No Asian maestros in classical music? Here’s a list

No Asian maestros in classical music? Here’s a list


norman lebrecht

July 22, 2021’s global readership has responded with stupefaction to yesterday’s New York Times feature, claiming that Asians are reduced to invisibility at the summits of classical music. One reader has posted this list of prominent Asian-American composers and conductors.

Unsuk Chin
Bright Sheng
Tan Dun
Dai Fujikura
Toru Takemitsu
Vivian Fung
Chinary Ung
Conrad Tao
Chen Yi
Chou Wen-Chung


Alan Gilbert
Akira Endo
Kent Nagano
S. Ozawa
Yu Long
Xian Zhang
Myung-Whun Chung
Eiji Oue

To which we could also add Lang Lang, Mitsuko Uchida, Yuja Wang, three of the biggest box-office draws at Carnegie Hall. And Elim Chan, one of Europe’s fast-rising conductors.

What do they use for editorial judgement these days at the NY Times’ arts section?

This is just embarrassing.


  • Gustavo says:

    Elim Chan
    Tadaaki Otaka
    Yondani Butt

    Yo-Yo Ma?


  • Wurm says:

    Norman, you should offer them your services as an editorial consultant – I wonder if they can afford you, though?

  • M says:

    thanks for this. one one only has to do a casual look at USA orch pics and see that wonderful musicians of Asian descent rule. this NY times article was trite and exhibits no sense of reality. good for mitusko not even bothering responding….

  • Derek H says:

    There are –

    Elim Chan conductor of Antwerp Symphony Orchestra

    Han-Na Chang conductor of Trondheim Symphony Orchestra

  • Fridolf says:

    Milwaukee appointed Ken-David Masur as Music Director, a musician of Japanese heritage.

  • CRWang says:

    Please don’t forget to add Ms. Pearl S. Buck. The first Chinese to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Lol.

  • Nosema says:


    Lan Shui
    Tashiyuki Kamioka

    I don’t read the Grey Whore no more….

  • Jonathon says:

    I think you totally missed the point of the original article Mr Lebrecht!

    • Miguel Campos says:

      Agreed. The main point is that despite there being a just of people of Asian descent in classical music, they still face racism in classical music regularly.

  • Gustavo says:

    However, I find the grouping of artists based on biogeographical, genetic and physiognomic characteristics to be downright racist.

    • Listing them in order to note their unjust exclusion is anti-racist.

    • Chicagorat says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with you.

      What you describe so crisply is what Muti does when he unashamedly labels Maestro Myung-Whun Chung (a Korean) “the Chinaman” based on his physio-gnomic characteristics .

      I wonder what Robert Chen and the many Asian musicians at the CSO think about this!

      • Gustavo says:


        Oh you mean that long-haired Berlusconiesque Ity?

        He’s unique in the World…no need to start a list.

  • M says:

    I think what we have to do is differentiate between soloist-conductors and rank and file orch players. in america not a problem at all. look at the rosters. those of Asian decent win jobs left and right. Europe is a different story.

    • There is a great deal of silent complicity surrounding the problem in Europe.

    • Bruno Michel says:

      I am not sure about Europe being a different story. Virtually every single national or regional orchestra in Europe has a huge representation of Asians, especially in the strings section (true, not many in the wind and brass or percussion: maybe these sections are displaying discrimination?) All it takes is going to a concert and having the curiosity of reading the names of the orchestral musicians in the programme.

      • I’m not sure that’s true. German orchestras hire a lot of foreign tutti string players, but they are mostly Eastern European. Some Asians, but not a whole lot. We need to see some documented numbers. We should also note that the lower the status of the orchestra, the larger the number of foreigners.

        • Anon says:

          I agree with you, here, Mr. Osborne. I see bias against Asians as coming most strongly from Eastern Bloc countries. It makes sense that this carries over, albeit to a lesser degree, to their German neighbors.

          Zukerman’s comment about Asians, which you mentioned in another thread, stems from this Eastern European bias, IMHO. He’s a generation removed from his Polish roots, but I think a vestige of that bias remains with him.

          There’s a chasm of difference between acceptance of Asians in European & US orchestras. They are 2 separate worlds. You’re right: Europe does not have the representation of Asians in orchestras in the same way the US does.

          But here are 2 points to consider:

          1. You point out the high nos. of Asian students in Viennese conservatories vs. their representation in VPO. But here’s the thing: many wealthy Asian families send music students abroad simply for the best possible education in the European or US tradition. It’s not necessarily with the intent of remaining in the country to find a job. A large no. just want the education and then to return home to teach or play at the highest level in their native countries. The European or US training gives them the ultimate edge.

          The students you refer to are not necessarily studying in Vienna in order to land jobs in Austria. Nor do they attend Juilliard just to win a position in the NYPhil. It’s a win win for the conservatories and the students: these wealthy Asian students pay full tuition – a boon for the conservatories – and can return home with a prestigious European or US education.

          2. Did it ever occur to you that many young Asian professional orch players might not WANT to play in Europe? The best European players themselves often prefer to take jobs in the US, simply because the salaries are much higher.

          These well trained young Asians, usually from affluent families, are not naive. Why should an outstanding player with a stellar education even bother taking European auditions when they could audition for a job paying 4 times more in the US? So yes, the US has a strong representation of Asians, and every other catagory of foreigner in its top orchestras, perhaps because the salaries are among the highest in the world.

          So, in closing, Asian representation in orchestras the EU and the US are 2 entirely different ballgames. The EU lags behind, I agree with you. But there are plenty of factors besides outright discrimination against Asians behind that discrepancy.

      • m says:

        this could well be true, i would need to do more research, but what i DO know is that euro auditions are not like USA ones. in Europe one needs to get invited and the cull is severe. i cannot name the orch but when i was there, there were 300 applicants for one job. 40 invited. 20 showed up. the discrimination of asian sounding names is real. at least in my former band.

  • phf655 says:

    The New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony and Met Orchestras all have Asian, or Asian-American concertmasters. If we were to include South Asians, the list would be even longer, beginning with Zubin Mehta.

  • I’m not all that impressed by the above lists. The list of conductors seems small given how many conductors there are, and especially lacking for those in the top echelon. And there’s no listing for arts administrators at all, which was a topic the article raises.

    From a larger context, 60% of the world’s population is Asian. We will continue to see their prominence in the music world grow.

    • Nick2 says:

      Masaaki Suzuki
      Muhai Tang

      And let’s not forget that audiences in many parts of Asia are considerably younger on average than most in other parts of the world. Then add in the future potential of Asia with so many children studying instruments from an early age.

    • Miguel Campos says:

      Thank you for addressing the main point of the article! Maybe you should write for Slipped Disc instead.

    • Bruno Michel says:

      “lacking for those in the top echelon”? Ozawa, Chung, Nagano, Gilbert, Kazushi Ono… Let us not mention the soloists from Uchida to Yo Yo Ma to Yuja Wang. It is difficult to imagine more prestigious careers, nor more on the “top echelon”.

    • Ufeana says:

      What a nonsense. Same can be said the opposite way – how many white or non asians there are in orchestras in China, Japan etc.

      I honesty have enough of politics and wokeness on music news blog.

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    Myung-Whun Chung at the top. Elim Chan very promissing.

  • Alan K says:

    And how about the concertmasters of the Metropolitan Opera, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Chicago Symphony just to name three? Asian Americans hold principal wind positions in many of our major orchestras as well. The NYT, a former newspaper is simply a vehicle for hate America (and Israel) propaganda. Not surprising for a paper that covered up Stalin’s mass murders along with the Holocaust

  • Larry says:

    Conductors: Sarah Hicks; Rae Hotoda.

  • Miguel Campos says:

    The point of the article is that despite the fact that there are a list of “famous” classical musicians of Asian descent, it conceals the fact that Asians face routine racism in the classical music world.

    I’m sorry Norman, but simply posting a list of all the classical musicians of Asian descent does not address the issue of racism that the article addresses. In fact, you didn’t address that at all in this article or the previous one that you wrote on the NYT article.

  • bruno michel says:

    This is indeed embarrassing, since, if there is one minority which is NOT under-represented in performance of classical music on all levels, it really is Asians (from the Far East, that is, since Asians can also be intended to mean “from the Indian subcontinent”), and that is really not new, also, since Asians have been in Classical music for 40 years now, and more and more so, in opera, orchestras, instrumentalist and conductors, and in competitions also. The list is actually much longer than that posted by your reader. That not one person in the editorial office would have checked this article before it came out is a mystery.

  • BRUCEB says:

    It almost looks as if NL fell for one of his own headlines: finding something with a relationship to the actual subject of the article so tangential as to be practically made up, and get mad about it.

    (But then again, the original SD post didn’t have a whole lot to do with the NY Times article either. A non-surprise followed by another.)

    • Emil says:

      Newspapers columnists and TV talking heads have been making very lucrative careers of getting outraged over nonexistent things. And it’s only sped up with the latest ‘cancel culture’, ‘wokeness’, and ‘critical race theory’ fictional panics.

  • Minnesota says:

    If there isn’t a racial or ethnic or gender or sexuality injustice angle in the story, the Times isn’t interested.

  • Old Texan says:

    So she is forced to play Butterfly and Turandot?? Please, you have a fabulous job that thousands of people would love to have. And by your logic no one should have to play Meistersinger either, because it is so hateful towards Jews! Not to mention Aida!

  • CYM says:

    How about the huge numbers of Asian music students studying privately, or in prestigious conservatories, music academies, music schools, colleges and universities ?

  • Wes says:

    Naoto Otomo
    Rei Hotoda
    Carolyn Kuan

  • Kathleen E King says:

    Ditto. It is past time we stopped the “race game” and renew our gratitude for the classical geneii with whom our civilization has been graced.

  • Alan Glick says:

    It is no longer news that the NYT ignores facts that get in the way of its woke agenda. Their coverage of the arts is no better than the front page. The days of Harold Schonberg and Donald Henahan are long gone. Missing my decades long ritual of reading the NYT on Sunday mornings I picked up one of Schonberg’s books “Facing the Music,” which collects many of his NYT articles. What a refreshing blast from the past. Highly recommended.

  • Snark Shark says:

    Perhaps NY times claiming a lack of Asian representation has less to do with the facts and more to do with them projecting their internalized racism. About par for the course for a flaming garbage dump of a “news” source.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    Indeed there is racism out there and it’s very unfortunate.
    Considering how quickly East Asia wrapped its arms around Western classical music the art form should
    be grateful it’s in good hands for future generations.

    On to a curiosity I’ve just wondered about:
    How many non-Asian employees have you encountered at Asian food restaurants in America? I cannot think of any beyond fast food chains.

  • Morgan says:

    Norman, you read widely but too often not well. You lead a fire storm of a parade of comments in an effort to push against the NYT. Same on you. Had you paid attention you might have noticed this was intended as a POV/opinion piece. What the Asian community think, and with a stack of evidence to substantiate, was the point of the article. Why flame the fires of white privilege?

  • Nathaniel Rosen says:

    Composer Paul Chihara

  • Nathaniel Rosen says:

    Without Asian musicians there can be no music. They are the ones whose parents are making them practice.

  • Violin Fairy says:

    Hey Norman,
    First of all thank you for compiling this list of Asian maestros and conductors. And also, thank you to everyone else for adding other additions.

    While it is heartening to see Asians being represented in these positions, let’s also keep in mind that there is still a long way to go when it comes to diversity and inclusion. As I mentioned before in my comment on your previous post regarding the NYT article, seeing more of X minority/gender doesn’t mean that these people don’t face any challenges. However is it a sign that things are changing for the better? Yes. So let’s start from there.

  • Emil says:

    A list of a dozen names doth not a field make.

  • Pedro says:

    After Ozawa, the best conductor from Asia is for me Kazuchi Ono.

  • Michel Lemieux says:

    Maestro Jahja Ling.

  • Ilio says:

    Read the article. And not everyone on that list is Asian American….

  • Hmus says:

    Kensho Watanabe (assitant conductor of Philadelphia Orchestra 2016-19)

  • Most of the “Asian-Americans” on that list are not Americans.

    Seiji Ozwa?

    Maybe some worked in the US at some point, but it is unremarkable to make a list of Asian musicians living and working in… Asian countries.

    “What do they use for editorial judgement these days at the NY Times’ arts section?”

    It has to be better than who ever made up that mistaken list.

  • fflambeau says:

    Ken-David Masur is half Japanese so is Jun Märkl; both are prominent conductors.

  • fflambeau says:

    By my count, Asians, or part Asians, have held the top conductor/directorships at the New York Philharmonic (Alan Gilbert); the Minnesota Orchestra (Eiji Oue); the Boston and :
    San Francisco Symphony Orchestras (S. Ozawa); the Lyon National Opera Orchestra, the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) and the Bavarian State Opera (Kent Nagano); the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Civic Orchestra of Chicago (Ken-David Masur); the Chicago Sinfonetta, (Mei-Ann Chen); the MDR Symphony Orchestra in Leipzig, the Basque National Orchestra , the Taiwan and Malaysian Symphony orchestras (Jun Märkl); he Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, the the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Elim Chan)–and this is an incomplete list. Not so bad at all.

    I think the group that has a legitimate gripe are black people who really have little leadership at top levels and also in the rank and file.