London lacks women conductors. Why?

London lacks women conductors. Why?


norman lebrecht

August 30, 2016

The Guardian points out in an editorial that only eight of 75 BC Proms are conducted by women, and none of the permanent London orchestras or opera houses has a woman music director.

‘It wouldn’t be acceptable in other professions,’ warns the paper. ‘It isn’t acceptable here either.’

Quite right.


Prom 45, BBC Proms 2012


  • Marc-Antoine Hamet says:

    Did you read some of the interesting readers comments following the Guardian’s editorial?
    Here is one I think is spot on:

    “JohnHunt 17h ago
    It would be informative to hear from women who feel they are qualified and who would wish to be conductors. As it stands we don’t know if not many apply, if the hours involved are off-putting, if the directors of symphonies are simply sexist bastards, or what.
    This goes for every “not enough women in…” article. Which women ran for mayor and didn’t win, and what does analysis about that loss tell us? Find some women who wanted to work on a North Sea oil rig and were not hired for the position, and then talk to the employers to find out why. Ask the banking sector why it is that women entrepreneurs receive less in start-up loans than do men, and then get analysis from a set of financial experts on the merits of the banks’ positions.
    Journalism, I believe it’s called.”

    • norman lebrecht says:

      We know who they are and we know they are qualified..

      • Allen says:

        Well either tell us who they are, when they applied and why they were turned down, or shut up.

        • Rosana Martins says:

          You seem to forget that slipped disc is Norman’s blog, so a little respect would be most appreciated. I believe the idea is for different people to express their opinion, rather than insulting one another.

          • Andrew Barnard says:

            Allen’s point remains, however. If Norman doesn’t have any evidence to back up his accusations, he shouldn’t make them at all. And owning a blog doesn’t give the owner a right to present questionable information without being challenged.

        • Una says:

          Not the way to.speak to Norman, Allen. It is his blog and Norman has every right to open up.the debate about whatever he likes. You don’t have the right to tell him to.shut up – and in public!!

  • Marc-Antoine Hamet says:

    Let’s quote Barbara Hannigan: “For me, though, the issue is much more complicated than a call of “We need more women conductors!” It is musicianship, psychology and technical skill all bound together in a rare type of leadership that is elusive. It is neither male nor female. Convention has kept the field dominated by men. Convention and, of course, some everyday sexism – because before a woman gets on the podium, she needs to get into a conducting class at university, and before that even, she needs to see the career as a viable option, something I didn’t as a child.
    A friend’s young daughter saw me conducting on TV the other day, and said: “Mommy, I didn’t know women were allowed to be conductors.”

  • These stats are irrelevant. What is your goal, Norman? Shall we establish quotas to artificially bring “equality” on the podium? Are there talented women being turned down from the podium due to their gender? If so, let’s see articles on these specific instances.

    Perhaps more men than women want to conduct? Perhaps the most qualified conductors today are primarily males? I don’t see much of a story to report here. A big fuss about nothing, as usual.

  • J. says:

    Marin Alsop is the conductor of the my city’s orchestra (São Paulo). And boy, she is heavily overrated. Not bad, of course, but so, so. And I have seen her conduct all kind of music in the last four years. She is okay, but not good enough for one of London’s main orchestras.

    • Una says:

      Friends of mine in London orchestras including the BBC ones would love her to have her as she is so versatile.

      • J. says:

        Great. I would love trade him for Jurowski or Oramo. Done deal!

        • Victoria says:

          Please,take off Jurowsky from Moscow. He almost killed splendid Svetlanov orchestra. This orchestra deserves better conductor.

        • Beth Smith says:

          disagree…Marin has done a lot in Baltimore, Sao Paulo and the world as a musician, and for women conductors – and wouldn’t have gotten to do any of this without being a great musician. The negative joo joo about classical musicians, including the conductors – is really NOT something the business needs this day in age.

          • Andrew Barnard says:


            I think others here are referring to level of talent, not suggesting that Marin has no skill. If you’re going to promote a conductor for a top job in London, for instance, there’s a very high level of musicianship required. Simply being an inspiring conductor may not make the cut.

            I’ve heard from numerous sources, including some who actively champion more women on the podium, that Alsop doesn’t rise to the highest level, and as much as some want to promote her, she simply not good enough to receive a full endorsement without giving way to special pleading because of her gender.

            At the end of the day, if you want to promote a conductor for a top job, you should be prepared to defend her credentials, without dismissing criticism as “negative joo joo”.

          • Beth Smith says:

            Andrew – I am just curious…are YOU a classical musician who sits or has sat IN the orchestra and has experienced music making from that perspective?

          • Andrew Barnard says:

            Yes, I’m a pianist who has sat in rehearsal and works with other musicians on a weekly basis.

  • Pirkko says:

    When they conduct, conductors are conductors, not men or women.

  • John says:

    Lots of subtle sexism in the comments here. No, there shouldn’t be quotas, but it begs the question, perhaps impossible to answer, whether there exists some kind of bias against considering or engaging women as music directors. Whether at the level of players or management, is there a bias out there?

    There are definitely women conductors who qualify (I’ll let the Lebrecht cognoscenti debate who are qualified or not. They — self-appointed experts that they are — seem to revel in that sort of thing.). But when we focus on the VPO for being sexist, is there still a lingering sexism out there at the music director level that isn’t being addressed? I wonder.

  • Victoria says:

    Probably there are two looby – conductors and musicians of the orchestas. Among of them 90% are males. What we are talking about? It’s pure sexism.

  • pooroperaman says:

    ‘only eight’

    As many as eight, surely? Compare that number to previous seasons, and try being a bit grateful.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    The Chicago Symphony piano series for 2016/17 also has no women. Eleven men in ten concerts.

    Rudolph Buchbinder
    Jeremy Denk
    Benjamin Grosvenor
    Igor Levit
    Daniil Trifonov
    Paul Lewis
    Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-Andre Hamelin
    Murray Perahia
    Maurizio Pollini
    Kirill Gerstein

    Couldn’t find a single woman, I guess.

    Last season’s piano series:
    Maurizio Pollini
    Andras Schiff
    Evgeny Kissin
    Menahem Pressler
    Andras Schiff again
    Lise de la Salle
    Richard Goode
    Yefim Bronfman
    Marc-Andre Hamelin
    David Fray

    Last season’s piano soloists with orchestra:
    Leif Ove Andsnes
    Evgeny Kissin
    Jon Kimura Parker
    Kirill Gerstein
    Jeremy Denk
    Emanuel Ax
    Daniil Trifonov
    Denis Matsuev
    Till Fellner
    Javier Perianes (twice)
    Lang Lang
    Martin Helmchen

    Piano with chamber musicians:
    Mitsuko Uchida
    Leif Ove Andsnes

    Last year they scraped up two women.

  • T says:

    The conversation here should also be about training. Encourage more women in conducting academies and conservatories. And if encouragement doesn’t work, quotas usually do.

  • David Nice says:

    Sadly it’s a slow process and patience is the only option. We are now waiting for the results of long-overdue training to pay off. I’ve seen many promising women conductors in competitions and masterclasses, so it is a matter of time. But yes, it looks bad at the moment.

    Then things can change and we will in about a decade from now be able to welcome women conductors who are at the top of the entire profession. Susanna Malkki is the only one I’d put there at the moment, but Mirga Grazynyte-Tyla could become one such once she sheds the Dudamelesque extremes. I salute Marin Alsop as a motivator, but her conducting is overrated. Simone Young is the worst conductor of romantic rep I’ve come across. That has nothing to do with sexism, it’s just disappointment.

  • Beth says:

    the issue goes deeper than talented women conductors….
    it’s about paving the way. putting more women conductors in front of the orchestras – on a regular basis. FIRST string. the people obviously want to see this – the public; and the musicians need to experience this to start to move beyond some of their unknown ingrained prejudices. But a step could be to just start putting them on the podium regularly. it’s the way of the future for them, and for the music business.

    • Andrew Barnard says:

      Why isn’t it about talent? Are you suggesting that less talented female conductors should be chosen above males simply so orchestras become more accustomed to working with females?

      We should ensure that no female conductors are being denied opportunity because of their gender. Talent and musical substance should be the determining factors for choosing conductors. If fully capable females are being declined jobs because of their gender, let’s look at these specific cases. If there are no cases to point to, methinks we’re just beating a dead horse. Perhaps more men than woman want to conduct and have the necessary skill?

      If your goal is simply to achieve parity in the workplace, perhaps you should spend time campaigning for female construction workers. There are far more jobs at stake there.

      • Beth says:

        Not entirely. However, I do think it’s important that there is a keen eye to promoting and helping to endorse women conductors. As history has proven – the majority of conductors these days are men. Is it prejudice? Is it fear from the women? Is it disinterest on both parts? In the orchestra business, the goal should also be to really try to give these women a good chance; it is a performing organization – people are watching!. Whatever it takes – get them in front of the podium; help to mentor them; encourage them. The world is calling on fair treatment, and women should be given these chances. More importantly, though, there is so much history with men on the podium – and it has become real and apparent that there are VERY strong women musicians; conductors, instrumentalists, etc…and these women deserve the chance to at least be seen/felt/heard on the podium to start to bridge the gap and REALLY examined on their abilities; perhaps without the eyes. The coke/pepsi challenge!

        • Victoria says:

          One journalist has asked the conductor why in his orchestra there are no women. The conductor has answered that the beautiful woman disturbs orchestra, and ugly disturbs him.
          It was ten years ago. Nothing changed.
          Hypocritical remarks on professional skills only aggravate a problem. At first it is necessary to develop tolerance to the fact presence of the woman on a podium and then to move further.

          • Ppellay says:

            Actually, that’s a much older story: I first came across it nearly 40 years ago, when it was attributed to Beecham……….

          • Victoria says:

            All around is very old story. But then we have to accept status quo.

          • Beth says:

            Gross and sad. People that say such things shouldn’t have these very special and highly sought after, specialized jobs. It is also very about time that orchestras, operas and performing arts organizations start living by the “real world” and addressing and documenting these harassing remarks.

            And – concurrently – time to get these women on the podium more often and in more orchestras. It is the business’ civic and artistic duty – the world is craving it.

  • Barbarona says:

    If there were truly great women conductors out there, they would be engaged. There are none. Being competent is not enough. And having a successful career does not make Marin Alsop a great conductor. She is tasteless. Conducting does not come naturally to females, just as composing does not. There are exceptions, of course. But not in numbers. There are no true obstacles, except within themselves. That dainty feminine touch is not appropriate.