Why Nathalie Stutzmann just made it easier for the next

Why Nathalie Stutzmann just made it easier for the next


norman lebrecht

October 14, 2021

It was September 2007 when Baltimore broke the glass ceiling and appointed a woman as its music director. Marin Alsop has now stepped down but in all those 14 years not one American symphony orchestra dared to follow suit.

It was not for lack of talent (there’s plenty). It was lack of guts.

The lone exception has been Xian Zhang at New Jersey, but she’s not there much and somehow no-one notices New Jersey.

Still, things have changed and will now change faster.

Eun Sun Kim (pictured) is settling in as music director at San Francisco Opera. Nicole Paiement has changed the climate at Dallas Opera. Karina Canellakis is figuring on several current shortlists.

The New York Philharmonic is keen to change its gender bias with, perhaps, Mirga or Simone Young as successor to Jaap.

Chicago is in search mode. Philadelphia, which had Nathalie as principal guest, will want another like her. She has earned her spurs first as a singer and then in midlife as a conductor, mentored by Seiji Ozawa and other astute maestros.

If I were a betting man, I’d wager $50 that the next music director of a major US orchestra will be a woman.



  • Igor says:

    That´s not a particularly large wager…

  • Mozart38 says:

    Congrats to Nathalie and the ASO!

    However, to correct the record, Xian Zhang conducts between 9 and 11 weeks per season in New Jersey (as a proportion of the season, a much higher ratio than most Big Five MDs), lives in the state and is a valued member of the community, and just received a rave notice from Tommasini in the NYT.

  • RW2013 says:

    I’ll make that bet that you are wrong.

  • Don says:

    Nobody notices?? Where have you been? NJSO has reached millions of new viewers through innovative digital offerings during the pandemic. Opening night last week with Xian received rave reviews from The NY Times and elsewhere. She lives in NJ and conducts the vast majority of concerts there. Where do you get your info?

  • Robin Mitchel says:

    Stutzmann is keeping her Philadelphia gig, as Peter Dobrin reports. I’m looking forward to hearing her live; from as much one can tell from radio and videos I like the string sound she gets.

  • debuschubertussy says:

    Will somebody please clarify what exactly is meant by “major US orchestra?”

    • Frank Flambeau says:

      That’s a good question, Debuschubertussy.

      There is no longer the “Big Five” headed over by the NY Philharmonic. In fact, I would place that group only as the 6th best in the USA preceded by Chicago, LA, Boston, San Francisco and Philly.

      I think they are now a second tier orchestra and are being challenged by Atlanta, Seattle, Minnesota, St. Louis and especially Cleveland. Note that Jaap was only their 3rd or 4th choice as music director with other, better candidates backing out.

      It’s kind of like the self-appointed “America’s Mayor,” who really is a more of a crook than a politician. What a joke that is. New York has been doing it with mirrors for years.

      • Anon says:

        Frank, have you actually heard all these orchestras?
        Cleveland has never been 2nd tier. In fact, one could argue that Cleveland has been the finest American orchestra for the past 75 years.
        The two West coast heavyweights are the products of extreme media hype, particularly LA.
        Seattle? Really?

        • anon says:

          There is an easy way to compare these orchestras: Carnegie Hall Live from WQXR. Despite their reputation, Cleveland’s playing is about average among the American orchestras recorded. Personally I dislike their sound, which I find both sterile and oily at the same time, and not very musical overall.

        • Frank Flambeau says:

          I am not impressed by Cleveland’s current chief. Yes, the orchestra was terrific on GS but that was a long time ago.

        • Frank Flambeau says:

          Yes, I have heard all these orchestras. Seattle has a huge and excellent concert hall and has some great conductors (the last 3). I love Gerard Scharz and consider him perhaps the most innovative and creative conductor around. Note he was a trumpet soloist with the NYPhilharmonic.

      • PGVienna says:

        Cleveland is the best US orchestra by a mile.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    JoAnn Falletta began her tenure as music director in Buffalo in 1999, 8 years before Alsop. Why the silence about her breakage of the glass ceiling?

  • Hmus says:

    Come on, Joann Faletta has been heading Buffalo Phil since 1997, and there’s really not a huge difference between it and the Baltimore Symphony.

    • The View from America says:

      Both orchestras are full of talented musicians and as a result, both orchestras deliver performances of high quality.

      Where Buffalo scores over Baltimore is in its release of some very noteworthy recordings — ones that actually add something to the discography instead of offering up “yet another warhorse” run-through.

    • Musician says:

      No difference except Baltimore pays its musicians twice as much! ‍♂️

  • PGVienna says:

    Stutzmann is by far a better and bigger musician than every other publicity pushed other women on the list with may be the exception of Elim Chan.