A lesbian music director in 1950s America

A lesbian music director in 1950s America


norman lebrecht

October 08, 2018

The chance discovery of an old concert flyer has prompted Leonard Slatkin to look into the forgotten life of Frieda Belinfante, founder of the Orange County Philharmonic in a conservative part of California at a time when women – let alone lesbians – were never put in charge of an orchestra.


Frieda, who died in 1995, aged 90, grew up in Holland and formed a chamber orchestra at the Concertgebouw. Hermann Scherchen called her out as top in his masterclass. During the war, she went underground. Eventually, she made it to America.

Anyone know more?



    • Malcolm Kottler says:

      This Wikipedia article has a lot of information, and the footnotes will lead to even more.

      The video, for which Norman supplies a 1 minute trailer, is available for rent or purchase, although it seems like the purchase option is for streaming only, not a dvd.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Somewhat OT: who is the cellist pictured in the concert flyer? I can’t make it out.

    I always find it interesting to see old orchestra program books, concert flyers, concert add, or the artist promotions in old Musical Americas. They reinforce how the “big” names we remain familiar with from the past are the results of years and years of filtering out the names of excellent musicians whose reputations, alas, died with them, even if they made recordings or gave important premieres.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      “Somewhat OT: who is the cellist pictured in the concert flyer? I can’t make it out.”

      The subject of this article… Frieda Belinfante.

      Time for phone with a bigger screen.

    • Leonard Slatkin says:

      She is Ms. Belinfante and was also a fine cellist as well as conductor. My father was asked to be a guest conductor with the orchestra she founded, and he in turn asked her to be the soloist.

  • Melisande says:


    The title of this book reads A briljant forgotten life and as far as I know hasn’t been published in English. There has also been made a radio play about this extraordinary musician on the basis of this remarkable biography.

  • Sharon Beth Long says:

    It was great that she could do this. I am reminded of Billie Tipton who had to go to great lengths to pretend to the world she was a man in order to break into the jazz world even into the sixties and seventies. Of course, the classical music world was always a little bit more open to female musicians although not conductors or band leaders

  • resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemmata/data/BelinfanteFrieda

    I shared this on google and had a commentor that

    Found this link to the website of a Dutch institute;

    resources.huygens.knaw.nl – Belinfante, Frieda (1904-1995)

    Belinfante, Frieda (1904-1995)