Men only conduct Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw

Men only conduct Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw


norman lebrecht

March 19, 2017

Take a look at the roster for the current two seasons here. Not one woman (apart from one candidate in the conducting masterclass).

Are we in the 21st century? Is the music director tone deaf to the spirit of the times?


  • louisella says:

    You overlooked Valentina Peleggi (2017 masterclass). So many overlooked female conductors.

  • christina says:

    It’s like going to a ladyboy show and being surprised that they’re all men… who would have guessed, right? I know that most journalists aren’t really good with math, but if there are more men working as conductors, statistically they will be the ones being displayed the most.

  • Plush says:

    This has never been an issue in classical music. Whoever is the best communicator and conduit for the music should lead the orchestra.

    Be it man or woman.

    • Emil says:

      Yes, what a coincidence! Almost as if there were something systemic about it!

      • Bruce says:

        Surely the “problem” (if you insist on calling it one) is that women have not been great musical communicators until just recently. It must be so, otherwise they would have been present at the highest levels of conducting since the days of Lully.

        • Insider says:

          Hmm. What about other possibilities? The most obvious one being that men in less enlightened times were very largely unable to accept that women might have something to say musically and be able to command the working respect of an all-male ensemble – some men still feel the same today. Perhaps you were being ironic?

        • Emil says:

          Ah, the good old ‘women are just not as good conductors’ (given conductors are above all musical communicators, you are effectively claiming women are inherently worse conductors). It’s not even hidden sexism, at this point. It’s just plain sexism.

          Let me suggest some other possibilities:
          – Society wired to see men as the one who have to be in charge.
          – Systematic discrimination in the music industry against female conductors (i.e., lack of opportunities – opportunities provided to men only).
          – Persistent bias against the abilities of female conductors (of the kind you just expressed).
          – Expectation that a conductor has to look and behave like a man (De la Parra uses expressive moves? Incompetent female! Bernstein dances his way through Candide without bothering to ever give a cue? What a genius!).
          etc., etc.

          So, coming back to your initial argument that “women have not been great musical communicators until just recently”, there are two possible corollaries to that:
          1- Woman have just been bad conductors in all human history for completely random reasons (and definitely not because you believe women are naturally inferior) which have to do with an immense statistical fluke (a bit like drawing ‘tails’ 100 000 times in a row), and magically have just discovered in the last 20 years how to hold a baton. Again, what a coincidence!
          2- Women have no inherent disadvantage when it comes to conducting abilities, and it is external (social-economic) factors that have prevented them from “being present at the highest levels of conducting since the days of Lully.” If so, see my argument above

          And now, you’ll tell me it’s not true women have no opportunities, because Jane Glover, Marin Alsop, Simone Young, yada yada yada.

        • Emil says:

          P.-S. The fact that you can just simply assert that 95+% of top-level conductors are male and that this does not give you pause simply defies reason. Surely, even if you don’t see it as a “problem”, you must just ask yourself “why”? “How does this happen”?

          P.-P.-S. I was looking for a cultural reference and just found it. What your argument reminds me of, is Sir Humphrey Appleby, in Yes, Prime Minister, who claims that “we must always have the right to promote the best man for the job, regardless of sex.”

          • RW2013 says:

            Are these the “expressive moves” you write about?

          • Emil says:

            Exactly. Those ones. In a rehearsal, for a “Danzon”, where the orchestra sounds brilliant. And yet, how many harsh dismissals of her as an unserious, ridiculous, incompetent conductor have we seen as a result (what happened to judging only the results and not the visuals, by the way?)?. Meanwhile, compare with this (, particularly at 2:30). (N.B: My point is here not that Bernstein was not a good conductor or anything of the kind; rather, why was he given the chance to be judged on his music while she is dismissed based on the looks? If conductors have to ‘look serious’, then it seems that applies only to some of them…coincidence?)

            Emmanuelle Haïm has faced the same kind of criticism – she doesn’t ‘look’ and ‘act’ like a conductor, notwithstanding the fact that her orchestra is among the best in the business. But suddenly, when a woman’s up there, visuals matter enormously, even to the “I just judge the pure music” crowd.

          • Bruce says:

            Thanks, RW. I enjoy that clip every time you post a link to it.

  • Sue says:

    Oh, but what a stunning line-up of men!!!!!

  • harold braun says:

    The very best!

  • John Mclaughlin Williams says:

    Not a single conductor of African descent; they should call me. Or ask me; I have excellent colleagues as well.

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    Valentina Peleggi? It’s only one name, but it does undermine the point just a bit, no?

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    @RW2013: That’s a particular favourite of yours, isn’t it?

    • RW2013 says:

      Isn’t she a favourite of yours too Miles?

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        I’ve no idea who she is, Antony.

        • RW2013 says:

          She always springs to mind when the blog turns to conductresses.
          Anthony will having a chuckle thinking that you’re thinking that I’m him, which I’m not.

          • Emil says:

            Yes, indeed, you always think of her. You’ve used this clip at least seven times on this blog to dismiss completely the very idea of a female conductor and attack the competence of women on the podium in general. Isn’t it time you find some other basis to justify discriminating against women?

  • Andrew R. Barnard says:

    Hiring women to conduct based on gender is sexism itself. Let’s see a list of the talented female conductors who are equally qualified to be conducting the orchestra as their male colleagues who aren’t being asked because they’re women. Until such a list is produced, perhaps consider shutting up.

    • Emil says:

      There’s a lot going in here, so I’ll have to be brief.
      1) Discrimination is always wrong, you say, and promoting women is unfair to men. On that, I can sympathise. As a man, I suspect I would feel unfairly treated if I lost out on a job/opportunity due to positive discrimination. I recognise that it might be some form of positive discrimination to say ‘hire more women’. BUT…
      2) Your solution, which is ‘let’s keep the status quo’ is much worse. You assume that the current situation is a level playing field, when it very obviously is not. Women have many more hurdles to overcome to get to a podium, including ingrained prejudices and perceptions, etc. If your solution is to just continue the current system, then you just perpetuate inequality. The fact there are fewer than 5 top-level women at the moment (who get guest conducting opportunities of top caliber, like men; Young, Alsop, Grazinyte-Tyla, Mälkki, Hannigan – being generous here) should give you pause. The current system simply does not promote competent women. If that is ok for you, either a) you think women are inferior, or b) you’re ok with a system that unfairly favours women. In either case, that’s not good for you.
      3) A large part of the problem is ingrained perception – everyone simply expects a man up there on the podium. So if we don’t break that perception by getting women on the podium, the system will never change and women will continue to be discriminated against.
      4) A large part of the job to be done does not consist in promoting weaker or less capable women, but by at least recognising the talent of those who are there. And as the examples of Hannigan, De La Parra, etc. have shown, there’s a certain tendency to move the goal posts when it comes to women.
      5) Men form 50% of society and about 95% (estimate) of professional conductors, and certainly more of top-circuit conductors. Can we men really claim to be entitled to all those jobs? Your argument amounts to saying ‘it’s a man’s job until a better woman comes along’. It isn’t. Men should have to compete with women for these jobs as they do with other men, and the least we can demand is that they compete on a level playing field. At the moment, it certainly isn’t level.

      Finally, as for your closing argument of “shut up” unless you want to recognise the inherent superiority of men, I won’t dignify that of a response. I trust you can do better.

      • M2N2K says:

        Your sense of humor needs improvement and your faulty logic needs fixing. If the current “system” did “not promote competent women”, then the five you named wouldn’t be where they are. And in the last paragraph of your long comment you shamelessly (or cluelessly?) distorted what Andrew said which is not the way to have an honest discussion.

      • Andrew R. Barnard says:

        If what you’re suggesting is that society needs to be trained to expect more female conductors, that wouldn’t be the job of the Concertgebouw.

        Furthermore, isn’t there a possibility that men are indeed more likely to want to conduct, or even more likely to be successful? Equality isn’t synonymous with parity.

  • John Borstlap says:

    My fly on the wall of the Concertgebouw tells me that female conductors are rather reluctant to perform in that hall because of the very long staircase to be mastered before and after the piece, and up and down again when long applaus demands reappearing. Long dresses create an especially cumbersome burden with this up and down exercise that women find very unbecoming and tiring. Also the little platform for the conductrice, positioned on an already high podium, offers ample opportunity for the listeners on the first row to look under her skirt, so it is just less comfortable for women to conduct there.

    • Emil says:

      And women cannot wear…trousers?
      I find that excuse to be somewhat ridiculous, and I would be very surprised that many women would decline concerts with perhaps the greatest orchestra in the world (or at least one of the very top) because they cannot find a pair of formal trousers.
      If, and I say *if*, the podium were sufficient to exclude any women from being able to (practically) conduct there, I should think the Concertgebouw needs to refit and rearrange their podium to allow women to conduct comfortably.

    • Bruce says:

      You forgot to include the difficulty of doing all this in high heels and even higher coiffure. (I presume you purposely avoided the indelicacy of mentioning that women also are bedridden for at least a week every month and unable to conduct.)

    • Steve P says:

      Just brilliant.