Birth of an all-woman orchestra

Birth of an all-woman orchestra


norman lebrecht

June 29, 2016

Janna Sailor spent much of last year auditioning for conductor vacancies across North America. She found the experience uncomfortable.

Back home in Vancouver, she asked some women friends to come together as an ensemble with which she could practise for her next audition.

‘People approached me afterwards and said, “We really enjoy working with you. If you ever want to create an orchestra, we’d be happy to be involved,” she said. ‘It occurred to me … that all those people were women. So I thought this would be a really interesting way to bring people together.’

The new Allegra Chamber Orchestra admits only women ‘and those who identify as women’ and it play the works of female composers.

More here.

Your thoughts, please?


janna sailor



  • James says:

    So it will always be “that day of the month” during rehearsals? Tough!

  • Janice says:

    Only works by female composers? They’ll run out of interesting works to play rather quickly.

    • Jerron J says:

      Unless they make it an organizational mission to commission new works.

    • Bruce says:

      From the group’s website (link available from the article):

      “The mandate of the orchestra is to champion the works of female composers alongside the mainstream classical repertoire…”

  • Christopher Rosevear says:

    Misandrist just as bad as misogynist.

  • May says:

    Well, wouldn’t most people take the rejection experience to be a reality check and come to the conclusion that there are much better people out there qualified to do the job and maybe it would make sense to look at other career possibilities? This has nothing to do with gender: there are simply way too many aspiring conductors than the world will ever need, and the mediocre ones get weeded out pretty quickly. The conductors who perpetuate their denial by forming their orchestra need longer for their overzealous sense of entitlement to erode.

    • Anon says:

      I find that so rude. Why should dreams be quashed by anyone? Are you a conductor? Have you been frustrated by the situation of competing with men (boys) that have slept their way into high-ranking institutions and then into roles with orchestras? Because I have. I have grown so tired of proving that I am just as capable of producing excellent performances (and am actually nice to work with) that I did set up my own orchestra. Men and women welcome obviously. Yes, the Berlin Phil isn’t knocking on my door but that doesn’t mean my success is defined by that measure. Bonne chance to her if she can successfully support an orchestra playing female composers only. I feel it will probably diversify naturally.

    • Db says:

      This ranks as one of the most misguided and unfounded comments I’ve ever read on SD. Founding your own ensemble and making it work counts as a huge achievement for any conductor.

    • Bruce says:

      May – any idea how much work it takes to get an orchestra off the ground?

  • Robert. says:

    Ooops they will be in for a lot of lawsuits!
    Some Like it Hot!

  • Erwin says:

    Are males (and those who identify as male) allowed in the audience?

  • Gerhard says:

    Provided the facts are correctly represented in the opening post of this thread (not an unimportant caveat), Ms. Sailor first asked “some women friends” to form an ensemble. After receiving positive feedback, she is quoted saying; ‘It occurred to me … that all those people were women.’ That was to be expected, wasn’t it?

  • Gerhard says:

    You wrote about conductors: “the mediocre ones get weeded out pretty quickly”. I wish you were right, but my experience as an orchestra player doesn’t back this. And on the other hand, being good is no guarantee for an adequate career either. But both facts together are a solid basis of the agencies’ business.

  • Anon says:

    Interesting. But one cannot logically support this unless also being willing to support the idea of an all-male orchestra.

    • Gerhard says:


    • Anonn says:

      Hello, most professional orchestras in the last few hundred years (especially the Vienna Phil)

      • Anon says:

        And? Two wrongs, etc.. We live in the new enlightened times; and I maintain that one cannot logically support one and not the other, if you wish to be fair and balanced.

    • William Safford says:

      Um, until the last fifty years or so, an orchestra was synonymous with a male orchestra.

      That’s exactly what existed for most of the history of the orchestra.

      Your comment is a false equivalency.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Yes, because men are disproportionately disadvantaged in the music industry.

  • Larry says:

    There was the Women’s Philharmonic, based in San Francisco.

  • John says:

    Congrats to Janna and the Allegra Chamber Orchestra. The sexism, taunts and mild misogyny by nearly all the male commenters says more about them than about you. I hope their very small hands will one day be applauding you and your group. In the meantime their small minds will continue to find ways to put down interesting and exciting ventures like yours. All the best!

    • May says:

      My remarks are based on talent, not gender. There are clearly more talented conductors out there, male and female. Judging by what I viewed on YouTube, Ms Sailor’s conducting is amateurish at best. Your could give a praying mantis a baton and the results would not be much different. Being a conductor is not a birth right: you have to have talent, and Ms Sailor does not exhibit this in her videos.

      • John says:

        I wish them well. I hope you will, too.

      • Bruce says:

        If she enjoys conducting, and the musicians enjoy playing for her, and the audiences enjoy the concerts, then this is a good thing all around. She gets experience (that’s the reason she started the group), the musicians get experience (or, if they don’t need the experience, they get the pleasure of nurturing a fellow musician’s career), the audience (hopefully) gets concerts that they enjoy. Where’s the harm in any of that?

        P.S. It will be interesting to see if any male musician files a lawsuit because of gender-based exclusion…

        • John says:

          I suppose that’s possible but I’d rather doubt it. I did a quick google search and found numerous women’s orchestras around the country. And didn’t Joann Falletta conduct an all-woman orchestra in the SF Bay Area in the 80s and 90s?

  • Icefrog says:

    I can assure the gender warriors here that this (unpaid) ensemble was always more a vanity project than a feminist manifesto, devised by someone whose talent does not quite match up to her towering ambition. And look, they made it to the big leagues here on Slippedisc!

  • Bennie says:

    The gender who cries gender discrimination loudest seems to discriminate membership based on gender.

    Two wrongs do make a right (sorry, this is woman’s privilege only)

    So what’s next? One day, in an woman-only corporation, someone will claim age discrimination, then someone doesn’t get promoted and cries age discrimination, then someone else who work long hours would scream discrimination due to her sexual orientation, then another one would moan about no pay raise due to her pregnancy, and then, some lady would file discrimination lawsuit due to her medical condition, eventually, someone would say


    Yes, Gender Socialism. Be careful on what you are wishing for.

  • lance soderburgh says:

    The sisters never wanted equality. They wanted EVERYTHING, ergo they now create Feminist only institutions. Sounds like revenge of the sisters. I wonder what the legal status of that is? There again who wants to watch 30 rather dubious females mud wrestling and calling it rugby?

  • marg says:

    Fantastic! Go for it. Work hard, make your mark, inspire young girls to take up serious music. Anyhow, we can never have too many good chamber ensembles.

  • Robin Landseadel says:

    I was a recording engineer for the Bay Area Woman’s Philharmonic in the 1990’s, recording concerts for re-broadcast on local radio stations. Amazing how many misogynists read your posts Mr. Lebrecht. The WP did perform works by male composers but the mission was to enable active composers to get their music heard, with the bulk of new compositions by female composers. Some was good, some not so good. But the same applied to the Berkeley Symphony, who I also recorded for radio, with its mission of getting new music performed regularly. In any case, there have been some remarkable stupid comments made here. There is a long history of misogyny in classical music, just like everything else in the rest of the world. And it’s not as if these times are all that enlightened anyway.

  • Sybille Werner says:

    It’s been done in San Francisco from 1981 to 2004 (

    There also is a women’s chamber orchestra in Vienna, the 1. Frauenkammerorchester von Österreich, which I had the pleasure of conducting some years ago, founded in 1982 (

  • ANON says:

    I am also disturbed by this venture. The rationale ‘women raising money for women’ makes no sense to me. If the real goal here is to raise money for women in need, why not allow men to be involved as well? Wouldn’t that send an even stronger statement? Also, the argument ‘women have been oppressed for so long (especially in the classical music world-which is true), it is their turn to shine/turn the tables, etc.’ is a particularly exclusionary way of thinking. An equivalent might be ‘but this racial group is/was oppressed for so long, it is now time for them to exclude the racial group that historically oppressed them.’ I am disheartened that this venture is going forth in this particular society. In another society, where women truly do not have the opportunity to be equals (eg. Afghanistan), then I can understand starting up the all-women/all-girls group. But here in the Americas, if you take a look at the makeup of orchestras, they are loaded with women (don’t know the % but this might be easy to find). One last point…what exclude the modern-day man, who most likely had no hand in the historic exclusion of women? Again, makes no sense. What would happen if the all-make orchestra was started? People would scream sexism and cite the Berlin Phil, etc. – and rightly so. So why, if we are trying to achieve equalism here, is it ok for it to go the other way? There are reasons the blind auditions were instituted, and that one can be penalized for wearing shoes that make any sound (i.e. they want to prevent the sounds of high heels). This orchestra, in my opinion, does nothing to promote rational, modern, compassionate inclusion.

  • ANONYMOUS says:

    I am disheartened by this venture and the rhetoric does not make sense to me. If the intention is to raise money/awareness for disempowered women, then why limit the orchestra to all females? Wouldn’t the inclusion of males make as strong – or stronger – a statement in terms of supporting women? Also, the argument that ‘females suffered for so long, and now it is their turn’ is a very dangerous way to move forward. If the goal is for men and women to be equals, then discrimination on either side needs to be avoided. This would be like saying that because a certain ethnic group was historically discriminated against, it is now ok for that group to turn the tables and start discriminating against the group that used to have power over them. This is why the blind audition process was started in orchestras – to prevent any gender discrimination (including the banning of footwear that might give away one’s ‘maleness’ or ‘femaleness’). I can understand an all-women’s orchestra starting up in a place like Afghanistan, where women truly are lesser citizens than men, but here it makes no sense. Take a look at the makeup of orchestras/music departments in the Americas. Women are well represented. I think this is a publicity ploy to help launch this conductor’s career (and perhaps the careers of others too). I think if she is honest with herself, she will be able to see that.