Women conductors 2019: Who’s up, who’s down

Women conductors 2019: Who’s up, who’s down


norman lebrecht

July 18, 2019

With many orchestras seeking gender equality in the podium, this is our totally unscientific annual update of maestra progress, judged by the most sought-after to least.

1 Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
Universal 1st choice. She’s not guest conducting, so the demand increases.

2 Marin Alsop
Locked out in Baltimore, starts with new orchestra in Vienna

3 Karina Canellakis
Rising in Holland and Berlin

4 Elim Chan
Antwerp Symphony, now making Philadelphia debut

5 Gemma New
New agent, lands jobs at Dallas and St Louis

6 Simone Young
In strong guest demand by top orchestras

7 Susanna Mälkki

8 Débora Waldman
First woman music director at a French symphony orchestra

9 Audrey Saint-Gil
Frenchwoman rising on festival circuit

10 Anja Bihlmaier
Takes over Residentie orchestra in The Hague

11 Kristiina Poska
MD in Basle and Flanders

12 Dalia Stasevska
New #2 at BBC Symphony Orchestra

13 Anna Skryleva
Magdeburg music director

14  Speranza Scapucci, Opera Liege

15 Joanna Mallwitz, Nuremberg

16 Nicole Paiement
Huge influence at Dallas Opera
17 Anna Rakitina
New assistant at Boston Symhony Orchestra

18 Anu Tali
Stepping down at Sarasota Orchestra

19 Alondra de la Parra
Grounded in Brisbane, Austrlia

20 Giedrė Šlekytė
Formerly at Klagenfurt, now making debuts in Dresden, Paris, Zurich, Berlin.


Among the dropouts is Joana Carneiro, who’s taking a career break for motherhood.



  • Mexican Musician says:

    Even 19 is too high for Alondra. Shouldn’t be in this or any list at all! Except perhaps worst musician. She’s nothing more than money and a media campaign.Still baffled at how she was able to obtain opera production at Berlin Staatsoper, without a single previous opera production.

    • SUGGERITORE says:

      It wasn’t what you would call a success.

    • Brian says:

      Always curious to see the anti-de La Parra contingent show up here. Every video I’ve seen of her conducting has been very fine, and she’s a very personable figure as well. I gather she’s made an enemy or incurred some jealousy on the way up the career ladder.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Why this gender equality nonsense? Conductors should be selected on their ability not their gender.

  • Jennifer Spencer says:

    You have omitted Xian Zhang! MD of New Jersey Symphony and a regular guest conductor with eg Philharmonia, LSO, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Dallas, Montreal, Orchestre Philharmoniuque de Radio France, Belgian National, NCPA in Beijing, Sydney and Melbourne Symphonies. She is also conducting a world premiere opera for Santa Fe next summer.

    • Tony M. says:

      I just saw her Guest Conduct the Sydney Symphony in a program of Verdi, Prokofiev, and Beethoven. I was also surprised that she wasn’t included on this list. Fine Conductor.

  • aNOn says:

    1) The only thing you got right was that this list is “totally unscientific”. In fact, it is totally nonsensical.

    How can you even begin to measure “most sought after” unless you polled every orchestra in the world?

    And what does “most sought after” even measure?

    Statistically speaking in 2019, more orchestras “sought after” Mirga than Sir Simon. But that speaks more about the maturity of their careers and the self-selectivity of orchestras. There’s no point for the New York Philharmonic to “seek after” Rattle because both parties know at this point that there is no way in hell Rattle is going to conduct New York.

    2) “Among the dropouts is …, who’s taking a career break for motherhood.”

    It’s precisely attitude, and language, like this that inequality persists. Motherhood is not a dropout activity. If only fathers shared equally the responsibility of parenthood, every male conductor should be required to “dropout” as well to take care of their new borns.

  • Graeme Withers says:

    What about Kerri-Lynn Wilson, guest in Hamburg last week,and elsewhere?

  • will says:

    Hmmm…. so, what has happened to, for example, Natalie Stutzmann, Barbara Hannigan, Sarah Ioaniddes, Odaline de la Martinez and Jessica Cottis?

  • AC says:

    Again, why do you make these posts only about women? There are also many fine young men. This blog is becoming more and more one-sided. I want equality for the genders! That does not mean ignore a whole generation of men to right the wrong to many generations of men.

    Also, I want to add that you still largely ignore the men of African descent around the world with few exceptions. I am by means no liberal but I do like fairness. If you are going to promote one underrepresented group of conductors(Though I think the argument can be made that women are no longer underrepresented), then you should promote all of them! Not those lucky enough to be born with a certain set of reproductive organs.

    Again, as a woman, I am all for representation, but I also care about my son’s future. Not just my daughter’s.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      “I am by means no liberal ”

      Not a proper source of pride.

    • Derek says:

      Your points are well made.

      Lists of pianists when produced are e.g. –

      Argerich, Barenboim, Grimaud, Kissin, Matsuev, Uchida, Jane Doe, John Doe. – not gender specific.

      The same goes for violinists etc.

      We will know things are as they should be when lists of conductors are also not gender specific (and it isn’t the headline).

  • will says:

    Apologies to Sarah Ioannides for my formerly incorrect spelling of her surname.

  • Bernard says:

    What about JoAnn Falletta?

  • The View from America says:

    “Totally unscientific” would be an understatement.

    More than half of these conductors are barely known outside of “insider” circles, and the exclusion of several others is a total mystery — at least from an awareness and audience appreciation standpoint.

  • Pedro says:

    Mälkki should go to the top of the list. She has the main job at the Helsinki Phil. ( superb Mahler 9 ) and the second position in Los Angeles, and is indeed conducting great orchestras everywhere. Her Rusalka at the Paris Opéra was exceptional and she is my first choice for one the vacant Paris jobs ( Opéra or Orchestre de Paris).

  • fflambeau says:

    Alsop will direct ORF. From a good article about her:

    “Calling the classical music world a “microcosm of our greater society, and a very conservative one at that”, Alsop… .”

    “People think we in the classical music world are just living in a museum, but that’s a fallacy. Classical musicians tend to be very engaged in the world around them [and] the wonderful thing about classical music is that it really can transcend politics because it’s wordless, so we’re able to reach out across those barriers and these differences and build bridges of communal experience.”

    Source: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jan/29/exclusive-marin-alsop-appointed-first-female-artistic-director-of-orf-orchestra

  • Nigel Harris says:

    Bit surprised Xian Zhang isn’t in the top 20. Not only is she an excellent musician, but she’s been doing some quite high profile things with the BBC NOW, alongside her job in New Jersey in itself nothing to be sneeze£ at.

  • Petros LInardos says:

    Emmanuelle Haim: the only woman conducting the Berlin Philharmonic next year. Her debut with that orchestra was in 2008.

  • Anon says:

    No JoAnn Falletta on this list??

    • Carl says:

      Agree! She should be near the top. Falletta has done wonderful work with the Buffalo Philharmonic and others; and her leadership on expanding lesser-known repertoire has been notable.

  • Rottweiler says:

    Very unscientific, indeed. And without any regard to professional ability. By the way, you forgot Ariane Matiakh, the new GMD in Halle, who has an amazing track record particularly in opera. She is French and was awarded “Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” by the French ministry of culture in 2014.

  • Mike Rogers says:

    Has anyone sent this to Peter Gelb?

  • John says:

    After a cataclysmic stint with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra – Alondra de la Parra is out.

    As Music Director, she has yet to enter Australia this year/season.

    I look forward to lobbying the government to lift the corporate veil and make public how much Alondra de la Parra has cost the Queensland tax payer to cover her extravagances.

    As well as true box office receipts.

  • Thomas F Godfrey says:

    What about Jane Glover? In Philly this fall and Montreal.

  • Willem Philups says:

    Seems you have a BIG scotoma for North America. How about adding JoAnn Falletta in Buffalo, NY and Lucinda Carver from Los Angeles and Port Townsend, WA, both well known and well grounded musicians with fine reputations?

  • Christine says:

    Motherhood dropout? Really? One person not mentioned is Lina Gonzalez-Granados, new conducting fellow in Philly and Seattle.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    JoAnn Falletta: conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic, Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, formerly with Ulster Orchestra, frequent guest conductor worldwide, recording artist with London Symphony Orchestra and winner of 2019 Grammy Best Classical Compendium for works by Kenneth Fuchs.

  • Cantantelirico says:

    Speranza Scapucci is way too far down on the list. She should be elevated to one of the top five.

  • John Kelly says:

    Among the missing Xian Zhang, conductor of BBCNOW and New Joisey Symphony………rather good in my opinion……

  • Bass One says:

    Ewa Strusińska – very busy commuting between the UK and Europe. Recently shared the podium in Cardiff Singer of the Year. An Elder protege.

  • Drew says:

    What about Claire Gibault, of the Paris Mozart Orchestra, former assistant to Claudio Abbado, and current member of the EU Parliament. She is launching the female conductor competition “La Maestra” at the Paris Philharmonie in 2020. Perhaps not highly sought after by other orchestras these days, but a pioneer who is still surely of some influence?

  • donald vroon says:

    JoAnn Falletta is a very fine conductor–better than some on that list.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Gemma New has been some summer concerts with the San Francisco Symphony. I know nothing about her.

    • PeterSD says:

      She guest conducted in San Diego this past season and I found her to be very impressive indeed. Her command of the orchestra matched the excellence of her interpretive insights.

  • SteelTownRunner says:

    Curiously, I haven’t seen much outside demand for Han Na Chang outside her directorship of Trondheim.

  • Jack says:

    Norman, you’ve gotta be kidding me! No Joann Falletta, who’s still making great recordings for Naxos?

  • Luke Green says:

    I am most surprised to see Joana Carneiro described as a “drop-out” for taking a maternity break. This terminology is most unpleasant and has no place in the modern world.

  • Larry says:

    How about: (1) Joanne Falletta; (2) Barbara Hanigan; (3) Mei-Ann Chen.

  • BrianB says:

    When art takes a back seat to bean counting.

  • John Abulafia says:

    You missed Anne Manson, formerly Washington Opera, now Manitoba,. She was Abbado’s assistantvand first woman to conduct Vienna Phil.

    • John Rook says:

      Anne was conducting the VPO while Marin Alsop was still at provincial US level. Excellent musician.

      Nice to see your name again after all these years, John.

  • PeterSD says:

    I’m surprised that JoAnn Falletta, who has done such sterling work in Buffalo, doesn’t make you top 20.

  • LIVN says:

    Two Lithuanian women – BRAVI!
    With a country of less than 3,000,000 inhabitants (of which I hold dual citizenship) this is impressive.

    Haven’t seen Giedre… while I like MGTs ideas, I’d suggest she rein in the gestures a bit…more from heart and mind than from the movements!

  • what?! says:

    I guess JoAnn Falletta is so busy in Buffalo, Virginia and Hawaii, that’s whay she’s not in the list.

  • fflambeau says:

    The blogger obviously knows very little about this subject since he has omitted:

    JoAnn Falletta; Joana Carneiro (Berkeley Symphony; Orquestra Sinfónica Portuguesa; Carneiro will make her Edinburgh International Festival debut in August 2019, leading the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra); Han-na Chang ( Trondheim Symphony Orchestra; Named a Classical Super-star of Tomorrow by Gramophone Magazine (UK); Andrea Quinn (an opera specialist who has conducted in London, New York; Australia etc.); Mei-Ann Chen (music director of the Chicago Sinfonietta); Sarah Ioannides (Music Director, Symphony Tacoma); Nicolette Fraillon (Chief Conductor of The Australian Ballet); Sarah Hicks (Minnesota Orchestra, conductor of live at Orchestra Hall and staff conductor at the Curtis Institute); Dianne Wittry (the Allentown Symphony Orchestra; Music Director and Conductor of the Garden State Philharmonic in New Jersey); Eva Ollikainen (chief conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, effective 2020, Nordic Chamber Orchestra).

    And I am sure I have missed many talented people.

    • M2N2K says:

      Not only you “missed many talented people” such as for example Xian Zhang and Emmanuelle Haim – both highly accomplished – but you also missed the concluding part of the post where Joana Carneiro is in fact mentioned specifically and prominently by name.

      • John Rook says:

        EH needs to prove herself with orchestras other than her own. It didn’t go well at the Paris opera a few years ago.

        • M2N2K says:

          She did prove herself very well with our major American symphony orchestra which is definitely not her own, on several occasions.

      • fflambeau says:

        Here’s the concluding part of the post which you claim I “missed”: “Among the dropouts is Joana Carneiro, who’s taking a career break for motherhood.”

        Calling anyone a “dropout” is hardly an endorsement of talent, is it? And the blogger makes no mention of her upcoming engagement at the Edinburgh International Festival which shows she is indeed in demand.

        • M2N2K says:

          The blogger did not include all of the upcoming engagements of any conductors listed in this post because that was not the purpose and would have taken way too much space and time. However, Joana Carneiro’s name is in fact there in the post for all of us to see while many others were indeed unmentioned as you yourself noted, so it is inaccurate to say that she was “omitted”. No, calling someone “among the dropouts” is not “an endorsement of talent”, but including her name in this post while so many others are not mentioned at all certainly is.

  • Sarah says:

    Whare is Lidiya Yankovskaya? She is currently the ONLY female music director of a major American opera company

  • Carl says:

    I’d ask Norman to admit he goofed in overlooking JoAnn Falletta of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Falletta has done wonderful work with the Buffalo Philharmonic and others, and her concerts and recordings are particularly noteworthy for regularly raising the profile of lesser-known works.

    • The View from America says:

      I don’t think it’s in NL’s nature to ever admit a goof — he’s just not hard-wired that way.

      But he isn’t thickheaded, either. Judging from the number of comments and upvotes about JoAnn Falletta above, my guess is that she’ll be on the list next time ’round.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I could have listed at least 30 more. These are the ones whose career has moved in the past year.

  • John Rook says:

    Let’s not forget Anne Manson, Jane Glover, Julia Jones and Simone Young who were at the vanguard of the recent crop of podium ladies and owed their success to talent and hard work, unlike many in this list who, betwittered and empowered by social trends, have merely caught the bus to recognition.

    However, I do suspect this list was just an excuse to have a picture of Mirga and make her N°1 of something…

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Your suspicion is probably a certainty for many readers.

    • Luigi Nonono says:

      Probably right. But I question Jane Glover’s capability. She is a fine writer, but her supposed biography of Handel is only about his operas and his social connections. Very disappointing, it adds very little to knowledge about his work. Even worse, it repeats the mistake of Paul Henry Lang in doing the same thing.

  • Anton Bruckner says:

    I have not yet formed an opinion but isn’t Mirga overrated? She has the charisma, the potential, but at this stage of her career is she really that good or did she just profit from the belated entry of women to the conductors’ scene?

    • LEWES BIRD says:

      Mirga will do to stretching what Jane Fonda did to aerobics.

      Here’s that image that is absolutely *everwhere*, and that inspires ticket buyers to buy tickets because it’s so dynamic and the conductor is working so hard that she must really be good, because look, what passion: https://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/CBSO-6th-October-823×408.jpg

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Mirga is at the beginning of her career, but would be considered one of the best of the younger conductors even if she were male. Of course, careers don’t always develop in the way people hope, but she has every chance of becoming one of the best and becoming chief conductor at one of the major European orchestras in 10 years time. However, at the moment, it is clearly too early and there is still much to learn.

  • John Sorel says:

    As usual, Jane Glover has fallen off the SD radar. :((

  • John Rook says:

    Ms Waldman is not the first women MD of a French orchestra – that was debunked in a previous post. Audrey Saint-Gil is very much a beginner; one or two contracts do not a (woman) conductor make.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    There goes the future of classical music, down the drain. Marin Alsop, your number two, is widely acknowledged as an extremely mediocre conductor of questionable taste.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Marin Alsop is actually widely known as a very competent conductor just below the top level. And this is reflected in the type of orchestra jobs she has had. This is still a very high standard and she has rightly has had, and continues to have, a good career.

    • LEWESbird says:

      Widely? How widely? By whom?

      But let’s assume she is mediocre as a conductor; fine — there’s no accounting for the judgment of others.

      I’m more interested, however, in the charge that Marin Alsop has “questionable taste”. Taste in what? In the way she dresses? In her choice of repertoire wherever she is music director and has any say at all in what’s being played? Other than these two aspects of “taste”, what others types of “taste” are remotely relevant to an assessment of Marin Alsop — or indeed of any conductor or either gender?

      I’m waiting for your explanation. Got the popcorn ready.

  • John Sorel says:

    If only Sian Edwards were from a NATO-fighting obscure mini-state in E Europe eh? That way she might finally catch SD’s attention?

  • Rafael says:

    Oksana Lyniv!!!

  • Divide to better reign is your motto says:

    This list is so stupid. As if women conductors need to be rated. It is such a male thing to do.
    Music ain’t no competition, and even less a beauty contest.