Orchestra management in Britain is such an old boys club

Orchestra management in Britain is such an old boys club


norman lebrecht

August 02, 2017

Looking at the current chiefs of British orchestras, one anomaly leaps off the screen.

All but one of them are men.

And none of them is young.

True, since the 2016 accounts were finalised, the Philharmonia has appointed Helen Sprott in place of the retiring Davd Whelton and the RPO replaced Maclay with James Williams, 36. But the rest of the team would fit comfortably in a rugby bath, singing the same rude songs.

Now, in an age of supposedly equal opportunity, why is that?


Any thoughts from the (male-run) Association of British Orchestras?


  • Lawrence Kershaw says:

    James Williams is 36; is that old, now? Because, if so, then I am ancient!!

    • norman lebrecht says:

      He’s the next year’s intake, post Maclay.

    • John Borstlap says:

      JW is too young to understand the predicaments of the orchestra in our times. (Source: based upon personal experience.)

      • Matilda says:

        James is a brilliant, hardworking and kind man. Any arts organisation is very lucky to have somebody with his integrity, passion and knowledge at it’s helm. Anybody who has worked with him knows that. Also the image of an old boys network is ridiculous with two of the major London orchestras now run by women.

  • Mark Pemberton says:

    Oi, not my fault I’m a bloke! Since the ABO re-constituted in 1984 and started having Directors, two have been women and two have been men. When I choose to retire, it’s quite possible a woman will take over. In the meantime, I shall celebrate the fact I have just reached the 10th anniversary of taking the helm at the ABO.

  • Mark Pemberton says:

    I now can’t get out of my head the unfortunate image of all the male orchestra CEOs sharing a bath….

  • Stephen Maddock says:

    Guilty as charged (though I have never shared a rugby bath with anyone..)
    In defence of the rest of the CBSO’s leadership: we have a female chair of the board, a female Music Director, and 4 of the 5 members of my Senior Management Team are women. I was appointed to the job when I was 30 and 4 of my 5 SMT are also in their thirties, as is the Music Director.

  • Michael Turner says:

    Aren’t you forgetting Kathryn MacDowell at the LSO Norman?

    • Thomas Tompkins says:

      NL is well known for not being a fan of the LSO. Too independent for his tastes!

      • norman lebrecht says:

        Really? Perhaps you should have a word with Gareth, its chairman.

        • Terry Baxter says:

          Yes, please do have a word with Gareth. About the esteem in which he and his colleagues hold Norman. And then post the transcript.

          • Thomas Tompkins says:

            I’d like to think the LSO are more concerned in earning a living, than dwelling on the musings of NL. But who knows what goes on anywhere in any musical organisation. One can only surmise….or dream!

  • John Borstlap says:

    The Turin Mandolin Orchestra has returned to its original composition of exclusive womanhood, including management and front door staff, and all restricted to the age limit of 35. For their international tours the ensemble is exclusively represented by the entirely female-populated Thunderbolt Limited music agency in Kensington, and while there are rumours that sometimes the players take a communal bath after particularly tiring tours, they have never been caught in doing so.

    • Sue says:

      That lack of gender and racial diversity is clearly unacceptable!!!

      • John Borstlap says:

        But one of the alto mandoline players has an aunt whose husband is gender / race diverse: he is half-Arabic and enjoys cross-dressing in his free time.

  • KT says:

    Sarah Alexander, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, should be in the Top Ten. NYOGB also has an all-female senior management and a female Chair of the board.

  • David Boxwell says:

    But which one of them would take the biscuit?

  • Gerontius says:

    Point taken about the lack of gender diversity at the top, but I can’t see why orchestra bosses need to be ‘young’. This is an incredibly demanding job, which requires – or is most going to benefit from – extensive experience. Stephen Maddock taking over the CBSO at the age of 30 was remarkable and exceptional. A campaign for youthful Chiefs of Police or Consultant Surgeons would make no sense, so why push for it with orchestras?

    • Halldor says:

      Not that ‘remarkable and exceptional’. His predecessor Ed Smith – the man who discovered Simon Rattle and got Symphony Hall and CBSO Centre built – started as the CBSO’s chief exec (athough they didn’t use that term then) at the age of 27. His achievement in that role has never been surpassed; in fact Smith is one of the most influential orchestral CEOs of the last half century (he went on to capture Dudamel for Gothenburg). Grey hairs aren’t obligatory.

  • Alan says:

    None of them are young

  • Sophie says:

    I am Chief Executive of Sinfonia Cymru with a female chairman and I’m an ABO Director. I am also female. Just throwing myself in there to try to make it look better but I admit that the lack of women as CEO’s in the orchestral sector continues to baffle me.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But the reason is clear: feminine sensitivity would mean different strategies and programming, and more musicality in the practice of running orchestras.