Dohnanyi told her not to conduct

Dohnanyi told her not to conduct


norman lebrecht

February 24, 2019

Jeannette Sorrell, who won a Grammy this month with Apollo’s Fire, has not found it easy to break into the profession.

After studying harpsichord with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam she returned to the US looking to start a career. The Cleveland Orchestra suggested she should apply to be its Assistant Conductor.

Summoned to interview, the music director Christoph von Dohnanyi told her not to bother: Cleveland audiences would never tolerate a female conductor.

The man who did help was the orchestra’s British administrator, Roger Wright. He encouraged her to start Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra.

Watch Zsolt Bognar’s latest interview in Living the Classical Life.

Jeannette Sorrell – Living the Classical Life: Episode 64 from Elyria Pictures on Vimeo.



  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I, for one, am quite glad J.S. didn’t follow Dohnanyi’s glib advise.

  • Euphonium Al says:

    I rather think Dohyani was projecting his own thoughts onto his audience. I grew up in Cleveland and had the privilege to meet many of its musicians when I was s child during Dohyani’s tenure. Cleveland is fairly progressive for a rust belt city and would have no problem with a woman taking the podium, then or now.

  • Saul Davis Zlatkovski says:

    She looks totally inappropriate for a conductor. And how on earth is a harpsichord background appropriate training? She is ridiculous. This is why women cannot conduct, in most cases. They cannot set aside themselves, their gender, their vanity, to fully and properly assume the role of a conductor. I am guessing the equivalent for a male conductor would be to show up in a black martial arts or football outfit with a helmet on. You cannot be focused on being pretty and be serious as a conductor. Audiences do know the difference.

    • Sarah S says:

      Saul I’m going to venture that you’re not an orchestral musician and have never worked with Jeanette. Your comment is ridiculous in both its attacks on an esteemed musician and its misogynistic assumptions about women on the podium.

    • Apollo's Fan says:

      Yes, women have no place in conducting just like men have no place playing the harp. A man would look ridiculous behind a harp. It’s an instrument to played only by a slender female, with thin and well-manicured hands.

    • Talia Ilan says:

      Focused on being a pretty female conductor is indeed so demanding! Before each concert I only think of what I should wear. Shall I wear my black shiny dress, or my black jacket? Shall I put on my high hills or the Oxford shoes? Then, it takes me almost 2 hours to choose the right lipstick. So difficult!!!! No wonder I have no time to study scores…But then you are telling me I am not a serious conductor??? After all those preparations???

    • Alban says:

      So much hate in this comment. I wonder, are you a white male who tried to become a conductor, but could not succeed? If yes, it explains why you have a nasty rage when you see one of the most decriminalized group of musicians (women-conductors) being successful.

      Anyway, gender has nothing to deal with a very obvious sexism and a open misogyny.
      Take care!

    • barry guerrero says:

      One question: have you heard Apollo’s Fire live? . . I have.

    • Robert Roy says:

      You do realise you are living in the 21st Century, don’t you?

    • Marioara Trifan says:

      Now, Mr. Zlatkovski, isn’t that an extremely sexist comment? What constitutes an “appropriate look” for a conductor, and how, on this basis, is Ms. Sorrell any more or any less appropriate than all the others, male or female, out there? The only thing that counts is how she makes music. I have neither seen nor heard Ms. Sorrell conduct, early music not really being my main thing, but I watched her entire interview here and she makes an extremely intelligent and articulate impression with lots of musical and historical knowledge to back it up. This, combined with a personal manner that seems neither that of a hardline feminist nor a shrinking violet, but simply normal, and realistic, and committed – and I fail to see what you can even remotely call “ridiculous”. I have been in her shoes; I heard all the preconceived opinions such as those offered by Mtro. von Dohnanyi and Prof. Mueller – audiences won’t buy it, the musicians don’t want a woman, etc.etc. and guess what? I did it anyway, and at a time when it was much, much harder than now to get one foot on the podium when you really had to be twice as good to get half as far. I neither flaunted nor downplayed my gender. I asked for neither quarter nor discrimination (and yes, inadequately qualified female conductors exist, just as unqualified male conductors exist. That is not the issue here. One is not automatically qualified or unqualified on the basis of one’s gender, however. Very basic stuff!) Vanity? Not on your life. Focused on looking pretty? How shallow is that? Looking fine is a given for both men and women, but there was something more important – the opera or symphony I had the privilege of conducting, and my responsibility to an audience that always deserves the best I could give. So, with all respect, I call B.S. We still have to be measured by a different yardstick than our male counterparts, and I am sick of such attitudes. For my part, I will be going to a concert by Apollo’s Fire as soon as possible. You, sir, might elect to stay home. Too bad! You might try listening more and looking just a little bit less.

    • Jack says:

      I assume you’re checking in from somewhere in the 18th century.

    • Soul says:

      Saul just lost his soul. Please give him oxygen.

    • Evie Morris says:

      Thus, she wins a Grammy after decades of dedication to her vision and craft. Jeannette is naturally beautiful, inside and out. While you, Saul Davis Zlatkovski show your sexism, arrogance and ignorance. Roll over Beethoven, and tell Saul that the days of male dominance and chauvinism are over. Suggested reading and Netflix viewing, Mr. Z: “Mozart’s Sister,” who was a talented musician and composer, yet her Father refused to equally nurture and promote her talent and genius.

    • Cyril says:

      Try watching the interview. She specifically talks about not wanting to invoke her gender in what she’s doing. Not sure where you’re getting the part about vanity, unless you pulled it from your lower digestive tract. And of course harpsichord background is appropriate for the era of music she’s conducting. I’m guessing you knew that and are just trolling.

    • Chilynne says:

      Saul, have you been to a concert by Apollo’s Fire? I have, which is why I understand the placement of the harpsichord.

    • Euphonium Al says:

      I’ve seen Apollo’s Fire and I assure you she can, in fact, conduct. Your comments about her appearance say far more about you than they say about her quality of work, with which you appear to be unfamiliar.

    • Gerard says:

      Just as it looks stupid and rather unflattery when a man plays a harp….pfffff….get a life and shut up…

    • I agree with you on that point about her but there are several current extraordinary female conductors – Emmanuelle Haim, Tomomi Nishimoto, the Norwegian Catherine Wines, American (of Greek-Russian descent) Karina Kanelakis (I saw her at the 2018 Nobel Gala Concert inStockholm) & Nathalie Stutzman (saw her before and again soon in Stockholm)

    • anon says:

      He looks totally inappropriate for a harpist. And how on earth is a harpist background appropriate training to judge a conductor? He is ridiculous. This is why men cannot be harpists, in most cases. They cannot set aside themselves, their gender, their piggishness, to fully and properly assume the role of a harpist. I am guessing the equivalent for a female harpist would be to show up in a white bib or chef outfit with a hat on. You cannot be focused on being full and be serious as a harpist. Audiences do know the difference.

    • anonymous says:

      Saul, the only reason I can come up with for you saying such horrendous things about Ms. Sorrell is that you are projecting your own experience of being a male harpist onto her. Surely, you have never seen/heard Apollo’s Fire or seen her conduct. If you had, you would never have said some of the things that you did. She is a very fine conductor and musician with a wealth of knowledge about early music that many people do not have. People like you disgust me.

    • Bruce says:

      What is an appropriate look for a female conductor? Please tell us, since you obviously know.

      Also: harpsichord seemed to do pretty well as a background for Trevor Pinnock, Christopher Hogwood, et al. (Possibly they also studied conducting?)

    • Bruce says:

      My guess is that, if she didn’t “focus on being pretty,” Saul would have comments about her unattractive appearance.

    • John G. says:

      I presume that SDZ is trolling and is indeed gamely drawing out suitable righteous indignation.

  • Jeffrey Strauss says:

    I hope you are kidding, Mr. Zlatkovski. But if not, you did hear her say, I hope, that she studied conducting at Tanglewood. She also worked with Robert Spano. And she has conducted the Pittsburgh, Utah, National, and New World Symphony orchestras as well as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, among others, to widespread acclaim. She is as popular as she is talented.

    As for your other comments, you surely can’t mean that men–and particularly male conductors–are able to “set aside themselves”, but women are not. Or that male conductors are immune from vanity. Herbert von Karajan comes to mind. It seems to me that he was very focused on his image. The fact that he was handsome had no more to do with his conducting chops than the fact that Ms. Sorrell is beautiful–or that she is a woman–has to do with hers.

    Have a look at her Egmont Overture or Mozart 40 on YouTube with her own period orchestra.

    You might not like it; but surely you will see that she is a serious and talented conductor. And one who, by the way, doesn’t take nonsense from men.

  • Northcoastcat says:

    In 1989 Sorrell was one of the youngest students in the conducting program at the Tanglewood Festival, where she studied under Leonard Bernstein and Sir Roger Norrington. She also served as a conducting fellow at the Aspen Music Festival.

    Jeannette Sorrell is the only baroque conductor on the roster of Columbia Artists Management. She made her debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony in 2013 as conductor and soloist in the complete Brandenburg Concertos. She has also appeared as conductor or conductor/soloist with the St Paul Chamber Orchestra, Utah Symphony, New World Symphony in Miami, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Opera Theatre of St. Louis with the St. Louis Symphony, Handel & Haydn Society (Boston), Grand Teton Music Festival, Omaha Symphony, Grand Rapids Symphony, and Arizona Opera.

    In 2017 she made her Kennedy Center debut leading the National Symphony Orchestra in Handel’s Messiah.

  • JS says:

    She is a horrendous person. And the story that she perpetuates about Dohnanyi is a lie – like most things that come out of her mouth.