Deborah Borda to chair women-only conducting competition

The president of the New York Philharmonic will be jury president at a new conducting competition at the Philharmonie de Paris in the middle of March 2020.

There will be 12 contestants – no men need apply.

The contest is the joint idea of conductor Claire Gibault and the ambitious Philharmonie DG, Laurent Bayle.

The jury will comprise 3 men and 3 women.

In a public institution, this event could be challenged under EU discrimination law.




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  • For decades, the blatant discrimination of the all-male orchestra of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra blatantly broke both Austrian and EU law. (In its symphonic formation it is known at the Vienna Philharmonic.) No one said anything until Americans began to protest the orchestra due to its yearly visits to Carnegie Hall. Americans eventually forced the orchestra to change, while Austrian politicians and the Austrian music world stood by doing little more than reacting and window dressing after the fact. The embarrassing fact that it took people outside the EU to stop this illegal exclusion is now seldom mentioned.

      • Nah. (a) The Donald would never bother commenting about classical music except possibly to say that Andrea Boccelli is the greatest; (b) he could never handle such complex sentence structure; (c) the spelling is too good.

  • For decades, the blatant discrimination of the all-male orchestra of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra blatantly broke both Austrian and EU law. (In its symphonic formation it is known at the Vienna Philharmonic.) No one said anything until Americans began to protest the orchestra due to its yearly visits to Carnegie Hall. Americans eventually forced the orchestra to change, while Austrian politicians and the Austrian music world stood by doing little more than reacting and window dressing after the fact. The embarrassing fact that it took people outside the EU to stop this illegal exclusion is now seldom mentioned.

    • And what makes you think it was the Americans who changed that? Don’t take yourself so important. Have you heard anything about EU legislation?

    • Exactly. And given all of the hurdles that have been thrown in front of women conductors over the years, a modest corrective measure like an all-female conducting competition is hardly preventing men from waving batons in front of orchestras.

      • Every job that is now thrown to a woman, no matter how incompetent, is one less job for a competent man. Consider the harp: at one time, all professional positions were held by men. Once women started taking the positions, they took all of them, and now actively prevent men from getting them. Women are far more discriminatory than men. Heterosexual men will always do favors for sexy women in the hopes of receiving favors of some kind. Clive Lythgoe, for example, mentored a pretty young flutist, but refused to mentor me, being male and therefore unattractive.

        • The metoo movement is seeing to it that men no longer become conductors. Conducting will be an all women field

    • Of course – we must thank the US for showing the world the way as regards discrimination against race, sex, sexuality, religion. It is the beacon to which all countries should aspire.

      • Whatever one might think of the US, the fact remains that US protesters brought women into the VPO. One sees even here how galling this is to some.

        • ” that US protesters brought women into the VPO”

          I don’t think so… It was merely coincidental. It was only a matter of time before the VPO would accept women.
          Americans like to think they played a role in that decision… Too cute!
          To paraphrase a member of the VPO then: instead of selling out Carnegie Hall in 15 minutes, they did it in 20 minutes.

          • This is complete nonsense. The hundreds of pages of press reports from around the world at the time document beyond any doubt whatsoever that the protests and worldwide media storm initiated by US women’s groups forced the orchestra to admit women. As a result of these protests and massive media pressure the orchestra became an Austrian national disgrace and had to change. No amount of lying or denial can cover up these hard, documented facts.

            What we see now is misogynists galled that US women’s groups forced the orchestra to change. And a chauvinistic form of nationalism galled that the perceived pure, high culture and genius seed of the ‘Pan-Germanic brotherhood’ was forced to accept women by a group of ‘mongrel Yankees.’

            And gee, how unusual of misogynists to try to erase the history of their cultural chauvinism in order to make themselves look better. I’m sure everyone is shocked.
            Sarc off. No, in reality, we see them once again caught in bald faced lying.

    • Like London men’s clubs, football teams, all-women mandoline orchestras and Japanese geishas, symphony orchestras should be free to organise themselves as they wish, and if an orchestra does not like female players, for whatever reason – too sensitive to female charm, too suspicious of ganging-up against the males, costly separate bathroom facilities and greenrooms, fear of perfume smells, long hair distracting from the player’s part, etc. – that does not immediately mean ‘discrimination’. For instance, the VPO wants to be a private club rooted in the city, a very local ensemble with a local tradition. Restricting their constitution to traditional structures should not bother anybody, especially not since there is the radio orchestra and the Vienna Symphony, and lots of other mixed orchestas in Austria and Europe where women are particularly welcome. This politically-correct fanaticism borders on totalitarian paranoia.

      It would be a very different thing if women would be refused at government institutions, for example.

      • The VPO is vastly more prestigious than the other orchestras you mention. And they also make a lot more money. So it isn’t acceptable to exclude women from the VPO’s far better jobs. And finally, the Vienna State Opera Orchestra is owned and operated by the Austrian government. And the VPO receives considerable public subsides. It is thus categorically illegal for them to discriminate. These obvious points have been made repeatedly. Apparently infringements on male privilege are difficult for some to understand.

        • That the VPO is more prestigious does not mean that therefore the orchestra should reflect social mores. The whole subject is not appropriate for an orchesta, which is a type of ensemble which should be exempt from being drawn into social engineering processes.

          There is nothing against including female players in the VPO, as there is nothing against wishing to remain a one-sex group (like rugby teams). The subject is moot anyway, since the VPO now includes women, but the point is that social engineering pressures are inappropriate because they are motivated by social justice, which is something else from musical justice. Given human nature, the former can easily cover-up a lack of the latter.

          • I had a friend who was a Russian maestro, who had worked in Vienna. I asked him for his honest opinion about conducting a male-only, or a mixed or mostly female orchestra. He said there is no doubt that the all-male orchestra is the best, and the best to work with. How many men are comfortable taking orders from women? How many women are strong enough to lead men? Few. Very few.

          • The VPO needed women musicians to maintain its standards. As is often the case, musical and social justice worked hand-in-hand.

          • Also, Mr. Borstlap missing my painfully obvious point. There can be no rationale for excluding women from high paying positions in publicly owned and operated institutions. It is one thing to be a neo-tonalist, another to be a bigot.

          • I’m so happy to read this! What I’ve always thought. Who’s against women is a bigot, there you are. We’ve to get rid of men wherever we, the tax payers, cough-up the money: orchestras, city councils, hospitals (no male gynaecologists!), bus drivers, judges, the police force, and especially we should get rid of male conductors who think they know better while we know it is us who know better and that’s why they want to stop us. Male chauvinist pigs everywhere! So, please do keep up the good works.


      • I would agree with you but for the VPO’s thorough integration with the state-supported Vienna State Opera. That renders claims of it being a self-sufficient, private club absurd. As one example: The VPO and Staatsoper schedules have to be thoroughly coordinated; how is it decided that Daniel Ottensammer (to pick one name at random), say, plays principal clarinet during a VPO tour to Japan instead of staying in town to play a run of Elektra?

        If the members of the VPO want to resign en masse and form an orchestra – completely separate from the Staatsoper – that plays full-time as a private entity, without any public subsidy, I would argue they are free to do so, and can exclude women if they want. Indeed, if the VPO is such a great moneymaking operation, I’m surprised they don’t. It appears, instead, they live on their Staatsoper salaries supplemented by their VPO work. In which case they have to comply with EU employment law, to which they seem to have reconciled themselves to some extent.

      • If they were given the same chances of development and encouragement, and compensations for background poverty, there would be many afroamericans in American orchestras.

        • The finest tympanist I’ve ever heard live or on recordings is Michael Crusoe, African American. Anthony and Demrarre McGill, clarinet and flute, need no introduction; principal positions based strictly on merit. Development and encouragement pays off for everybody.

        • There are exactly as many as there are wanting to be. American orchestras bend over backwards to hire black players. Many black musicians prefer popular music, whether or not they assume it is more likely to provide a living. There are enough programs to provide them entry to help them get jobs. They have been members of major orchestras for many decades now. They’re just not as interested. Just as now, Asians are dominating the rosters, despite lack of acculturation.

          • It’s a base-rate thing. There are probably as many black musicians in US orchestras as a percentage of auditioners as there are white, Asian, etc… There just aren’t very many auditioning; meanwhile there are a lot of Asians graduating from top conservatories, auditioning, and winning. You can’t fault orchestras when very few black players turn up at a blind audition. The problem starts much earlier.

  • Dear Norman,

    If you’d carefully read the press release you would have known that in addition to Deborah Borda the jury will be composed of 3 men and 3 women conductors. And by the way, the competition will take place in March 2020

    • The above article reads…”The jury will comprise 3 men and 3 women.” Are you sure you read it completely before replying? (it’s under the picture)

      • NL often changes or corrects things after posting them, without acknowledging that it’s a change/ correction. That may be what happened here.

  • How sad to see that the way found to promote the great talents of women conductors is to admit publicly that they are incapable of meeting the general standards, and that only by eliminating males can these talents be revealed, even with a female Jury President and EU law. Reminds me of the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games, which mutually eliminated either US or Soviet atheletes, this eliminating the most severe competition and devaluing the medals in the process. Women conductors deserve better than to be told they can only be prize winners through gender discrimination. Winners will be victors only in an artificial world of gender exclusiveness that will constantly remind them they won “only because…”

    • Interesting way to read the post. I read it as a recognition that juries in mixed conducting competitions may have a fundamental bias — perhaps an unconscious bias — against women conductors, which has prevented equally able women from achieving the results they earn; this competition endeavors to rectify that.

      • How can you rectify that, which you *assume*, *may* be the case, by excluding men?
        So you win that competition. Now how have you proven you are equally able? Because you have not. You have won a women only competition.
        The HUGE irony of this competition endeavour is that it makes the case for women worse, not better.

    • This is in no way comparable to the 1980/84 Olympics. Nobody who misses the competition is missing a once-in-a-lifetime competitive opportunity. This is a showcase for women conductors, who have historically been under-represented in the field. The power brokers of the industry will still be able to decide whether the field as a whole – or any winners – are worthy of future engagements.

      But I could see that some women might decide that they won’t be taken seriously even if they win, and therefore take a pass.

    • Sadly positive discrimination does take place. A so called eminent female conductor would not be considered as eminent if she were a “straight” male.

  • “In a public institution, this event could be challenged under EU discrimination law.”

    No it couldn’t. Firstly, because the EU’s Gender Equality Law relates to employment, not competitions. And even then, the law allows for “Positive Action” to be taken – such as women-only events – in order to further the overall aim of ensuring equality in the workplace.

    I do have to wonder why certain men feel so threatened by measures aimed at promoting women? I can only assume it’s their concern that mere “maleness” will no longer prove sufficient to get ahead in the world, and that they might actually have to rise above the level of mediocrity in order to get ahead.

    • Wait until you sit in a job interview, small kid at home, wife pregnant again, being told: “Young man, we are very sorry, you are clearly the most qualified, but women have been underrepresented in your field for too long. Step aside please and get lost.”
      Lets talk again then.

      • Let’s talk again when you can come up with some actual examples of men being discriminated against in the workplace, rather than some made-up anecdote.

      • Somehow I don’t see a lot of male conductors being discriminated against. Men seem to be doing just fine in the conducting field. Enough of this whining.

        • Male conductors are discriminated against all the time. The job is simply extremely discriminating against anyone, the competition is fierce. Men just don’t get the idea, that they should blame it on their gender. They simply don’t have that easy excuse.
          Even though, with competitions like the above mentioned emerging, maybe they should start to think about it…

    • One could not enough encourage women in the world, in general they are more sensitive to human considerations than men, and this is important in music life. Wagner already complained about the men in music life (and beyond) that so very many of them lacked cultural awareness, were more interested in fighting and quarrelling, and that women were much more sensitive to music and its emotional effects.

      A research group at the Texas Institute of Technology has discovered, in a long study over 13 years of classical music audiences, that 87,5% of the tears produced during classical music concerts came from female eyes, against only 8% from male eyes (of which 68% from gays). The remaining 4,5% happened to be no tears at all but sweat resulting from loud tuttis. (TIT underlined the importance of female participation in the arts, independent from abilities, to compensate for ca. 2000 years imbalance.)

    • I used to take orchestra auditions. At the Met, the screen was a portable blackboard. Therefore, they could see and certainly hear the shoes of the auditionees, meaning, they knew which ones were female.

    • They are certainly trying to, which means men will no longer be interested, and classical music will suffer greatly. And how many now seeking such careers are only doing it to invade, and not because they have a true calling?

  • Good. Now the other competitions can be explicitly all-male. Women are disgusting in their selfishness. Whatever they accuse men of doing, they are the first to do themselves. I’m sure there’s no existing competition that deliberately excludes women. This is inexcusable.

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