The first woman chief conductor in France?

When we reported Débora Waldman’s appointment yesterday as music director of the Orchestre Régional Avignon-Provence, we were unaware that she is the first woman to hold that title at any French symphony orchestra – ever.

It would appear that of the three founding nouns of the Republic – Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – the last counts more than the second.

Music in France is still run by the boys for the boys.


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  • Vous oubliez un peu vite Claire Gibault : sa carrière débute en 1976 avec la fonction de directrice musicale de l’Orchestre de chambre de Chambéry, qu’elle exerce jusqu’en 1983…Ensuite elle a tenu d’autres postes en France.

  • Not quite the same thing, I realize, but don’t forget Zahia Ziouani, the Franco-Algerian conductor who founded the Orchestre symphonique Divertimento in 1998 in one of the poorer Parisian suburbs and has built it into a professional ensemble of some note, focusing especially on working with youth and making orchestral music more inclusive.

    • Deliberately nasty French bashing, I’d say.
      Apart from everything else: Nadia Boulanger – completely forgotten?? Your comment, Norman, is nonsense altogether.

      • Your comment, Wolfgang, is superfluous. The statement stands: no wamn until now has been music director of a full symphony orchestra in France. Learn to read, Wolfgang, before you comment.

        • Everybody wants to blame Mr Lebrecht, but we can’t compare with all the examples given. Orchestre des Pays de Savoie (Contratto) is a string orchestra with 2 oboes and 2 horns. Haim and Equilbey conduct their own orchestres on period instruments. Susanna Malkki conducted specialized orchestra (Ensemble Intercontemporain). It was more Norman bashing than french bashing because we don’t have really similar examples.

  • and Laurence Equilbey is a leading figure (not a ‘boy’) in France
    is it likely that Ms Cannelakis will get the Orchestre de Paris? her 4 concerts this year must be major auditions with Heras-Casado as her main rival?

  • avant il y a eu Graziella Contratto, directrice musicale de l’Orchestre des Pays de Savoie, et aussi, bien sûr, la finlandaise Suzanna Malki, directrice musicale de l’Ensemble intercontemporain. Et d’autres peut-être. Il reste que Debora Waldman est la seule aujourd’hui, si on excepte celles, comme Haïm, Equilbey ou Zahia Ziouani, qui ont monté leurs orchestres. Les françaises ont plus de chance à ‘étranger : ainsi en Allemagne Ariane Matiakh nommée directrice musicale générale de la Staatskapelle et de l’Opéra de Halle depuis 2018.

  • Yes, swiss conductor Graziella Contratto: “De 2003 à 2009, elle entre à l’Orchestre des Pays de Savoie comme directrice artistique (la première femme à obtenir la direction artistique d’un orchestre français permanent)”

  • You know there are other glass ceilings you can talk about that need just as much championing as women. Race and age discrimination comes to mind. Why not pushing conductors laboring in smaller orchestras to be pushed to the top or Muslim conductors or trans conductors? It just seems that all that is EVER pushed these days are women and in that sarcastic sort of way that seems to me to be unproductive.

    • I have never seen a competition for men only (I have seen for women, but that us another thing). On the other hand age discrimination is blatantly officially accepted. I hereby invite every professional musician and music student in Europe to contact the local ombudsman every time a public arts organization or receiving public funding advertises an age limit for a job (for assistant conductor, for example) or training program (orchestra academy). Age discrimination in jobs or training is illegal according to the European Union law. I know that in France a Concurs for the hiring of an assistant conductor was declared illegal because it included an age limit.

      Also, there is an ongoing investigation regarding the use of the word “young” and age limits in music competitions… they should be directed to those who have finished recently their training and are not yet in a professional career, regardless of their age.

      Anyone can make a difference by making official complaints whenever age discrimination is announced.

  • It is surprising that nobody would notice Malki, Haim, Equilbey, etc. all of whom have created or lead widely recorded major orchestras in France and have international careers.

  • The French tradition of celebrating femininity makes that women have become much too busy to be bothered by symphony orchestras.

    • et de Lili Boulanger sa soeur, magnifique compositrice, la première femme à avoir été distinguée par le 1er grand prix de Rome. c’était en 1913.

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