Kristine Opolais: For me, conductor means a man

Kristine Opolais: For me, conductor means a man


norman lebrecht

May 06, 2017

The international soprano, who is married to Boston maestro Andris Nelsons was taking part in an open conversation with members of the Berlin Philharmonic when the subject of women conductors came up.

Here’s what happened.

The topic starts at 26:17.


  • Olassus says:

    Hmm. Limited.

  • Anonymous says:

    Oh…My…God…and coming from a woman.

  • Edo Wals says:

    Kristine is absolutely spot on 100%, conducting is a absolutely destined as a male profession despite the increasing number of women wanting to do this profession. At the end of the day there is NO and there will NEVER BE a “great” woman conductor that ever exists in this planet. Let’s be honest here, which woman conductor has or had the charisma/ aura in the level of Furtwängler, Bernstein, Toscanini, Karajan, Giulini, Celibidache, Klemperer, Tennstedt, Reiner, Szell, Mravinsky, Carlos Kleiber…….to the present day Maestros Barenboim, Thielemann, Gergiev, Muti…………. and be able to achieve great artistic results that mankind can say “wow that is how an ideal Mahler or Bruckner performance should be” from a woman conductor………

    At best women conductors occupy 3rd, 4th tiers level of artistic excellence. A Wagner performance by Simone Young can never have the same greatness if we compare with what Barenboim, Thielemann, Levine can do……………………

    Greatness in the conducting world is purely reserved for male!! This is the real truth!!

    • John says:

      Hilarious. You’re kidding, right?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Founded on what? Tradition? But what if that tradition made sure that women never got into conducting at all? There are cultural traditions – in the wides sense – which are entirely constructed and based upon some kind of personal opinions based upon taste and bias, not on reality, and which became widely accepted, and widely followed, but which are nonetheless in themsevles not ‘natural’, like the ‘divine right of monarchs’ to wield power over society, or the idea that slavery is normal (which was accepted as normal for thousands of years and only began to ruffle some moral feathers by the end of the 18th century due to the Enlightenment). There have been female painters, and female writers – renaissance poet and author Vittoria Collonna, intimate friend of Michelangelo, was world famous and wildly popular in her time in spite of being a nun – and from the 19th century onwards female scientists appeared as well. And now there are also female musicologists, some of them going so far in their compensation drive that they discover mysoginy and rape fantasies in Beethoven symphonies, but these are abberations to which the male variety is as prone as any variety. The age-long taboo on homosexuality since the installment of monotheistic religions, with their totalitarian party lines, is another example of humanly-constructed alternative realities which have done lots of damage. So, why would the taboo on female conductors not be one of those culturally-defined taboos that are based upon pure fantasy? We know from psychological research that socially ‘unacceptable’ behavior or ideas are often internalized, creating an inner taboo and self-suppresion and self-censorship of ideas, talents, initiatives. For instance, I am sure that the absence of ‘great composers’ since Shostakovich and Britten, in spite of the proliferation of composers and accessibility of music education, availability of recordings, subsidies and support programmes for new music, is entirely due to the cultural climate of modern times which creates taboos, inner and outer barriers, inhibitions and emotional shame, not to speak of the practical pressures of modern life, that hinder any development of really great talents.

      So, it is conceivable that the absence of ‘great conducting females’ is nothing more than the result of human cultural constructs and not a matter of talent or disposition.

      By the way, the art of conducting is a very young one, and only accessible to people with a special combination of musical, mental, and emotional qualities. It is much too early to conclude that females can never reach the highest level.

    • Stuard Young says:

      Until Shestein, Hertropulos, or Fembadache comes along, you are correct. But when that conductor does, watch your postulates dissolve in a burst, as German Physics did with Einstein.

    • Michael Schlechtriem says:


    • Alexander Davidson says:

      I think that what you mean is that there has not yet been a female conductor of the first rank. Two factors are involved here: first, the number of people who can be described as truly great conductors is infinitesimally small compared with the total number of people who enter the profession; secondly, the career trajectory for a conductor is long, and the quality of true greatness is unlikely to become apparent with any certainty until quite late in his or her career. Until very recently it has been extremely difficult for a young woman to try to establish herself as a conductor. It therefore seems likely that we can predict with some confidence that, say, fifty years from now, men and women will be more or less equally represented at all levels of the conducting profession.

      It’s rather like the recent debate about the under-representation of women on the UK Supreme Court. The fact is that it takes a long time and a lot of experience for somebody to become a Supreme Court justice and, for reasons that are not the fault of the Supreme Court itself, it seems that there are genuinely not enough women sufficiently qualified to become Supreme Court justices. This is not because women lack the necessary talent to reach the very summit of the legal profession, but because various factors mean that, historically, not enough women have been called to the bar, not enough female barristers have taken silk, not enough female silks have been appointed to the High Court bench, not enough female High Court judges have been appointed to the Court of Appeal, and so on. However, given the gender ratio of young men and women now entering the legal profession, and given changes in society, I fully expect that within the next thirty to forty years (which is how long it will take for these changes to take effect right up to the level of the Supreme Court) there will be at least six women sitting in the Supreme Court.

      Returning to conductors, there is clearly no reason why a woman cannot be just as good a conductor as a man. There is no physiological difference between men and women that would have any impact on ability to conduct.

    • Brian says:

      Unfortunate that there still seems to be some neanderthal thinking on this topic (although Mr. Wals just seems to be trolling). Kristine Opolais on the other hand doesn’t seem like the sharpest knife in the drawer.

  • Sue says:

    The marketing jaunts of the BPO are beyond boring. Just shut and play, people!!

  • Alexander says:

    for singers the point is even not just a man, but not a mean man 😉 …. I witnessed once how a conductor drowned a singer ( male one) at the same moment he started his words , I could bet the conductor did it deliberately – so , to be a conductor means a lot 😉

  • Derek says:

    This is said as an “off the cuff” casual remark about her own personal experience.

    She says that her work with women conductors has been very limited and obviously, the Berlin players are also limited in their exposure to women conductors.

    Many orchestras are beginning to invite women conductors as guests, more frequently, and some are appointing women music directors. I believe this is gathering pace and soon it will not be unusual or seen as an issue.

    • M2N2K says:

      Not that “casual” actually: she raised the topic herself – no one asked her about it – so she clearly wanted to say what she said. As odd as her statement sounds, she at least deserves credit for expressing her opinion honestly and not trying to be “politically correct”.

      • Derek says:

        Point taken. I meant that she was not being dogmatic but expressing a personal preference, from her experience, and seeking other opinions.

        • M2N2K says:

          All of our opinions are based at least in part on our personal experiences. Oddly though, she felt confident enough about her opinion on this subject to consider it worthy of sharing publicly and promoting.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Absurd. It should not make an iota of difference in the quality of music making whether the creature at the podium is male or female. Time to get past this form of discrimination. God knows of too many lackadaisical performances from male conductors. Or at worst ruined.

  • Nick says:

    I gave up before the thoroughly nauseating introductions with the fake extended applause ended.

  • MacroV says:

    Sarah Willis was right: That’s going to be the headline. But overall it’s a good discussion.

  • herrera says:

    So painful to watch… You know in American studios, when they tape talk shows, there’s a staff member who holds up a big sign that says “Cheer” every time they want the audience to clap, well, that’s what these Berlin Phil musicians are desperately trying to do — generate excitement where there is none.

    So sad… 20 years of classical music training, dozens of auditions, decades of orchestral playing, and reduced to playing cheerleaders. I hope at least they got pay for it, otherwise it’s just plain exploitation.

    As for their comments on female conductors, don’t pander to the guest, she’s an idiot, just say so, believe, me, Opolais and Nelsons need the Berlin more than the Berlin needs them.

    • Sue says:

      Opolais and Nelsons suit the BPO like a fish does a bicycle. Since they are a “team” they should stick to institutions that do “team”. Speaking of ‘teams’ – there’s Rattle and Kozena, but you don’t hear him trying to patronize her career. Some of the O/N interviews have been cringeworthy.

  • Emil says:

    She is very probably right – for most people, the conductor is a “he.” And that is what is called structural sexism. Women don’t “look” like conductors because, well, social norms have defined it as a man’s job.

    But I await eagerly the “if women are competent they’ll get hired” crowd. Or, as Sir Humphrey put it in “Yes, Prime Minister,” “We need to be able to hire the best man for the job, regardless of sex.”

    • Bruce says:

      Doctor, lawyer, police officer and soldier used to be male-default professions as well. Things do change (though not for everyone, and not at the same time).

      • Emil says:

        Agree 100% – but that takes a change in social constructs, not just opening the door and saying “may the most talented win”; social perceptions and ingrained expectations matter.

        • Bruce says:


          My mother was a doctor. As a child (late 60’s/early 70’s), I would tell people my mother was a doctor and they would respond “Oh, you mean a nurse.” And I would have to explain that no, she was a female doctor. Looking back on that time, I like to think that each such experience helped to open people’s minds a little bit to the fact that women could be, and in fact were, doctors.

          Most likely there were lots of patients back in the day — male and female — who were uncomfortable being treated by a female doctor, or even refused. They still happen but they are rarer now, and are not considered an obstacle in hiring doctors, as in “we can’t hire you because all our patients would leave.” (My mother was an anesthesiologist in a children’s hospital, so her patients usually didn’t have much of an opinion on the matter.)

          The same thing is happening now with conductors.

          • Nik says:

            On the other hand, it is now still very common to refer to ‘nurses’ (meaning female nurses) and ‘male nurses’. The British press does this all the time, as in “Mr Smith works as a male nurse”.

          • Bruce says:

            Whichever sex got there first seems to get the adjective-free descriptor. The other gets the adjective; and then finally the adjective disappears.

            I remember reading, a long time ago, a scenario to test for gender bias. It went something like this:

            A father brings his young son into the emergency room at a hospital. The son has been in an accident and needs surgery immediately. The surgeon on call looks at the x-rays, sees the name and says “this boy is my son — I can’t operate on my own child!” But the boy’s father is the one who brought him into the hospital — how can the surgeon be claiming ‘this is my son’?” The answer, of course, is that the surgeon is the boy’s mother. The point is for you, the reader, to examine the thoughts you had as you tried to figure out the puzzle. (It might be out of date by now, but maybe not.)

  • Ellingtonia says:

    Having just received the BP programme for 2017/18 I note that there is only one female guest conductor (Susanna Malkki), so perhaps she is just reflecting the attitude and culture of the Berlin Philharmonic.

    • David Schneider says:

      The Berlin Philharmonic is still an orchestra that excels in discrimination against minorities and women, which is not surprising given their history during the Nazi regime and the overall right wing attitude of today’s German population.
      The same goes for the Vienna Philharmonic.
      Both orchestras should have been disbanded after the war and never allowed to play again under that name. In fact that should still be done today.
      Both are detestable organisations, and in my view not even true first rate orchestras when compared with the London orchestra scene ( give me the Royal Philharmonic any time over the BPO ) or many US groups.

      • Sue says:

        Completely wrong on all counts. Germany is not ‘right wing’ and the BPO is discriminating in that it wants the very best players in the world. And there are plenty of women in the orchestra.

        A significant number of the players in the BPO come from outside Germany so I don’t think they had anything to do with WW2. Come to think of it, neither did the current or previous generation. I doubt the English Sarah Willis would appreciate your comments and neither do I.

      • Craig says:

        RPO over Berlin? Hilarious.

    • Pedro says:

      Miss Mälkki is an excellent conductor. Yesterday, she conducted in Lisbon a superb concert which included one of the best performances of Tod und Verklärung I have heard live.

  • The View from America says:

    One word: Ick.

  • Bruce says:

    I expect at some point in her career she will end up working with more women. It will be interesting to see if her attitude changes with more experience.

  • James says:

    Lest we forget….

    a majority of voting American females chose a man for president over
    a woman, and not simply a run-of-the-mill politician, but the sick joke called Donald Trump. Now what CAN the attraction be?

    Naturally, both men and women reflect the attitudes and culture
    at large and apparently they are more alike, more in agreement than not.

    That is the problem.

    • Olassus says:

      Do your homework.

    • SVM says:

      James is conflating gender with politics. The fact is that Clinton’s politics and track-record — in particular, her disastrous foreign policy, as manifested most directly by the ruin she brought upon Libya as the ringleader for NATO intervention there — were so corrupt and stale that many American voters, quite rightly, perceived Trump as the lesser of two evils (although given his unprovoked and illegal attack on a Syrian airbase last month ostensibly in response to spurious allegations, it is only marginally a lesser evil). Unfortunately, most American voters lacked the imagination to look beyond the two main parties, despite the better options on offer (including, as it happened, a woman: Dr Jill Stein).

      As for conductors, they should be judged on their artistic insight, craft (not just stick-technique, but running rehearsals), and capacity to bring the best out of the performers playing/singing under them (I say “capacity” so as not to appear to judge a conductor adversely if his/her performers are prejudiced against him/her on non-artistic grounds). In my opinion, gender should not have a bearing on this, and we should refrain from lazy stereotyping, whether positive or negative.

      • James says:

        I meant to say a majority of WHITE women, who indeed went for Trump, and prehaps turned the tide in his favor.

        Female intuition anyone? To be had at marked-down prices! Male intuition bringing up the rear, as ever.

        White women, white male conductors, white orchestras….o tis a
        fearful symmetry that reigns in the US and Europe.

  • Alexander Davidson says:

    Ms Opolais demonstrates that just because somebody is a gifted artist it does not necessarily mean that he or she possesses extraordinary intellectual abilities. I first realised this many years ago when a violinist, whom I shall not name, told me that he had just made a recording of Arvo Pärt’s Summa. “I don’t know what it means”, he said. “I don’t know whether it’s like the English summer.” I realised, too, that it doesn’t matter if an artist doesn’t even understand the title of the work; all that he is required to do is to play it. Ms Opolais is a singer I very much admire. Her ideas about female conductors do not seem to me to be particularly intelligent, but she would doubtless think that my singing was pretty awful too.

  • luthier says:

    Well, she is a soprano…

  • Quincy Liu says:

    What’s wrong with this list, or is there anything wrong at all with this list of accompanists? Is any one, apart from myself, aware of the skewness, not only in days of yore, e.g., Schwarzkopf, Lugwig, von Stade, etc, but still very much going on, e.g., Kirchschlager, Walker, von Otter, etc.

    Fischer-Diskau, acc. Gerald Moore, Alfred Brendel, Jörg Demus, Murray Perahia, Margrit
    Weber, Karl Engel, Daniel Barenboim, Sviatoslav Richter, Klaus Billing, Hartmut Höll,
    Christoph Eschenbach
    Ian Bostridge, acc. Mitsuko Uchida, Graham Johnson
    Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, acc. Gerald Moore, Martin Isepp
    Margarret Price, acc. James Lockhart, Graham Johnson, Wolfgang Sawallisch
    Pilar Lorengar, acc. Alicia De Larrocha, Felix Lavilla
    Elly Ameling, acc. Rudolph Jansen, Dalton Baldwin, Jörg Demus, Irwin Gage
    Peter Schreier, acc. Norman Shetler, Walter Olbertz, András Schiff, Rudolph Dunckel
    Dorothea Roeschmann, acc. Mitsuko Uchida
    Mattias Goerne, acc. Alfred Brendel, Daniel Barenboim
    Christian Geherhar, acc. Helmut Deutsch, Gerald Huber
    Mauro Peter (who?), acc. Helmut Deutsch
    Wolfgang Holzmair, acc. Geoffrey Parson
    Jessye Norman, acc. Dalton Baldwin, Geoffrey Parson
    Angelika Kirchschlager, acc. Helmut Deutsch, Roger Vignoles, Graham Johnson, Anthony Spiri
    Sandrine Piau, acc Roger Vignoles
    Frederike von Stade, acc. Martin Katz
    Christa Lugwig, acc. Geoffrey Parson
    Fritz Wunderlich, acc. Hubert Giesen, Kurt Heinz Stolzer
    Han Hotter, acc. Geral Moore, Martin Isepp
    Joan Rodger, acc. Roger Vignoles
    Elisabeth Söderström, acc. James Shomate, George Malloy, Paul Hamburger
    Janet Baker, acc. Geral Moore, Paul Hamburger, Martin Isepp
    Gundula Janowitz, acc. Irwin Gage, Charles Spencer
    Robert Holl, acc. Naum Grubert
    John Shirley-Quirk, acc. Steuart Bedford
    Arleen Augér, acc. Walter Olbertz
    Sarah Walker, acc. Roger Vignoles
    Jussi Björling, acc. Harry Ebert
    Carolyn Sampson, acc. Joseph Middleton
    Werner Güra, acc. Christoph Berner
    Gerard Souzay, acc. James Shomate
    Ann Sofie von Otter, acc. Roger Vignoles
    James Gilchrist, acc. Anna Tilbrook
    Barbara Bonney, acc. Andre Previn
    Jennifer Larmore, acc. Antoine Palloc

    You can easily find more- just go to the Lieder section of any CD shop.


    • Olassus says:

      You’re right! Other than Mitsuko, it’s a man’s world.

      This is especially odd given the number of fine women solo and rehearsal pianists.

      • M2N2K says:

        There are at least three more highly accomplished females on this list, besides Mitsuko Uchida: how could you miss Alicia de Larrocha, Anna Tilbrook and Margrit Weber?!

        • Olassus says:

          Scanning too fast and w/o due care and attention. Sorry officer.

          • M2N2K says:

            Since this is your first offense that I am aware of and since you have expressed remorse and correctly identified your faults, I can now allow you to be released with just a warning.

    • Bruce says:

      Interesting. I’d never given it much thought.

      Had to chuckle at the notion of a “CD shop” anymore, let alone one with a “lieder section.”

      • Quincy Liu says:

        Bruce, there is a nice CD shop inside the Berlin Philharmonie, and there is definitely a Lieder section. Ditto inside the Deutsche Oper Berlin. I browse them often. We are quite civilized, still.

    • Quincy Liu says:

      It’s stating the obvious that the accompanists list is 99.9% dominated by males. This state of affair occurred to me about a decade ago and I have been trying, usually by asking professional singers of both sexes, to get at an explanation.

      This blog, and this thread, is full all sensitive souls re gender inequality. They are never shy about giving their snarky, withering, full-throated rage about the institutions and persons who allowed and still allow this to happen. Here I am looking at you gentle folks who just gave your $64 worth of your wisdom in this thread. I paraphrase/translate and summarise:

      (1) paraphrasing Edo Wal, greatness in accompanying is reserved for the males. This list confirms that insightful idea.

      (2) John Borstlap, culture dictates that accompanists should be men. What cultural policemen were/are strong arming Schwarzkopf, Ludwig, von Stade, Jessye Norman, Soederstrom, Margaret Price, Elly Ameling, Kirchschlager, Pilar Lorengar, Sandrine Piau, Joan Rodgers, Janet Baker, Gundula Janowitz, Arleen Auge’r, Sarah Walker, Carolyn Sampson, Anne Sofie von Otter, Jennifer Larmour, and Barbara Bonney to pick a male accompanist?? Gentle folks, if it escaped your notice, this list is a list of women singers.

      (3) Alexander Davidson, the ranks of women accompanists is too thin. This is contradicted by the fact that in the opera houses, more than half of the singing coach (they play pianos too) are women. Why are household names women pianists only Uchida and De Larrocha are to be found? Are there more? How many more? DeLarrocha accompanied Pilar Lorengar because the latter sang Spanish songs.

      (4) Brian’s insight that Opolai is full of neantherthal thinking and is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Eh, she is in the company of the above list of dumb ones who picked/pick male accompanists, i.e. 99.9% of woman Lieder singer were/are neantherthal like and very very dull knives!

      (5) Derek’s insight: too little exposure to men conductors. Translated into this context, women Lieder singers have not been exposed to women accompanists. Not true, see (4) above. All singers were once students in the conservatories. In every of these institutions, there are students recitals every week, every semester, and every graduation exam in which the accompanists are their fellow students, males and females.

      (6) Alexander, again. Male conductors drowned out the singers (male and female) deliberately. That is, the Lieder singers, male or female are masochists who keep picking again and again male accompanists.

      (7) Ungeheuer is right. Quality should be the first priority and not gender. But I just like an explanation of why this is not happening in Lieder recitals.

      (8) Herrera must conclude that the above list of women Lieder singers are idiots just like Opolais.

      (9) Emil thinks structural sexism is in play. Men look like accompanists while women don’t. Again contradicted by (4).

      (10) Alexander Davidson again, about intellectual abilities of singers. 99.9% of women Lieder singers pick male accompanists. What intellect drives them to make such a decision.

      It is obvious that I don’t think the reasons (1) to (10) I summarised above are remotely adequate to explain the overwhelming skewness of male accompanists over the other sex. I just like an explanation that is convincing. The usual suspects on this blog always have their opinions on gender issues in music. Gentle folks, are you stumped? And, why are you giving the above list of women Lieder singers free passes instead of targeting them with your withering barbs?

      The crux of the matter should be simpler than that of a male/female conductor because after all no institutions are involved, only the singer herself pick the accompanist. What has driven the 99.9% of women singer to make the skew decisions that we can plainly see. From my years long interest and asking around, the following empirical picture seems to have come into view. Fresh from conservatories, the choice of accompanists is pretty gender neutral. But as success comes and star power increases, the male accompanists are preferred. Why??

      There are professional singers who follow this blog, e.g., I have seen Joyce DeDonato’s contribution. C’mon, dear singers! Let me into your decision making. Better still, I challenge everyone of you to reveal the criteria of your decision makings with regards to an accompanist.

      Re the cuteness Bruce found in my mentioning a CD shop, how about someone checking up the recital programs of Wigmore Hall in the coming season. I don’t need to look. 99% of the accompanists are men, give or take 0.5 %.

      • M2N2K says:

        Your math is faulty. Your list includes 45 pianists of which 4 are women: Uchida, de Larrocha, Weber, Tilbrook. That is almost 9% and therefore 91% are men, not 99 or even 99.9 as you are claiming.
        As for female singers apparently preferring male pianists as their accompanists, I think I have an idea about one of the main reasons for it. Relationship between a singer and her accompanist is rather complicated because a singer needs a musician who would be her guide and coach during rehearsal process, but at the same time someone who would not mind having a distant second billing and being not a leader but a follower in performances. For such a tricky kind of relationship, most women feel more comfortable with a man than with a woman because the sense of rivalry between two women is usually more intense and therefore is more likely to create a distraction from music making than it is between a man and a woman.
        In order to limit the damage from inevitable accusations of sexism, I will let you figure out for yourself why male singers might prefer male pianists as well.

      • Derek says:

        Maybe it is not the singer alone who chooses the accompanist.

        Do recording companies, agents and marketing influence the choice to have a specific “Name” on the recording or for contract reasons etc?

      • Quincy Liu says:

        M2N2K, from my asking around in the last years, my empirical info collecting actually supports your surmise. In the same vein but put it differently, so much preparations go into making the singer’s public appearance as perfect as possible, a woman singer will not feel comfortable to risk the chance that a woman accompanist distracts the public attention from her the performer, be it a little nicer gown, a tad better hairdo, fetching lipstick, impressive stiletto, etc etc. All sexism practised by the fairer sex. It seems to me Yuja Wang can never be an accompanist.

        A very impressive but perhaps politically incorrect response from a woman singer active in the opera house said to me that she prefers a male accompanist because she likes the erotic tension.

        Our surmise may probably be true but that just begs the questions:

        (1) The silence from all the gender equality police on this blog is deafening.

        (2) The singers who read this blog are keeping mum. They are the ones that can reveal the reason why.

        Both are indication of something. But what?

        By the way, 99% or 90% does not change the big picture of the skewness of the statistics. Men and women singers counted together, the % is much closer to 99%

        • M2N2K says:

          Your long list includes both male and female singers, so the percentage of male accompanists for singers of both sexes – on your list, that is – is 91, not 99 at all.
          As for Yuja Wang, she is already collaborating quite well with Leonidas Kavakos, so if and when she becomes interested in vocal music, she may actually develop into a very good accompanist as well, at least for a particularly fine male singer or two…

        • HSY says:

          “It seems to me Yuja Wang can never be an accompanist.” Not for a female vocalist, perhaps, though I’m not convinced by your empirical info. But Wang has collaborated with Matthias Goerne on Brahms Die Schöne Magelone last year, and it turned out well.

      • Bruce says:

        My goodness. Someone had a lot of free time today 🙂

        Anyway, just to throw a wrench into the works: I had a student once who, after travelling some distance to play in a competition with an accompanist that she’d arranged with over the phone and only met with for a short rehearsal before the performance, told her mother: “OMG, Mom. That woman was crazy. From now on, I am only working with gay men.” And so far (without my asking personal questions of every accompanist), that is what she’s done.

        I (gay male) always felt most comfortable rehearsing & performing with female pianists. I have always thought it was more of a mind-to-mind and heart-to-heart connection, though, and not really anything to do with sex, or sexual orientation, or gender.

        • M2N2K says:

          You do realize I hope that the statements you made in your two last sentences contradict each other rather strongly.

          • Bruce says:

            I should have said that I always thought of that as a coincidence. I’ve never gone out looking for a female pianist especially; it just always seemed that the ones who worked out the best were female. There were a couple of males where things clicked really well, though, and no shortage of females where things did not go well; so really it was probably more a question of compatibility & a match of temperaments than sex per se.

          • M2N2K says:

            If it is true that you have “never gone out looking for a female pianist especially; it just always seemed that the ones who worked out the best were female”, then this shows even more clearly than before that most likely their sex did have something to do with it.

      • Quincy Liu says:

        M2N2K, as a statistician and wag lamented, statistics are too often abused like a drunk does with a lamp post, for giving a false sense of uprightness but not for illumination. My list, arbitrary as it was, was for illuminating a large point about sexism (definitely not meant to be pejorative) practised by the Lieder singers of the fairer sex. The arbitrariness means everything to the whatever statistical number one extracts from it. I could have dropped the 3 Lieder singers that had female accompanists and I would have an eye-popping 100% statistics- but that is just winning a cheap debating point. Or I could have extended the list backward in history as well as including many names that I didn’t bother to research- how about Leontyne Price, Renee Fleming, Marilynn Horne, Thomas Hampson, Christiane Karg, Samuel Ramey, Jose van Damm, Marti Telvela, Geraint Evans, Felicity Lott, Josephine Barstow, Gwyneth Jones, Brigitte Fassbender, Edith Mathis, Johann Thomas Meyer, Michael Volle, Montserat Caballe, Regina Crespin, Barbara Hendricks, Susan Graham, Diana Damrau, Cecilia Bartoli, …, just a few names that came to me this very minute. The statistics can be arbitrarily changed depends on how long the list is, but not significantly the skewness. My point, as if one has to be pedantic about it, is that even with any further research, adding these new names to the list will not affect the skewness at all.

        I have nothing further to contribute, but, perhaps waving aside the heat about statistics, a focus on the light that has shone on the subject:

        (1) Sexism practised by the choice of Lieder recital accompanists is not a subject of criticism of the practitioners, that they are neanderthal, idiots, very dull knives, limited intellect, …..

        (2) The choices are dependent on extra-musical factors that I assume are different for different Lieder singers.

        I am convinced that these two points have legs, i.e., X years from now, fill in your favourite number for X, the skewness will still be there for all to see.

        • M2N2K says:

          There is definitely considerable “skewness” on this issue. Manipulating the list in order to show a desired result would’ve been dishonest and I am glad that you did not do that. But I simply felt compelled to point out that your numbers did not correspond to your own sampling. As for your conclusions, they look reasonable to me except for the very last one: in this case I don’t have your level of certainty that the facts of the past will simply be duplicated in the future with utmost precision and without any significant changes.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    Ugh. Embarrassing. Gross. The women’s comments are worse than the men’s. As if Opolais’ comments aren’t from a Neanderthal era, Sarah Willis keeps referring to girls, girls, girls, as if she’s 14 years old.

    Come into the second half of the 20th century, you two.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      Neither of these females appear to be the sharpest tools in the shed; Willis or Opolais, unlike the males on either side of them. In short, it’s not just the comments about women conductors which let down the fairer sex on this occasion. If Sarah would stop gushing for 5 minutes we might think she’s actually smarter than she appears.

    • Bruce says:

      Actually a lot of women use “girls” as a term of power — similar to any group that appropriates a derogatory term for its own use.

  • adrienne L sirken says:

    As is often the case: the most vocal sexists in this world are the women: a shallow, mindless, stereotypically Barbie-doll, “stupid soprano”, and a chatter-about-nothing stereotype of a repressed, silly, British woman speaking as if she is a 14-year old school girl, just barely stepping out of her uniform to lead us all in rounds of fake applause and mindless questions posed to great musicians. The Berlin Phil insults their listeners and the music they are privileged to perform with this kind of thoughtless chatter. It doesn’t bring ANYONE closer to wanting to hear anything the orchestra plays. It is unfortunate that the orchestra leadership does not include people who can distinguish between the traditions like deep training in artistic excellence which SHOULD be preserved, and cultural norms based upon irrational, sexist norms, which have been harmful to half the human population throughout history, which should NOT be preserved. Women have been denied the opportunity to practice conducting until very recently, and in very few places. Clearly, the Berlin Phil. is one of the places where they are still forbidden given that all the players have had virtually no experience playing under anyone female. As the concertmaster so correctly said: there is absolutely no difference whatsoever in a performance because the music is gender blind. The ability of a conductor to do the job superbly has never been based upon their gender.

    • Ernest Low says:


    • John Borstlap says:

      ‘Music is gender blind’. But musicologist Susan McClary has found that the irritation found in Beethoven’s symphony nr 9, 1st movement, is an expression of the composer’s frustration that there were not enough women around.

      • Peter says:

        There are never enough women around, and always too many. It’s the eternal oxymoron.
        Beethoven just had no idea.

        • adrienne L sirken says:

          We can never know how Beethoven’s feelings about women play out in the repetition of motifs or any other detail in the music. We do know, however, that he had plenty of subjects about which he was highly irritable: his hearing loss had to have been at the top of this list. How could a music scholar show actual persuasive evidence that any particular “irritation motif” was about women and not the irritating men who were his publishers, or the irritating doctors who could not cure his disability, or or or ??? I hear no evidence in Beethoven of his irritations over women… I can easily imagine that Beethoven would have welcomed the outrageously unconventional image of a woman conducting, if she was good…

          • Peter says:

            the falling fifth. it’s an introvert direction of expression. thus female. (all nonsense of course, but we have seen worse from bored eunuchs… errr… musicologists)

          • John Borstlap says:

            There is a female (or feminine) cadence in the string quartet opus 130, 1st movement bars 7 – 8, spread over 2 bars, that irritated musicologists at the end of the 19th century quite a lot because of showing an unmanly structural weakness. Recent feminist ‘new musicology’ however, could deduct from this passage that Beethoven here suppressed eudipal contempt for overbrearing mother figures in F major, being the dominant of B flat, the key of the movement.


  • Peter says:

    Much ado about nothing, but we can thank the two ladies in this clip to surface one of the most supressed realities, why women can have a hard time being accepted in historically male dominated fields: OTHER WOMEN…

    In my experience, these comments are quite TYPICAL for women in the orchestra and opera world.

    Also, at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves, given real equal opportunities to the genders, do we really want to see all professional fields to be occupied to a strict 50/50 gender quota? That would be pure ideology and denying reality.

    • John Borstlap says:

      As we know, the Torino Mandoline Orchestra went down exactly as a result of wanting to comply with modern gender equality opinions. Women were just better mandolinists and had longer nails.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    Female and male will ever be different. It’s fundamental, and so is conducting and other kinds of leadership. Women who enter conducting to prove a point will never reach the top, but one may come along who has no choice but to be one of the greatest, but it won’t be because she’s a woman. If anything, it will be in spite of it. Women dislike being led by a woman even more than men do.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Sallly here entirely agrees. Formerly she worked for the well-known female composer [redacted] who forced her to work-out her scores on the computer, which she could not be bothered to do herself since it intervened with the cultivation of her nails. But [redacted] never found-out that most of the dissonances in her music were actually Sally’s, put in as revenge modernism.