Boston Symphony names woman conductor

Boston Symphony names woman conductor


norman lebrecht

May 13, 2019

The Russian-born Anna Rakitina with be the Boston Symhony Orchestra’s new assistant conductor, starting September for a two-year term.

Anna, 30, came second at the recent Malko Conducting Competition in Denmark. She graduated from Moscow and Hamburg.


  • Miles says:

    You’ve got to be kidding… a joke.

  • Jim says:

    How about just call her a “conductor”.

  • Bobby says:

    Even though there are probably 50+ better qualified and more experienced male conductors, the BSO picks a woman because, well, she’s a woman!

    • nimitta says:

      Not just wrong, but ignorant! Like other top-tier orchestras, the BSO draws its assistant conductors from the cream of emerging young artists. Anna Rakitina has already been been a prizewinner in each of the three international conducting competitions she’s entered – Copenhagen, Cologne, and Taipei – outperforming all but one or two others, including 50+ males. She shows as much or more promise as any other recent BSO assistant that comes to mind: Robert Spano, Federico Cortese, Ilan Volkov, Ludovic Morlot, Julian Kuerti, Marcelo Lehninger, Andris Poga, Ken-David Masur, and Yu-An Chang.

    • Robert Groen says:

      Obviously there are people in the know in Boston who, after a look at her credentials and possibly having listened to a few of her performances, think she’s good enough to be an assistant conductor. And why not? Whether she will progress to the level of music director we will have to see. Her age and gender certainly don’t stand in her way.

    • Jack says:

      Please explain how you know that. Or are you just one of these sniffy, sexist snobs who are helping drive people away from classical music. Or are you mad because they didn’t pick a man because, well, he’s a man?

    • barry guerrero says:

      . . . after all, a baton is such a heavy thing to swing about – the fragile darlings could hurt themselves. Also, someone in the orchestra might not think nice things about them. We wouldn’t want that. In addition, you have to talk a lot to an orchestra. That requires a booming voice and an intimidating presence. This is a job best left to the heavy lifters, don’t you think.

      If anybody really believes those things, you might want to look up Margaret Hillis.

  • Gareth says:

    Interesting choice. Music seems to run through her, if this snippet from the Pathétique is anything to go by:

    • Tamino says:

      All these choreographed expression dances on the concert podium show little.
      For my taste she is also dragging too much here, fishing for false pathos, killing the flowing energy, but that’s subjective.

      Let them rehearse, and let them conduct opera and accompany mediocre soloists with mediocre orchestras. THAT is where you recognize true talent.

      • Rgiarola says:

        Tamino assessment or her skills was fair. Why so much euphoria right now? That’s the mistake about creating hype. People start to give too much formidable feedbacks too early, and latter there isn’t vocabulary anymore even to demonstrate improvements that for sure will happens, since she’s so young yet. 10 years later, when someone make a joke about something now non-sense like “the messiah of the classical music”, everyone thumbs down, but the same ones that gave this adjective to another younger of the past, and now they don’t admit to themselves that they completely overestimated case after case over and over again.

    • James says:

      She’s really talented. Of course she’s also a little green, which means she’s in exactly the right place to learn as an assistant conductor.

      It’s always fascinating how this site works:

      Man gets gig over a woman: Crickets


      The inability for some commenters to entertain the possibility that a woman might have actually been better that day at the audition speaks volumes.

      • Peter says:

        Spot on, James. Every SD comment thread on a female conductor:

        Comment 1: A woman! Gah! I know nothing about her but clearly this is yet another example of PC leftist cultural Marxism destroying the very foundations of our civilisation.

        Comment 2: I’ve looked at this video clip of her and I don’t like the way she gestures, so she must be rubbish.

        Comment 3: Orchestras should appoint based on merit, and pick the best man for the job regardless of his gender!

        Comment 4: I’ve played under this conductor and I can say unequivocally that she isn’t good enough. I can’t explain this in any detail or indeed at all – you know, it’s almost as though I’m making this up! – but trust me.

        Rinse and repeat. Have I missed anything?

      • Tamino says:

        Not true. I see here commenters comment on anyone they think is not up to the job or got preferential treatment for whatever reason.

        • Peter says:

          Except this happens *reflexively* for female conductors on no other basis than that they are women. From there, everything flows: if the conductor is a woman, she *must* not be up to the job and she *must* have got preferential treatment and there *must* have been a better male candidate for the position.

          Or are we to assume that every rant in one of these threads is based on meticulous research or personal experience of the conductor concerned?

    • M2N2K says:

      The flutist is having a great time at 4:23 there…
      To Tamino: I agree with you completely about her excessive dragging, but I also think that being an assistant to a fine conductor with a fine orchestra can help develop that “true talent”.

      • Tamino says:

        I wish her luck.
        She (as any aspiring conductor) needs more time in front of real orchestras. Don’t have to be great ones. So-so ones which need you more are actually better.
        And if she can use that time for listening more to the effect she creates (or doesn’t), always comparing it to the way she imagines it to sound, and less wasting mental focus with trying to memorize the rehearsed visual conducting choreography, then she’s in for a great learning experience. My 1/2 ct.

        • John Rook says:

          Any orchestra worth its salt will not let any conductor – male or female – make it sound bad. Getting a good result from a minor orchestra is arguably more difficult than waving your arms around in front of the Vienna Phil while they just get on with sounding superb. Would more of these photogenic young ladies get experience on the German Ochsentour than being parachuted into prestigious positions with little or no experience. The same goes for men, too, before anyone gets their organic lattes in a twist.

          • Bill says:

            The late Karl Böhm on why he preferred working with the Wiener Philharmoniker: they could “begin where he had left off with less good orchestras”

            A fine orchestra playing music it knows for a conductor it doesn’t wish to embarrass will sound good no matter what the conductor does (though perhaps the players will whisper “DLU”) to each other before starting. A conductor who makes a poor orchestra sound good is one with some talent.

    • MusicBear88 says:

      Gareth, I honestly want to know what you meant by saying that “music seems to run through her.” It could be very positive, like “music runs in her veins” or it could be quite negative, like “music runs through her and picks up nothing from her.”

      I’m not going to make a judgment on her from five minutes of Pathétique, but those five minutes were nowhere near what I would hope for from that symphony. I saw a lot of conducting teachers’ comments and master classes in her gestures, but I didn’t see her own voice yet. She’s still only 30 and one may emerge at any time.

  • Bill says:

    Even though there ARE better women conductors, they picked this one. I heard some orchestras have had bad experiences with this one (including the one I perform in).

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    Surprise surprise! Another woman! Please someone tell me now that right now there is NO positive discrimination towards women conductors.

    • Emil says:

      Why does female conductor=positive discrimination? Are you suggesting that a woman can’t be a competent conductor? Is the idea that women gain jobs because they…drumroll…are good conductors that far-fetched?

      • FrauGeigerin says:

        Because the average level of professional female conductors is still lower than the average male conductor. The reason is simple: women still are a minority in conducting classes at major Musikhochschules and conservatories. It is just a matter of the size of the pool. I am not saying that we, women, cannot conduct but I see an obvious manipulation of the natural development of women in the conducting profession.

        • Emil says:

          And they are a minority in conducting jobs as well. So the point is?

          • FrauGeigerin says:

            I don’t think so. I estimate female conductors are only 10% of the conducting students (a number I calculate by the number of female conductors I have seen perform in the graduation concerts in a major central European Music University in the last 6 years). Now look in the last 2 years the conductors getting their first appointments as assistant conductors and principal conductors/music directors, and new signings by agencies… easily 30% are women.

  • Doug says:

    When are we going to start using our EARS again to make musical judgements?

    I know ***when cultural Marxism is finally laid to rest***

    • Spiegel says:

      Perhaps, that’s why SHE is assistant and not the karate-woman Mirga. All is about music only

      • Doug says:

        Sounds like you are quite content with cultural Marxism. What glib retort will you have when they declare all of classical music to be merely a remnant of the patriarchy and ban it altogether?

        • Tamino says:

          No idea what your reference to Marx is supposed to mean here.

          Marx didn’t advocate putting inherited values over acquired ones AFAIK.

  • Kara says:

    more us empire identity politics. Window dressing for perceptions and donors of course. Sad but, american reality.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    I wish her luck. Why should a person’s sex make a difference? But what Boston needs is not another Koussevitsky, Monteux, or Munch. Nope – they need another Fiedler! The Pops haven’t been the same since he left. (He was also a fine classics conductor, but the BSO management would rarely let him do it.)

  • fflambeau says:

    Replacement for Ken-David Masur, who is now the Music Director at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

    I wish her well. It’s a great organization to work with.

  • Mike Schachter says:

    I had never heard her conduct , and nor have the vast majority of the commenters here. Two points: if she is 30 you really can’t expect her to be very experienced; and I had no idea that there were so many conductors in the world, of any gender. Remember thinking the same of airline pilots!

  • Pianoconductor says:

    I studied conducting in two important conservatories (two of those who are always listed in the top 5 music schools in the world), I worked as an assistant, and so far have conducted +70 opera performances and concerts (with youth/amateur, conservatory, and professional ensembles and orchestras). As a pianist I was the winner of the second price in an important piano competition, have toured the USA and Asia twice, and performed with 20 orchestras in 3 years (all while being under 28 years old). A conductor I worked for as assistant managed to get me an appointment with a manager from a serious agency. I met the manager in a cafe, he looked at my videos and my portfolio and after a few minutes he said “I am going to be very honest. Yes, it seems you are ready for management and a career…. but we are not interested in you right now. Not because you are not a good conductor, but because it would not be ‘easy’ for us to sell you right now… if you were a woman, very young, or from a minority… fresh and sexy. The market is hungry for the new, not for another white male conductor. We are in this business to make money and we need to provide what the market is demanding”.

    I don’t know if there is afirmative discrimination, but for sure there is more demand for female than male conductors…

  • Ben says:

    Watched a few of her conducting videos. Oh well…

    Female conductors need to be more relaxed in their baton technique, with more relax facial expression too. Male conductor could get away with exaggerated, control freak look and completely robotic, jerky baton technique.

    However, aesthetically, the same is not as flattering with female conductors. It may become a distraction.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      How bizarre. Why wouldn’t the same gestures create the same effect regardless of whether the person making them is male or female?

  • M2N2K says:

    Several comments here insist that young conductors must work with inferior orchestras for a while before being allowed in front of a good one. But I do not see any examples naming the finest conductors of the last 60 years or so who in their twenties worked exclusively with inferior orchestras for any substantial period of time. As far as I can tell, most if not all of them were regularly and often conducting really good orchestras before turning 30.

    • Rgiarola says:

      Karajan said in 1977, and it is in the book “conversations with Karajan” about the mistake of a green one with a top notch orchestra. According to him, it is too easy to hide behind the fact that this orchestra won’t go below a certain high level of quality, regardless of the conductor. Perhaps Herbert was wrong or it is outdated, but don’t say “anyone” said it. He started at Aachen opera himself and took almost 2 decades before his Berliner Philh. Debut.

      • M2N2K says:

        First, HvK was far beyond his twenties during the last 60 years or so, which is the time frame I clearly indicated that I was talking about. Second, this discussion is about being an assistant working under a prominent maestro with a fine orchestra as opposed to being the artistic leader of an average orchestra – not the principal conductor in both cases which is what HvK was talking about.

    • Bill says:

      Are you sure that’s what was being argued? I think some of us are merely saying that young conductor in front of inferior orchestra will reveal aspects of their ability (or lack thereof) not so easily seen if they are given an orchestra that easily accommodates their every whim (and plays the music better than they know to ask). The other side of the coin, of course, is that if the orchestra is too scrappy you don’t get a good picture of what they might do with a better bunch, and that’s important as well.

      • M2N2K says:

        Yes I am sure what was being argued but you appear not to understand what I was saying. My main point is not about what would be revealed but what would make young conductors better.