NY Times tells US orchestras to do as Lebrecht says

NY Times tells US orchestras to do as Lebrecht says


norman lebrecht

June 04, 2021

Last month, in The Critic, I took the London Symphony Orchestra sevrely to task for losing their nerve when Simon Rattle quit and failing to promote the talent in its wings:

This was a golden opportunity for an orchestra, with not much to lose, to shed the Sirs and advance the lads. They needed to think local, to green shoots in their 30s — Kerem Hasan, Duncan Ward, Alpesh Chauhan, Marta Gardolinska, Harry Ogg, Ben Gernon, Jessica Cottis, Jonathan Heyward, many more. This was the LSO’s moment to take a leap of faith in new talent that might regenerate its ageing audience. Wretchedly, they blew it.

Today, in the New York Times, classical music editor Zachary Woolfe (pic) writes:

… And that may be a missed opportunity. When Marin Alsop steps down from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra this summer, it will leave the top tier of American ensembles as it was before she took the post in 2007: without a single female music director. There has never been a Black music director in this group, and just a handful of leaders have been Latino or of Asian descent.

“It’s been a paternalistic industry to some degree for a long time,” Kim Noltemy, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s chief executive, said in an interview. “In the last 20 years it’s changed quite a bit, but there’s lag time for the top-level leadership, whether it’s management or conductors.”

But it is a very different story when you look at the country’s assistants, a far more diverse group in which women and musicians of color have found success in recent years.

Now there is a chance for those assistant conductors to become more than just another set of ears in a darkened auditorium. They provide an opportunity to fast-track greater diversity at historically slow-evolving institutions…

When he’s right, he’s right.



  • Anon says:

    There are so many young conductors being promoted by major music critics, and most of them are terrible.

    • Violinista says:

      All of them are without merit

    • Londonpro says:

      Anon. The young conductors which NL suggested the LSO to appoint, instead of Pappano, have all worked with the orchestra. And, with the exception of Duncan Ward, are not up to their standard! Thirty plus years ago, they would have been eaten alive – the LSO is apparently a more docile beast nowadays, but still doesn’t suffer inadequate conductors.

    • Kman says:

      Your commentary on the quality of young conductors may be entirely correct. But “most of them are terrible” is lazy.

      What qualities make them so? Is it just youth? How do you know they are terrible (which is presumably multi-attribute)? What are specific examples?

      If I were to guess, I’d say those that make commentary like “most young conductors are terrible” are making that statement primarily based on age and little else.

    • SVM says:

      Indeed. And there are so many old conductors who, despite being better and possessing a wider repertoire than most of the “lads” Lebrecht mentioned, languish in obscurity.

      But we must be careful not to get too prejudiced. There are some good young conductors (although none of the names I have in mind is listed by Lebrecht), and many young conductors who could, with more experience, become good conductors (although it is not necessarily the case that said “experience” should involve conducting — playing in orchestras at a professional level is excellent training for becoming a conductor). When I was a teenager, I was very fortunate to have composition lessons with an outstanding conductor who was then in his late-20s (Clement Power). Despite this, I am still somewhat guilty of assuming that a good conductor cannot be young… my first reaction on reading Lebrecht’s list of “lads” was: “Is Jessica Cottis really only in her 30s?!?” (precisely *because* Cottis is a good conductor, I had assumed that she would have been older).

  • E Rand says:

    If diversity at any cost is the goal, then appointing people purely on the basis of race will be necessary, as its not working out too well in the blind audition format. Remember, blind auditions were supposed to weed out biases. Apparently, thats not working out to the satisfaction of the DEI (or is it DIE?) crowd. Not surprised. Whites (which includes Asians) soon need not apply.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Diversity, Equity, Inclusion; could be there a more contradictory doctrine – and it IS a doctrine. How can you have diversity in equity if affirmative action is meant to promote certain racial cohorts? That very critical race theory actually weeds out diversity – especially in thought and speech. As for inclusion; just as long as you’re not successful you can join the club. Or Jewish, white, Asian…. well, you get the point.

    • FrauGeigerin says:

      Diversity is not, and never has been, the goal. Behind all this there are persons who are mediocre and need to compensate their lack of preparation, talent and commitement with noise about who they are instead of what they do.

    • ELF says:

      I don’t think conductors and MDs are chosen through blind audition. Very hard to judge conducting ability / style if no one can see him or her.

      • E Rand says:

        I am aware. I brought up blind auditions to point out that if there WERE an actual racism problem in classical music, blind auditions would have resulted in an increase in black musicians. There is no racism problem in classical music.

  • drummerman says:

    For some reason, 99.99% of the time US orchestras never promote their assistant/associate conductors to the MD position, no what their gender or race. It just never seems to happen. Perhaps David Hyslop has some thoughts on this.

    • Tom says:

      ‘assistant, associate, fellow, resident’, a more apt though unflattering title might be ‘utility conductor’. They may actually conduct more services per season than their Music Directors – educational, community, pops and may be doing excellent work but usually with only one rehearsal, and that’s what their relationship with the orchestra is based on. Then the prospective new MD comes to town with their favorite party pieces, perhaps a foreign accent and a some ‘penetrating insights’ that show a link to a great tradition and gets 4 rehearsals. It’s not a fair comparison.

    • Thomas Varley says:

      I wouldn’t say “never”. The Chicago Symphony promoted Frederick Stock to the top position as recently as 1905.

  • Joseph T Anderer says:

    There was a time when only Europeans were considered, and we haven’t quite left THAT behind, have we! (although we now seem to include Venezuelans, or at least one of them). Please don’t think this is a racist comment, because Dudamel, in my experience, has possibly been the greatest conductor since Carlos Kleiber, and LA was 100% inspired when they made that decision! There are many Latino and black conductors, and even women! 😉 being recognized today, but perhaps not in the “big leagues” yet. I could name many names, but I think the “market” will prove my point, even in the USA! BTW, RIP to Bob Fitzpatrick, my old friend and mentor!

    • James Weiss says:

      1. The Baltimore Symphony Orch is a “top tier ensemble.
      2. Dudamel is the greatest conductor since Carlos Kleiber.

      Take your picture which statement is the most ludicrous thing you’ve heard all day. I’ll go with number 2.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      Alondra de la Parra!

    • Bone says:

      You lost me at comparing Dude and Carlos Kleiber. Literally no basis whatsoever besides the fact both have stood in front of orchestras.

    • Nick says:

      There is a distance between Carlos Kleiber (who, incidentally has nothing to do with Venezuela) and Dudamel. The distance is ≈ 100 billion light years !! In a word: INCOMPARABLE! C. Kleiber is one and only, Dudamels — a dime a dozen

  • KH says:

    “They provide an opportunity to fast-track greater diversity at historically slow-evolving institutions”

    The New York City classical music commentariat establishment is far less “diverse” than just about any American orchestra. Indeed, it is less “diverse” than Vienna Philharmonic. Their opinions on “diversity” should be dismissed out of hand until they practise what they preach. Which one of them need to resign first for the noble cause of “diversity”? Any nominations?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      “Need”? Or, from the way things are going, will they have a gun pointed at them? Give us your gig and get out of the way!! Stalin got his gig through the prism of ‘altruism’ and ‘fairness’ after the failures of Tsarist Russia.


    I’ve said before on this site that when they get back to playing in front of full halls, orchestras will be looking for bums on seats. Young bloods, although they may have great potential, aren’t going to do it I’m afraid. By all means nurture them, as the LSO undoubtedly does (see the recent Donatella Flick competition) and see them as future MDs, but it’ll take time.

    The problem with Mr Lebrecht, like opposition MPs, is that he can opine what he likes because he has no responsibility for any outcomes. Put him in charge of a major symphony orchestra and see if his opinions work in practice. Mr Lebrecht, stop hiding behind your keyboard and offer your services free of charge to someone for a trial period, and let’s see how good you really are!

  • Peter San Diego says:

    Promoting the careers of the finest young conductors is a worthy task in itself, and certainly one that has been usually relegated to neglect. It is only the present social-intellectual-political climate that makes tagging it with diversity more likely to obtain the needed attention. Simply promoting the best young talent will likely ameliorate lack of diversity as well, without turning the process into another point of contention between right and left.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Oh, this IS naive.

    • Rogerd says:

      Why not promoting every good conductor regardless of their age or sex? There are musicians who, after mastering another musical area, study and take up conducting in their mid thirties… are they not worth supporting and promoting?

  • Off in Bach says:

    “When Marin Alsop steps down from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra this summer, it will leave the top tier of American ensembles as it was before she took the post in 2007: without a single female music director.”

    True, but let’s not forget that Marin Alsop wasn’t even the BSO’s choice – the orchestra members were never consulted. Rather, Marin was imposed on the orchestra by an inept and insane Manager who was ousted himself after less than 2 years on the job.

    • Wise Guy says:

      And it was the NY Times that went in to overtime lobbying for the BSO to hire her when nobody else would.

  • Alan Glick says:

    When the Detroit Symphony was forced by the City Council on pain of losing government funding to abandon the strict audition procedure and hire a Black musician, James DePriest sent a letter to the New York times stating that he would never again conduct the Detroit Symphony because the stigma now attached to any Black musician in that orchestra would be such that their ability would be suspect.

  • justin says:

    The big difference is that Woolfe, unlike Lebrecht, did not (could not? would not?) make a list of those women and Black conductors he thought ready and worthy of a major music directorship.

    Indeed, I challenge him to make a list of women and Black conductors that, in his opinion, should have been made music director of any of the top 10 American orchestras in the last 50 years over who was actually appointed.

  • To be a marketable conductor or composer you really should have a European-sounding name and look as if you were born with it.

    • mytwocents says:

      In the Untied States for sure, unless a composer is a Spaniard (from Spain, europe) and has a name that sounds “mexican”.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    The New York Times – the hard left newspaper of influence. For now.

    • Kuniko 2 says:

      You have no idea of what a real “hard left” newspaper might look like. To you, anything that wouldn’t pander to your reactionary views would be “hard left”.

  • fflambeau says:

    True but there are more mixed-race and minority conductors/ music directors out there than there were a few decades ago and also that are not being counted here. Kent Nagano is Asian; Ken David-Masur is half Japanese and half German; there are actually quite a few “Latino” conductors beginning with the Dude but also Tito Muñoz in Phoenix; Giancarlo Guerrero in Nashville; José Luis Gomez in Tucson; Andrés Orozco-Estrada is in Houston. And I am sure I missed lots of people.

    To me, the real underrepresentation is amongst females and blacks. There are lots of women “in the musical system” not so many blacks in classical music.

  • SMH says:

    No one seems to mention that the US orchestral world (players & conductors) is a zero job growth industry. There are NO new full time salaried orchestras being created. Players hold onto their positions for decades. Conductors hold two or more directorships and basically the same group rotates from orchestra to orchestra.

    In the past several decades diversity in orchestras has increased 1000%. Women, AAPI, out gay people etc., but it takes time. Turnover is VERY slow.

    How many bassoon positions open up in US orchestras during a year? Tuba? Harp?

    There may be a thousand great BIPOC bassoonists out there, and they aren’t employed in major orchestras not because of racism, but because there are ZERO job openings most of the time. Perhaps it would be better to focus on diversity in arts administration and management, which I imagine has much more turnover in its ranks.

  • Nick says:

    Why would it matter, the skin color, the gender, the nationality, the quotas? WHO GIVES A DAMN?! Nobody.
    All the Music and the world need is GREAT TALENT regardless of EVERYTHING ELSE. And there should not be even a conversation about these matters, because, no matter how you turn them around, they are inherently racist, sexist, artificial and leftist. ONLY TALENT AND PROFESSIONAL ABILITY SHOULD MATTER!

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    Young aspiring conductors under 30 complaining about not getting opportunities because they are too young; aspiring conductors between 35 and 45 complaining because the opportunities are given only to young conductors; women complaining that they don’t get opportunities; black conductors complaining that they don’t get enough opportunities; Asian conductors complaining because they don’t get opportunities; US-American conductors in the US conducting because there are “too many” foreign conductors conducting their orchestras; runner-ups in conducting competitions complaining that it is “all politics” and that the jury was unfair; conductors without careers complaining that they don’t get opportunities because the ones who get them have connections…

    Please, stop. Yes, there are things that are unfair, but the reason why you don’t get enough opportunities is YOU. Stop crying and whining, stop playing cards (race, sex, age…), and study harder, prepare better, invest in your career, be ready for the moment when the opportunity arises, and continue fighting like we all do.

  • GUEST says:

    When professional American basketball and football teams start drafting new players specifically to “diversify” their teams- and maybe include women, as well- I’ll know that this DEI stuff is real. Until then, I say let orchestras choose the best conductors and players available to them. Period.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    “When Marin Alsop steps down from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra this summer, it will leave the top tier of American ensembles as it was before she took the post in 2007: without a single female music director. There has never been a Black music director in this group, ….”

    I am no longer sure what the “top tier” is, but based on recordings, the only basis I have in this case, I would rank the Oregon Symphony with Baltimore, or at least it was very close in quality, and James DePreist was the music director (and led the Oregon Symphony recordings I’m thinking of). I agree that one Black conductor of a fine American orchestra is not a great showing but Mr Woolfe said “never been.”

    “… and just a handful of leaders have been Latino or of Asian descent.” Hmm. Ozawa? Alan Gilbert? Mata? Eleazar de Carvalho? If Spaniards are “Latinos” (?) José Iturbi? There’s my handful but I suspect others can add to it.

    To my knowledge — go ahead an pounce if I am in error — “there has never been a Black, Latino or Asian classical music editor of the New York Times.” But it is a lovely glass house, so I hear.

  • Fliszt says:

    Buffalo Philharmonic has had Joann Faletta as music director for longer than Alsap was in Baltimore.

  • Alan Glick says:

    Correction: It wasn’t the City Council. It was the State Legislature.

  • Wise Guy says:

    Once again, NY Times is picking on poor Baltimore to be the affirmative action dumpster for their perfect world. They aren’t all over National Symphony or Chicago Symphony to hire on the basis of skin color or gender, yet, its always Baltimore that has to do so, and for some reason, has to do what NY Times commands.