list:
    Jane Glover, former Music Director of London Mozart Players
    Odaline de la Martinez, Music Director of Lontano

  • Ulex Xane says:

    What about Eve Queler?

  • Graeme Hall says:

    Yip Wing-Sie, Hong Kong Sinfonietta

    • Christine says:

      I’m afraid Yip has not been “relevant” for many years. Despite a fairly promising start some years ago, she is now nothing more than a generic resident conductor of a second-tier orchestra in HK.

      • Graeme Hall says:

        I never understand why there is so much sheer nastiness on this site sometimes.

        • John Borstlap says:

          It seems to correctly reflect what some professionals consider the general climate in music life. According to a research project at the university of Graubünden, 68,2% of professionals working in the classical music performing field in the West, excluding Venezuela, Holland and Andorra, and apart from status levels and only measured according to the question whether they are paid for performing classical music (of whatever kind), consist of nasty people compensating for their lack of talent with intrigue, cheating, intimidation, prostitution, and bribery. The other 31,8% subdivides as follows: 28,5% serious and talented musicians, 3,3% well-meaning profs fumbling-through their parts of which 1,7% is successful in covering-up their flaws while 1,6% only realize mishaps long afterwards, and for 70% at sleepless nights in bed. In the mentioned countries the proportions are different, but the research group was not allowed to publish their results. In the field of contemporary music however, quite surprising results were found, which will be published in the summer issue of the ‘Zeitung der Gegenwärtigen Musikpraxis unter Beschleunigenden Bedingungen’.

          Another research programme however, carried-out at the university of Partisch-Gartenkirchen under the supervision of Daniel Barenboim, came to quite different results, which suggests that Graubünden Uni used parameters not quite up to the job. PG-Uni found that ca. 98% of music profs were hard-working, highly talented players with uncommonly high moral and ethical standards, being paid extraordinarily well and being prepared to make sacrifices for an art form with a dwindling status, and being characterized by a more than average kindness to themselves, each other, and antagonists. The other 2% went to percussionists and a trombone player in Bavaria.

    • V.Lind says:

      Formerly HK Phil and Guangzhao Symphony. Love to see her over here.

    • benie says:

      She wasn’t even a good traffic cop on her best days. I wonder how much her father’s fame and influence has helped her in landing some of the posts she got

  • Fernando says:

    Don’t forget that Marin Alsop divides her position in Baltimore with the post of Principal Conductor of OSESP – São Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil, one of the most prestigious South American orchestras. She has a nice hall there in a former train station, as you can see here: http://concertodigital.osesp.art.br/#lang=en

  • Astoria Wagner says:

    Mei-Ann Chen is missing – Music Director of the Memphis Symphony since 2010 and of the Chicago Sinfonietta since 2011. In 2005 she became the first woman to win Copenhagen’s esteemed Malko Competition.

    • mmv says:

      Now the former music director of the Memphis Symphony and has known for at least four years that this season would be her last. It is not an accident that no other orchestras have since picked her up.

      • Astoria Wagner says:

        She is doing very well in Scandinavia and I am sure it is just a matter of time until another orchestra picks her up.

        • mmv says:

          Oh she can make a thrilling first impression. And is unquestionably very talented. But with repeat visits orchestras learn very quickly of her many limitations. She’s been guest conducting all over the place since the start of her tenure in Memphis, but her schedule over the last year is not that of a conductor who is going anywhere.

  • Suzanne says:

    Surprised you have left off Sian Edwards. And if you are listing newcomers like Gemma New then where is Jessica Cottis? Finally, with Barbara Hannigan moving into the conducting sphere a list of powerful female conductors isn’t complete without her name.

    • Hans says:

      Very surprised to not see Sian Edward’s name here too despite being the first woman to conduct at ROH, former ENO MD etc. and now Head of Conducting at RAM where she’s been training outstanding young conductors since 2014. Surely she makes it on!

  • someone says:

    Hats off and many thanks to Marin Alsop.
    The Queen Elizabeth piano competition has become much better to hear because of the orchestra and Marin Alsop.
    She’s a nice conductor.

  • DEEV66 says:

    And Speranza Scappucci?!

  • John Borstlap says:

    Would non-male conductors have another preference as to contemporary music than their non-female collegues? Would they be inclined to beat the competition by inflicting stronger progressive, ‘cutting-edge’ works on audiences, in an attempt to compensate for gender bias (Olga Neuwirth, a female), or would they instead like to cultivate the more humane, ‘feminine’, less-testeron-infected works (Nicolas Bacri, a male) to seduce biassed audiences to contemporary pleasures? Also, would their hairdo be influenced by their position? And what about the trombone players? Here we have an entirely new, unploughed territory of associations and gender-theoretical / postmodernist minefields, not to speak of the questions of form and content in music performance.

    Would be interesting to have all this researched.

  • Kevin Scott says:

    Also missing on this list are several women of color who always get left out of all of these lists, such as Renee Baker, Jeri Lynn Johnson, Kay George Roberts and Tania Leon. What the deuce?

  • Christopher Purdy says:

    Catherine Comet? I haven’t seen her name in years.

    • Bruce says:

      She was music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony from 1986-1997. I would suspect she is retired but I don’t know.

      First woman to hold the post of music director of a professional symphony orchestra in the US, according to Wikipedia.

      • Ava Ordman says:

        I played in Grand Rapids with Catherine Comet during her entire time there- great conductor, great human being. She is retired and living with her husband in Wyoming.

        Also, there is an excellent young conductor named Carolyn Kuan who is Music Director of the Hartford Symphony.

  • Simon Thew says:

    Nicolette Fraillon- Music Director and Chief Conductor The Australian Ballet, Artistic Director of Orchestra Victoria. Former Music Director Dutch National Ballet.

  • Anon. says:

    “Non-male”. Really??? I find that a really degrading ‘term’.

  • Bruce says:

    To be fair, NL is talking about finding women “near the top of the profession.” It’s early days yet for women to be getting anywhere in the profession, so it’s not surprising (yet) that there aren’t many near the top (yet). In a few years, however, when there’s been time to address all the questions about their merit as conductors, it will be interesting to see what happens.

    For example, if Malkki, Gražinytė-Tyla, et al start getting, or being seriously considered for, the “big” jobs — New York, London, etc., then that will be one thing. If seriously promising conductors are discarded once they turn 35, like models, then that will be another.

    For the time being, I’d say there’s no need to rush: we have plenty of examples of young male conductors being pushed forward too far, too soon. Women would be subject to all the same pressures as the men, but with added comments about getting the job because of their sex and their looks.

  • Alexander says:

    Ewa Michnik.

  • Emily says:

    Nicole Paiement- Opera Paralelle and Dallas Opera.

  • Charles Jones says:

    Natalie Stützmann. She is doing fantastic work and everything I have heard of hers sparkles with care and musicianship. I would rank her very high in this list…

  • Philip B. says:

    Carolyn Kuan, Hartford Symphony, CT

  • Larry says:

    (1) Kayoko Dan, music director of the Chattanooga Symphony; (2) Rei Hotoda, assistant conductor, Utah Symphony; (3) Sarah Hicks, Minessota Orchestra

    You can add that Sarah Ioannides is music director of the Tacoma (WA) Symphony.

  • M2N2K says:

    Do not forget Gisele Ben-Dor — not at the very top of conducting world of course, but pretty close to it. Haven’t seen her in a while, but about 15 or so years ago she was a very fine conductor.

  • Blair Tindall says:

    Sara Jobin

    • Bob Tonucci says:

      Yes, Sara Jobin! She’s conducted William Mayer’s ‘A Death in the Family’ and Michael Dellaira’s ‘The Secret Agent’ for NYC’s Center for Contemporary Opera (CCO).

  • Vicky says:

    Carolyn Kuan!! –assisted Marin Alsop at Cabrillo, then guested lots of places like San Francisco, Seattle, etc–then was asst in Seattle, now music director in Hartford. I think she merits the list for up-and-coming–

  • Paul says:

    KeriLynn Wilson?

  • Robert says:

    Why don’t we start calling them conductors plain and sane ?!?!?! Men who conduct are not called male conductors …so why keep this “female conductor ” “non-male conductor ” definition of women who conduct? We don’t say female violinist do we ????

    • Michael Barar says:

      Because there is still a significant gender gap. If you look at the personnel of American orchestras, and also to a large extent their soloists, things are much more equal. On the podium, especially at the very top, not so much. Things are getting better, but the minute we forget that gender bias has been endemic as long as this profession has existed is the minute that progress stops.

  • Graham Eagland says:

    Madeleine Venner.

  • Ed says:

    Emmanuelle Haïm.

  • Pirkko says:

    Amazingly no mention of the powerhouse Finns, Eva Ollikainen and Dalia Stasevska.

  • Joachim Moskau says:

    Barbara Hannigan … that’s the future!

  • Peter Phillips says:

    Off topic, I know, but if you have a few minutes to spare look on YouTube at Veronika Dudarova whose life more or less spanned the Soviet era though she conducted after it ended. There’s a short documentary about her in Russian with touching footage of what I assume is her funeral. Not a conductor to be argued with, I imagine, but she certainly got results. Fascinating.

  • Alan Munro says:

    Jessica Cottis surely.

  • Paul Bentley says:

    Charles Jones has already mentioned Natalie Stuzmann. What about Tomomi Nishimoto?

    • Michaela says:

      Tomomi Nishimoto is a fantastic conductor. Have a listen to her conducting Tchaikovsky 6. See also the videos of her when she conducted in Russia.

  • PaulD says:

    I would only add that JoAnn Falletta is also the conductor of the Virginia Symphony.

  • Steven Ledbetter says:

    Diane Wittry

  • Steven Ledbetter says:

    Victoria Bond

  • TK says:

    Victoria Bond, Sarah Hicks, Gisele Ben-For, Apo Hsu, Odaline de la Martinez, Carolyn Kuan, Diane Wittry, Rachael Worby, and others.

  • Christina says:

    Oksana Lyniv should be added to the liist, too

  • Jon Noworyta says:

    I always find it interesting that wind conductors are left off this list. Dr. Mallory Thompson of Northwestern University is, by far, one of the most influential, active, and successful female conductors in the United States today through her work with the Northwestern Symphonic Wind Ensemble and as a conducting pedagogue.

    • Ava says:

      I totally agree. Mallory is amazing!

    • Kevin Scott says:

      Mallory Thompson is indeed one of the finest conductors around, not to mention one fabulous teacher! I had the pleasure of auditing her conducting workshop with the West Point Band several years ago and learned a great deal from her, and in my brief one-on-one moment (the auditors had a chance to conduct as well), she basically toned down my slightly assertive exuberance (it looked a bit too intimidating) and made sure that I relaxed a bit and made the musicians feel relaxed, but attentive and attuned, with the conductor at the helm.

      Band music, in general, is still looked down by most classical musicians and music lovers because of all the misconceptions they’ve been taught about its repertoire and its legacy.

  • John Marchiando says:

    Kayoko Temple (Dan) of Chattanooga!

  • Linda R says:

    Clotilde Otranto, Brazilian born full time conductor of the New York City Ballet Orchestra, at Lincoln Center.

  • Mary Hannah says:

    Elizabeth Schulze

    • Chris says:

      Music Director of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, and National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Institute Orchestra.

  • Derek Machan says:

    Definitely need to have Eimear Noone.

    Not only orchestral, but also video games.

  • Nate says:

    Eímear Noone. Studio conductor in LA for many game soundtracks, and tours the world currently with the Video Games Live orchestra. A fabulous conductor and teacher, and a composer as well.

  • Alexander says:

    Dina Gilbert
    Assistant to Kent Nagano at Montreal Symphony Orchestra

  • Michael Barrett says:

    Why don’t you make a list of 25 conductors, regardless of sex? Perhaps based on talent — I guess there’s nothing interesting about a good, solid list of talented conductors.

  • Lawrence Kershaw says:

    Keri-Lynn Wilson? Fabulous at ENO last year.

  • Gerald Martin says:

    Nan Washburn, Music Director and Conductor, Michigan Philharmonic.

  • Luis says:

    A few Spanish: Virginia Martinez, chief conductor Orquesta Sinfónica de la Región de Murcia; Gloria Isabel Ramos, former chief conductor Orquesta de Córdoba; Silvia Sanz Torre, chief conductor Orquesta Metropolitana de Madrid; Lucía Marín, chief conductor Kentucky University Philharmonia.

  • Hermann Lederer says:

    Simone Young behind Alsop? Good Joke. Young conducted Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic and and and. Since 25 years regular guest in Vienna, Berlin, Munich Dresden, Zürich,Covent Garden and and and…. No female conducting career comes even near to her – at least until now.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      Ah, but Marin Alsop, rather like Joyce DiDonato, occupies an unassailable position in the eyes of the world. It is considered improper to even hint they are not goddesses.

  • SR says:

    Diane Wittry really needs to be on this list. She has contributed so much to the profession. Her “Beyond the Baton” book has been read by the majority of conductors out there, and they have all praised this book.

  • Paul Burnett says:

    Not sure if the list is for only living conductors, but the great Sara Caldwell (Boston Opera) should be at the top of the all-time conductors list and especially women conductors.

  • renee baker says:

    Renee Baker founder.director (African American)

    Chicago Modern Orchestra Project

  • Armando says:

    Clotilde Otranto. Resident Conductor of the New York City Ballet for 10 years. She is the only woman full time performing conductor at Lincoln Center. Also she has an international career guest conducting in Amsterdam, Hong-Kong etc

  • Silvia says:

    Dame Jane Glover has been breaking the glass ceiling since the 70s so a major omission from your list of conductors.