Conductor vacancy: Only minorities need apply

Conductor vacancy: Only minorities need apply


norman lebrecht

June 17, 2018

The Buffalo Philharmonic is advertising for an Assistant Conductor, Community Engagement to provide professional services for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and function as a key member of the artistic team.

So far, so good.

The successful candidate must have a thorough knowledge of orchestral repertoire, conducting experience, a commitment to equity, inclusion and diversity in the arts, command of the English language and the interest and ability to expand and build connections for the BPO within the Greater Buffalo community.

Seems ok.

This position aims to create a significant work experience for a qualified musician of, but not limited to, African-American or Latinx descent.

Interesting. Probably just about legal.



  • Alexander says:

    the white settlers have the right to sue for discrimination , it’s all not about inequality at the end … I was so naive to think it’s all should be about professionalism first 😉

  • db says:

    Clickbait again. “But not limited to” means exactly the contrary of your headline.

    • Alexander says:

      why should they mention it then ? should one mention in one’s speech ( address) that one’s words “not limeted to” women, men, kids, black, disable persons only etc … or just try to concentrate on professional/one’s needs, intentions, wishes
      I’m a bit perplexed with that game of false politcorrect thorns

      • db says:

        Seems to me like just a variant of the ubiquitous (here in Europe at least) “women, disabled people and minorities are specifically invited to apply” – sorry for the blunt phrasing. It means nothing more than “we are conscious of the gender/ethnic/etc disbalance within our profession”. It does not oblige them to anything.

      • Bruce says:

        As somebody says below, it’s most likely simply to encourage people of black/Latin heritage that it’s worthwhile applying & that they won’t be rejected because of their ethnicity.

        It’s worth noting, too, that this looks like a new position: they have a Pops Conductor, and a “Resident Conductor” (which with my orchestra, at least, means conducting classical concerts that are mostly not part of the main subscription series but also not the community outreach concerts). It looks like they would not be averse to finding someone who looks more like the “community” to help get the “community” interested.

        You didn’t say this, but it does not look like they are taking away a job from a white conductor (or filling a vacancy left by a white person) to give it to someone non-white.

    • John Rook says:

      Looks like they added that to stay on the right side of the law.

      • Alexander says:

        a bit of hypocritical then , just my opinion of course … if that goes far it has a risk to become a sad euphemism later on ….

    • V.Lind says:

      Exactly right. The headline is SPECIFICALLY wrong.

      This position is for “Assistant Conductor, Community Engagement,” an odd role, I would have thought, for a conductor — but a conductor they obviously want. The professional qualifications they state are serious ones. They need someone who can take concerts as required, including in emergencies to the Principal Conductor, but the nub of the role is clearly this: “the interest and ability to expand and build connections for the BPO within the Greater Buffalo community.”

      That smacks to me of ‘get out into the ethnic neighbourhoods and find ways to attract their communities to our hall.’ The BPO appears to think this would come better from a black or Latin face. They may also think someone from such a community, whether from Buffalo or elsewhere, would have appropriate ideas for ways to attract this under-represented community to the concerts. Certain activities are specified in the ad, with this being key: “Participate as a member the BPO Diversity Council and seek to advance its goals and to build and expand African American Cultural Center, Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY and others.”

  • John Borstlap says:

    Every single conductor is a minority.

  • Derek says:

    Taking a positive view, simply they want to encourage those that may be thinking – “I won’t apply because they are unlikely to appoint someone of my ethnicity”.

    It could bring forward a worthy candidate but they will have to be good enough to be offered the position.

    • Bruce says:

      “It could bring forward a worthy candidate but they will have to be good enough to be offered the position.”

      NO! It’s perfectly clear (in some people’s minds at least) that if they are willing to accept a non-white person, then that means they are willing to accept a substandard person.


  • barry guerrero says:

    Is “Latinx” a cross between Latino and ‘generation X’?

    Too close to “Latex” for comfort.

  • barry guerrero says:

    “Shuffle off to Buffalo”

  • Caravaggio says:

    Not good and clumsily written. The requirement strikes me as against the law or close. And they omitted a bunch of other minority groups, e.g. Asians, etc.

    “This position aims to create a significant work experience for a qualified musician of, but not limited to, African-American or Latinx [sic] descent.”

    They should have left it at

    “This position aims to create a significant work experience for a qualified musician.”

  • Feeding on White Fragility says:

    I love reading comments from white Europeans who have no understanding of the structure of American institutional racism, and why this is necessary.

    Perhaps, show off your “superior” selves and Google topics on these issues before you hit reply.

    • Ellingtonia says:

      I love reading comments from non white Americans who have no understanding of European culture or society and make sweeping generic assumptions about these communities. Here we have the “victim” mentality at work again and evidence of inherent inverse racism, grow up and get on with life. What they are attempting is a kind of positive discrimination dressed up as positive action, and as we know here in the UK, one is lawful and the other is not! You may also like to Google European culture to acquaint yourself with something you seem to know nothing about.

      • Sue says:

        Brilliant. Nobody will ever win in the loathsome identity politics game, and they have the jackboots to prove it. We live in the ugliest of times post WW2.

    • barry guerrero says:

      I love to read all stupid replies, including my own (and in regards to that, I’m truly a minority).

    • Pianofortissimo says:


  • Ken says:

    This orchestra has the right, and will presumably exercise that right to hire who they think is qualified for a new position they created for what seems to be a positive cause.

    The job post is poorly written, without question. But, I reserve my ire for truly heinous attacks on humanity, such as ripping children from their families.

    Perhaps we’ll welcome an opera, song cycle or symphonic work one day soon that addresses this atrocity.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    If you are like most people, you a member of some minority.

  • Rob B. says:

    Can they conduct? Can they communicate with the musicians? Do they know music? Those are the qualifications. As for race they can be a chimpanzee for all I care, as long as you can slap a Mahler symphony or Rachmaninoff concerto score in front of them and they know what to do with it. PC has no place in a great orchestra. It’s about the music.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      The chimp will do the smart thing: eat the score and begin conducting anyway.

      • John Borstlap says:

        My uncle Barthold had a monkey who painted, and he sold the canvasses to a gallery under his own name. When the money died, he tried to imitate its paintings but failed and was sued for deceit. The monkey could not play music but had a clear preference for Stravinsky’s Pribaoutki. But I still don’t believe in evolution.


  • Hudson Valley Professor says:

    I can understand some of the reactions here, because of the way sensitivities are heightened today. But here is my take on the intent (although I don’t have any verification of this). Orchestras are urban organizations. If you have been to Buffalo recently, you know that the city population is of greater percentage black and Latin that it is white European. If this orchestra is looking for a conductor with civic outreach, particularly to the schools and community, I think it is perfectly within their right to hire a conductor who they feel will best appeal to these demographics. Of course, they didn’t need to announce their intended bias, but better that they be honest about it, in the hopes that the best African American and Latino/a American conductors will apply for the position, and not assume that they are likely to be disqualified in the first round, which indeed does happen in some artistic organizations. Probably it would have been better if they would have elaborated a little more as to their hopes and expectations, especially as these are worthy goals. Still, I think it’s fairly easy to read between the lines.

    • Ellingtonia says:

      So, following your logic, if the predominant population that an orchestra serves is white, only white candidates will be considered as to quote you ” I think it is perfectly within their right to hire a conductor who they feel will best appeal to these demographics”. I note you term yourself “The Hudson Valley Professor”………..I really think you should get out a little more from your academic cloisters!

    • Robert K says:


    • Hudson Valley Professor says:

      I really do try to get out from my academic cloisters, where I would be the first to agree that viewpoints are sheltered. One of the advantages of posting comments on a forum like this is reading informed responses and learning from them. For example, it was helpful to read the responder who quoted the wording of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • Clarinet Player says:

    I’ve done a lot of work for inclusion and diversity in orchestras and truly believe in the cause. But I find this troubling, and not because it’s “too PC” or “reverse racism.”

    Yes, it’s a clumsy job posting with good intentions. But the bigger problem is that it demonstrates a shocking lack of thought from a committee that, no doubt, spent a considerable amount of time drafting the language. For one thing, it’s certainly in violation of EEOC regulations, the odd, vague “including, but not limited to” notwithstanding.

    But more problematic, it shows a deplorable lack of imagination on the part of that committee, not to mention failure to do basic homework on best practices in inclusion. That posting fails to imagine an Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, or yes, even, Caucasian, candidate with a great track record on diversity and community engagement. Or a Native American candidate, or a non-US applicant of African descent, or a disabled person of any race. The list could go on.

    It fails to consider that, in a pool screened (possibly self-screened, given the nature of the post) more heavily on race than on match for the job, they may end up with a fair amount of candidates who are as awkward in front of a group of screaming school kids as they would if they selected candidates at random. It’s a little cringe-worthy for a hiring committee to assume that a candidate will connect with an ‘urban’ audience simply because s/he is non-white. It also fails to consider that they’re putting black and Latino/a applicants in a complicated and uncomfortable position of having their own qualifications undermined by the nature of the posting.

    And if representation is so important to the BPO, why not encourage women to apply, as well? Yes, a large portion of the audiences that this position reaches will be non-white – but they will also be at least half female. Why doesn’t that matter? Or is the BPO tacitly acknowledging that they “already have a woman” in Joann Falletta?

    Any reasonable person would say, ‘Of course that’s not what they’re saying. They’re trying to do something positive, and they didn’t think.’ But isn’t that the point? That we can reasonably assume that six to eight people affiliated with a major American orchestra sat around a conference room and drafted public language about the use of race in a hiring decision, and… didn’t think? And we wonder why orchestras are so laughably out-of-touch with the rest of the world?

    If the BPO (or any orchestra) is serious about diversity, there are better ways to do it. Putting some anti-bias policies into practice – which can involve everything from removing names from resumes to simply reminding your hiring committee to be aware of their own potential for bias – would be a start. If they want to be a out-front on the issue, hire an anti-bias consultant, get the League to study it (or pay for it!), come up with some best practices for hiring conductors and administrators that can be shared with other orchestras. Maybe even ask if there’s potential for bias to creep into musician auditions once the screen comes down in the last round. Then they might get the results their looking for – an inclusive, representative staff – organically, without resorting to tokenism.

    Or they might not – I’m the last one to say that a League study is going to solve any of the world’s problems. But it would be better than something as thoughtless and ham-fisted as that post. They’ve created The Worst of All Possible Worlds in diversity work – undercutting minority candidates, feeding white resentment, and managing to reduce their candidates to race.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      I think I largely agree with you. If I had written it I would have written something on the lines:

      “The Greater Buffalo area has a substantial Black and Latino/a community. The successful applicant will need to explain why they are suitable for outreach to this community.”

      Invite the candidate to explain, and you might even get something you hadn’t thought about.

  • Todger says:

    Buffalo Philharmonic? LOL, they have loads of daft orchestras in US, none world class. Berlin or Wiener Phiharmoniker now yer suppin Diesel

  • Patrick says:

    Lost me at “Latinx”. Sorry, it’s not a word.

  • Fred says:


    Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of race and color as well as national origin, sex, or religion.

    It is unlawful to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race or color in regard to hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment. Title VII also prohibits employment decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions about abilities, traits, or the performance of individuals of certain racial groups.

    Job requirements must be uniformly and consistently applied to persons of all races and colors. Even if a job requirement is applied consistently, if it is not important for job performance or business needs, the requirement may be found unlawful if it excludes persons of a certain racial group or color significantly more than others. Examples of potentially unlawful practices include: (1) soliciting applications only from sources in which all or most potential workers are of the same race or color; (2) requiring applicants to have a certain educational background that is not important for job performance or business needs; (3) testing applicants for knowledge, skills or abilities that are not important for job performance or business needs.

  • Bylle Binder says:

    I just feel remembered to an online magazine I did once. Two members of the team were always joking around that they would fulfill all demands for diversity. One of them was gay and blind, the other was bisexual and a Jew. They always said our next candidate should be a black lesbian woman in a wheel chair. 😉

  • SVM says:

    If I had been from one of those particular ethnic minorities listed, I would have found the wording patronising above all else — I read the implicit attitude thereof as being “we are doing you a big favour, and you do not really deserve this, but we need to be seen to be doing something for the so-called community”.

    Racial inequality is undoubtedly a huge issue in some societies (I cannot comment on Buffalo specifically), but positive discrimination is a crude and superficial sophism, not a sustainable solution. Furthermore, it is a fallacy to categorise privilege primarily in terms of ethnicity: privilege comes in many shapes and forms, and even the most underrepresented ethnicities will have a privileged élite (howsoever defined) who have more in common with the privileged élites of other ethnicities than with others of their own ethnicity. Finally, it is *not* necessary for a so-called “rolemodel” to be of the same ethnicity/gender/sexuality/&c. as the people who are supposed to look up to him/her.