Where are the women timps?

Actea Jimenez, 24, of Holland’s Het Gelders Orkest, has won the Solo Timpani position in the orchestra of Bilbao, defeating 47 contenders.

This makes Actea the third woman timpanist in leading Spanish orchestras.

How many in the UK? the US? Vienna?

actea-jimenezM4 vienna timps

OK, our readers are starting to name them:

1 Kate Eyre, English National Ballet

2 Josephine Frieze, Royal Liverpool Phil (dep)

3 Christine Turpin, Melbourne Symphony

4 Kimberly Toscano, Tucson Symphony

5 Angie Zator Nelson, Assistant Principal, Philadelphia

6 Erika Ohman, Assistant Principal, Hallé

7 Bonnie Lynn Adelson was principal timpanist for 30 years at Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg and the Zagreb Philharmonic. She caught the eye of Carlos Kleiber ad became his confidante.

8 Joyce Aldous, timpanist with the Hallé

9 Katia Godart, Belgian national orchestra

10 Elayne Jones, ex-San Francisco Opera

11 Nancy Nelson, Houston Grand Opera

12 June Binnie of Jyväskylä Sinfonia, Finland

13 Yoko Kita, Sarasota Orchestra

14 Cynthia Yeh, Chicago Symphony

15 Heather Corbett, BBC Scottish Orchestra

16 Nancy Rowe, Bangor Symphony Orchestra (Maine)

17 Pam Dow – former Principal Percussion, RSNO.

18 Carol Stumpf – Charlotte Symphony 1982-2006

19 Rachel Gledhill, principal percussion ROH (former LPO)

… keep ’em coming


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  • God, this relentless body-counting. How many have applied? How many study timpani? Some do, obviously — Evelyn Glennie is one who has made it glamorous for a woman to take up the timpani. Rock bands have a smattering of women drummers. But I seriously doubt that a preponderance of timpani students anywhere and at any level in the system are female. Too many memories of obnoxious brothers banging away…

  • Kimberly Toscano, with the Tucson Symphony, 2007-2016. Elayne Jones was timpanist for the San Francisco Opera for a number of years, now retired I believe. There are many female percussionists who, naturally, play timpani, too.

      • Yes, Toscano moved to Georgia to be with her husband Tim Adams, who used to be the principal timpanist at Pittsburgh Symphony Orch., until he decided to resign and teach at the University of Georgia, because he’s from there and also because he makes more money there than he did in Pittsburgh.

  • Elayne Jones, now that was a dramatic chapter in the history of women in orchestra. Worthy of a write up by the esteemed Mr. William Osborne. And a huge piece of history for women timpanists everywhere.

    I was just a tyke learning my scales at the time, so my memory isn’t detailed. I just remember that in 1975, SF Symphony fired their first female timpanist who also happened to be African American. Elayne Jones fought it legally big time. I don’t know the under belly of this story. I know that SF Symph was recovering from the era of the Austrian Josef Krips as music director. He had strong ties to Vienna Phil & was notoriously anti-women. I believe Ozawa was actually MD during Ms. Jones’ situation, but the pallor of Krips lingered for many years, his idealogy remaining with many of the players. Perhaps this was a factor, perhaps there was racism, sexism at play or maybe there were valid artistic reasons for the firing, but Elayne Jones brought the conflict to center stage in the press, as no player had ever done before.

    I believe she finally won her case and was given the position of Princ. Timp with SF Opera, which was an offshoot of SF Symph at that time.

    Elayne Jones fought the battle of a lifetime for that dismissal from SF Symph. 40 years ago. Was it because she was their first woman timpani? Was it because she was black? We can never be sure. But, it’s a battle every young female timpanist today should never forget.

    • I have only hearsay testimony regarding Elayne Jones. When I entered Juilliard as a student of Saul Goodman then in his 40th year with the NY Philharmonic, who had been EJ’s teacher, some of his older students had been there some years before when EJ was a student. There was always lots of gossip and opinion-mongering about the merits of the many Goodman students who held down principal positions all over the country in those years. The clear consensus among those who knew her playing was simply that she was not very good. Seiji O’s deposition in the legal case (“I can live with her” etc.) tends to bear this out. If memory serves, EJ was succeeded in SF by Roland Kohloff, who eventually succeeded Goodman at the Philharmonic. At the time, RK was considered a huge up-grade by every student who spoke about the issue. My memory of the drummers in those years is that they were a fiercely meritocratic group.

    • So it’s Josef Krips’ fault for the goings on in 1975? That’s total nonsense! In any case, your characterization of Krips tenure as something to be “recovering” from is ungenerous and untrue. The standards and prestige of the orchestra had fallen after the Monteux era during Enrique Jordá’s tenure. When Krips was engaged there was definitely a need for rebuilding, and despite the lack of commercially recorded evidence, this unquestionable did occur (listen to the podcast devoted to Krips in this wonderful series: http://www.sfsymphony.org/Watch-Listen-Learn/Podcasts-and-Music/Archives-Podcast). Yes, Krips had ties to the VPO, and just about every major orchestra in the world, and they were lucky to have him.

      • Hello, can you remember the exact dates?
        I have it in mind that there was a previous
        female timpanist in the 1950’s but I simply
        can’t remember her name. But she was
        brilliant – in total command!

  • If you’re counting all percussionists, and not just timpani players (the timpani is a specialized position, whereas most orchestras have a handful of jack-of-all-trade percussionists, co-ordinated by one principal player) you have to include Cynthia Yeh of the Chicago Symphony http://cso.org/about/performers/chicago-symphony-orchestra/percussion/cynthia-yeh/

    Almost every orchestra in Canada, where I work, has women in the percussion section.

  • In Australia, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Christine Turpin is a fantastic timpanist. I’ve seen her give many outstanding performances over the years.

  • Cynthia Yeh at the CSO never plays timps.She plays percussion only.Vadim Karpinos is the assistant principal timpanist,David Herbert principal.

  • Barbara Bavecchi is the solo timpani player in Teatro San Carlo, Naples, Italy.
    Kerin Meissl is Timpani player in Oper Graz, Austria.

    • Male harpists – great idea & a perfect segue! The 2 orch. instruments which are the most gender exclusive are percussion, which is mostly male, despite the exceptions here, and harp, which is, of course almost exclusively female.

      I’ll kick it off with Xavier de Maistre, who doesn’t really count now that he’s a soloist. But he did start with Vienna Phil, didn’t he?

      There’s that new French harpist at the MET, and I think SF Symph also has a male harpist. Any others?

  • Elizabeth Del Grande, principal timpanist at Brazilian Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo (Osesp). And she has been in the orchestra for amazing 43 years! I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for a woman to be a timpanist when she started. Specially in Brazil!

  • The upsurge of female timps is the result of feminist writing which encouraged women to transcend their patriarchial boundaries by banging the heads of their husbands with kitchen utensils. Performances of Beethoven IX’s first movement have since considerably improved by the appointment of feminine rage in the timpany section.

  • Actea Jimenez, the young woman mentioned by Mr. Lebrecht, will indeed become the 3rd woman in a major Spanish orchestra to hold the Principal Timpani position!

    She joins Cristina Llorens, Principal Timpani of the Orquesta de Cordoba, and Concepcion San Gregorio, Principal Timpani of the Orquesta Comunidad de Madrid (ORCAM).

    Spain also boasts several top women Assistant Principal Timpani and Percussionists. They are strong, dynamic players who are assets to their orchestras. Carolina Alcaraz, also in Cordoba, is an astounding percussion and timpani player who adds glamour and virtuosity to every performance! http://www.carolinalcaraz-percussion.com/Biography.html

    Barcelona and the Orquesta de Barcelona y Catalunya (OBC) are home to the superb Juilliard trained artist Roxan Jurkevich, OBC’s Asst. Principal Timpani and Principal Percussion, http://www.pearleurope.com/WhatsUpNewsDetail.aspx?ID=106&Pagetype=Artist&Title=Roxan%20Jurkevich&MenuId=0

    While female percussionists are still a minority everywhere, Spain is moving ahead dramatically to equalize the gender gap on timp and perc in their orchestras. Actea Jimenez, who will take here place in Bilbao’s prestigious orchestra, is a strong move in the right direction!

    Actea’s victory, by the way, has captured the hearts and imagination of Spanish classical music fans! Sparked by Mr. Lebrecht’s post, the excellent Spanish online classical music publication CODALARIO ran a story about Actea which has received 50 shares and hundreds of “likes”. https://www.codalario.com/actea-jimenez/criticas/la-fuera-de-serie-que-ha-contratado-la-sinfonica-de-bilbao_4519_5_13097_0_1_in.html

  • Renata Walczyna principal timpani Zürich Opera House

    Mihaela Despa principal timpani Bern Symphony Orchestra

    Kanae Yamamoto Winterthur

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