BBC’s women power list is as narrow as it gets

BBC’s women power list is as narrow as it gets


norman lebrecht

September 28, 2018

The presence of Jessica Duchen on the jury choosing BBC Woman’s Hour 2o18 power list has yielded a disproportionate representation of classical women among the all-powerful.

But Jessica’s choices are London-centric and myopic to a fault. A payroll editor on BBC Radio 3 is powerful? Two token women composers (if two, why not ten)? The head of one London orchestra, but not another? An American conductor who holds no post in the UK? And only Nicki Benedetti from outside London. Come on…

You can peruse the peculiar BBC list here.

Here’s the Slippedisc powerlist on UK classical women 2018:

1 Wasfi Kani, founder Grange Park Opera

2 Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, music director CBSO

3 Dame Sarah Connolly, diva

4 Xian Zhang, conductor BBC National Orchestra of Wales

5 Rebecca Allen, head of Decca

6 Kathryn McDowell, CEO LSO

7 Helen Sprott, CEO Philharmonia Orch

8 Sandra Parr, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

9 Fiona Maddocks, Somerset, critic

10 Jan Younghusband, head of classical music BBC-TV

11 Chi-chi Nwanoku, diversity campaigner

12 Roxanna Panufnik, composer

13 Natalya Romaniw, Cardiff, rising diva

14 Helen Grime, York, composer

15 Rachel Podger, south Wales, early music activist

16 Kathryn Enticott, Horsham, agent

17 Aliye Cornish, Oxfordshire, anti-Brexit campaigner

18 Lorna Aizlewood, agency CEO

19 Gillian Moore, South Bank booker

20 Lauren Zhang, Birmingham, BBC Young Musician 2018

More representative, more diverse, more regional than the BBC.


  • Meaux Feaux says:

    Quickly! NL reckons everyone needs to get really angry about this! No time to explain! Just grab a pitchfork and start yelling!

  • Deaux Meaux says:

    Rachel Podger? Really? Talk about a joke.

  • Lisztomania says:

    The real shock in NL’s list is that Mirga is at #2 (and not #1) … Really, Norman, how could you?!

  • Mike Aldren says:

    Despite not winning the young musician of the year, I would have thought that Jess Gillam is far more influential than Lauren Zhang who so far has really done no more than win the award, an achievement matched by several other young women.

  • Jessica Duchen says:

    Hi Norman,
    — I like your alternatives. Sorry if you don’t like ours. Five are the same; and several more of yours were on our long list, but ended up on the cutting-room floor, albeit with much regret. Incidentally so did some who are not on your list either and are also not London-based.
    — We had 40 places covering every genre of music. Go figure, as they say.
    — We had a panel of 4 judges, so I definitely can’t take all the credit.
    — If we’d included another head of a London orchestra, that would have been quite London-centric too, no??
    — That section of Radio 3 is based in Salford.
    — The brief was to compile a “power list” – i.e., looking at the degree of power and influence wielded by these individuals in the music industry, across the board, all genres. That would automatically excise several people from your list who are wonderful artists/composers, but do not wield the requisite reins of power. From the classical angle I can’t imagine the list without any of the people we did include – and I think my fellow judges would all join me in saying we totally stand by the decisions, even if we wish the list could have been three times as long.
    — Hope that helps.

    • Don Pasquale says:

      It’s always interesting when Norman rides one of his stable of betes noir. You are right to reply but the interesting point is all music criticism and comment in UK is massively London centric

    • Southern Gal (@sogalitno) says:

      Classy response as expected from JD! Brava

  • John Rook says:

    Isn’t N°11 that double bassist who wants a black-only orchestra or something like that?

  • John Rook says:

    BTW: ‘Early music activist’ sounds rather subversive, like a militant, melomaniacal vegan.

  • Thomas Eisner says:

    Norman Lebrecht,

    How dare you insult my wife (Jessica Duchen) in that cheap despicable way; if this had been the 19th. century, I would have challenged you to a dual.
    In the absence of that particular modus operandi, I demand at least, an immediate apology.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Hard as it may be for you, Tom Eisner, try to be a rational human being.

    • Simon Scott says:

      Duels. Tom,I presume that you are referring to fencing Duels? If so,congratulations! You are in very noble company: Giuseppe Tartini,Le Chevalier de Saint Georges and Giovanni Giornovichi aka Ivan Jarnovic. Three great violinists who were also ace fencers. Well,if you can’t beat them……

  • Alex Davies says:

    It seems a bit odd to describe Chi-chi Nwanoku as a diversity campaigner with no reference to the fact that she is also a double bassist. Indeed, surely she is first and foremost a double bassist.

    • John Rook says:

      Certainly, but who cares about the music? Identity politics must come first.

      • Anon says:

        Well said Sir.

      • Robert Groen says:

        Agreed, John. There are people on this unneccesary list who shouldn’t be there, like the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year 2018. She may be a fine musician, but how does that make her powerful? It would be a better discussion if we substituted the word “powerful” with “influential” or “successful” or maybe just “highly accomplished”. If we did that, there might be fewer activists, campaigners and agents on the list and more people like Evelyn Glennie, Jane Glover, Nicola Benedetti, Alison Bolsom and Sally Beamish. All off Ms Duchen’s radar, I suppose.

  • Stephen Follows says:

    Why is the Master of the Queen’s Music on neither list?

  • PRoe says:

    I’m surprised that the ambitious Jessica didn’t somehow manage to slip herself onto the list

  • Robert Groen says:

    Good grief! I’m not having a good day! I must now apologize to Norman, for thinking that his list (the only one I perused initially) was Jessica Duchen’s (and the rest of the Woman’s Hour panel), and to Ms Duchen for not immediately looking at their comprehensive list of names. Now I have and I can’t tell you how gratified I am to see the awesome Beyonce Knowles occupying top spot, with Taylor Swift as runner up and Adele a worthy 4th ! That amply compensates for the fact that Marin Alsop had to settle for nr. 8 and Nicola Benedetti for a modest 18. As with Norman’s effort, I still miss female conducting pioneer Jane Glover of the London Mozart Players, Evelyn Glennie (beautiful, brilliant and deaf) and Sally Beamish, a composer of some note. The list, no longer exclusively a UK affair, is also strangely parochial. If your language isn’t English you don’t get a look-in. Thus, names like Gubaidulina, Wang, Bartoli, Haim etc.etc.are inexplicably absent. Was this a pointless exercise and a complete waste of time? You bet it was!

    • Jessica Duchen says:

      It was always intended as a UK-focused list, following the models of the other Woman’s Hour Power Lists – an annual event, exploring a different industry each time. This one was for the music industry as a whole.

      • Rhian Samuel says:

        Yes, very London-centric. Wales doesn’t get a look in. Surely Deborah Keyzer, who runs Tŷ Cerdd and administers all kinds of important music programmes for the country, should be there. But, oh well, it’s only Wales . . .

    • Alex Davies says:

      A few years ago I heard a performance of Sally Beamish’s Spinal Chords. If that is in any way representative of her output as a whole, she is not a composer I am interested in. I agree entirely, however, in identifying Sofia Gubaidulina as not only one of the most important female composers alive today, but one of the greatest of all contemporary composers, comparable to Arvo Pärt.

  • Dan Redding says:

    Yes. Norman’s selection is much more balanced and logical and representative.

  • Sabine Sonnenstich says:

    I hate agreeing wirh Norman but I do for once I question why power has to be so narrowly defined : why does someone who runs Southbank Centre have more power than an artist or composer? Sorry to say but it feels Madame Duchen was just using the ones useful to herself … it’s a shame she had such a great opportunity to be diverse in her choosing and went for predictable choices