Music festival bans men from main course

Music festival bans men from main course


norman lebrecht

January 05, 2022

From the once-egalitarian Dartington Festival in Devon, now supported in exclusion policies by Arts Council England:

Week three also sees the launch of a ground-breaking partnership with the RPS Women Conductors programme, with Dartington’s famous conducting course open only to applicants who identify as women for the first time in its history. The teaching will be led by renowned conductor Sian Edwards and the RPS programme’s founder Alice Farnham, who commented: “The conducting world has changed a great deal, and there is much to celebrate, but there is still work to be done. The gender ratio in the profession is still well under 10%, and this is a wonderful opportunity to help tip that balance. What better environment could there be for two weeks of focussed study than Dartington Summer School.”



photo of director Sara Mohr-Pietsch by Kate Mount


  • Achim Mentzel says:

    Pure discrimination. No woman has ever in history been denied participation in a masterclass for conductors simply because she is a woman. There is no masterclass exclusively for men or who define themselves as such. Do they really believe that you can fight discrimination with discrimination?

    • John Borstlap says:

      But men CAN participate, as long as they identify as women, as is clearly stated.

    • Michael James says:

      Yes, they do. In California a recent attempt was made to repeal anti-dsicrimination laws by referendum so that discrimination could be restored. But the voters have so far insisted that discrimination on grounds of gender, race etc should remain illegal.

    • Rachelle Goldberg says:

      Totally agree. I have participated in four conducting courses. In addition as a violinist I have played in a number of orchestras on courses for conductors which have included women. They were given the same opportunities in the masterclasses and treated in the same way.

    • Althea T-H says:

      @Achim Mentzel

      Oh dear, oh dear.

      Women were banned from participation in mainstream and musical society for centuries.

      Discrimination was often as covert as it was overt.

      Your statement is not based upon truth: it’s wishful thinking based upon historical ignorance.

      I am beginning to think that these policies might have some merit. At least they serve to give men a taste of the medicine that women have been forced to drink for centuries.

      Some of you are utterly ignorant of what life is like, when one lacks the privilege of having been born male.

      • Achim Mentzel says:

        “At least they serve to give men a taste of the medicine that women have been forced to drink for centuries.”

        This sentence actually says it all. It is not about equality but about humiliating men for the past.

        Thank you very much, you could not provide a clearer proof.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Indeed I’ve been suppressed for centuries! But when I ventilate this obvious truth, I’m not taken seriously.


      • Helen says:

        “At least they serve to give men a taste of the medicine that women have been forced to drink for centuries.”

        So you’re advocating revenge for centuries of unfairness imposed by men long since dead?

      • John Borstlap says:

        The reason women have been treated badly over the ages is because of the way, people (men) look at nature: as something to be tamed, dominated, exploited. For men, woman often meant Nature, so both alluring and feared, because of being dependent upon it – at least for procreation (= existence of the group). Only where nature is better understood, women get into their own.

        It has to do with human consciousness as a late development in evolution, taking distance from instinctive behavior and thus creating some freedom.

        Most atrocities in history were committed by men, but they have also to take responsibility for so much progress through taking distance from nature, to which we owe the vacuum cleaner, the fridge, vaccins and the atomic bomb.

        A society dominated by males has not shown to be the best way of creating and maintaining civilisation, as we can see all around us.

      • Paul Brownsey says:

        “At least they serve to give men a taste of the medicine that women have been forced to drink for centuries.”

        Why should today’s men have harm or disadvantage inflicted on them for what other men did once upon a time?

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        PRIVILEGE? You might like doing all the fighting in all the wars, dying in industrial accidents, dying younger than women in every single population, doing all the dirty work that women refuse to do, being punished in the divorce courts for being male and being deprived of fatherhood because your ex makes up the most appalling lies and these are BELIEVED without evidence? That kind of PRIVILEGE?

        Just grow up; you’re sounding like an entitled brat. And that an educated, middle class female now is suddenly a victim is an insult to peoples’ intelligence.

    • Donna Anna says:

      Really? No woman has ever in history been denied participation in a masterclass for conductors simply because she is a woman? Says who?

  • La plus belle voix says:

    A student of a colleague self-identifies as a woman but was born with a penis. Can this person apply?

  • dalet says:

    “who identify as women”

    Damn, and the Olympics make you undergo at least a visual inspection, if not genetic testing, to keep all those riff-raff men from trying to game the system.

    I think there ought to be a committee of musicians to visually verify all candidates…from behind a screen of course! gotta preserve blind auditioning.

    • Achim Mentzel says:

      What do we learn from this: the Olympics, an invention of the old white man, are highly discriminatory and must be abolished immediately.

  • Kenneth Griffin says:

    May I suggest that Slipped Disc has a concurrent two weeks in July during which all blog and comment posting is open only to people who identify as women.

    This might make a refreshing change.

  • N/A says:

    Some of you are really offended at the term ‘identify as a woman’ huh. Calm down and have a cuppa tea! There are more important things to worry about.

    A lot of you also don’t understand the difference between equality and equity, clearly. Sometimes an oppressed/marginalised group needs MORE spotlight than the non-marginalised group in order to create that equality. So, if the gender ratio in composers is well under 10%, as the article states, that means women need more of the spotlight. Makes sense, right?

    • Achim Mentzel says:

      Equality and equity between men and women will never be achieved if one of the genders concerned is excluded from participating from the outset, like this “famous conducting course” is doing.

    • IP says:

      You would be surprised at how little people care about your self-identification. But before that sinks in, why not go all the way and have concert halls only for people with the correct identification, or ask any possible buyer of your CD for a certificate that they identify correctly.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I never thought about ‘self-identification’ until I unintentionally walked into a men’s club at Pall Mall. I was thrown-out in the most patriarchal manner imaginable. I’m now reading stuff about it but it is complicated as hell! I think it will take a couple of years to find-out who I actually am.


    • Helen says:

      “There are more important things to worry about.”

      Not if you have a daughter being forced to share a changing room with someone who looks decidedly male, there aren’t.

      • Paradox says:

        Therefore you must be fine with natal ‘women,’ who now look, behave and identify as men, sharing a changing room with your daughter.

        • Helen says:

          Your ‘whataboutery’ doesn’t work for a number of reasons, the absence of a functioning penis being the obvious one.

          Furthermore, I’m not aware of any young girls claiming to be concerned about this. In an age where people are supposed to be entitled to ‘safe spaces’, I’m astonished that this risk to girls is being largely ignored. But then, in a sense, I shouldn’t be surprised at all because the issue is dominated by pure BS.

        • N/A says:

          I am absolutely fine sharing a changing room with women, yes. Why wouldn’t I be? Are you assuming that trans women are predators?

          • Helen says:

            No, I’m saying that some men are, and the blind acceptance of ‘trans women’ can allow easy access to changing rooms used by girls. The same risk exists in all places where girls and women have previously been segregated for their protection.

            But. let’s face it, you know perfectly well what the risks are but you choose to put this modish, trans BS, first.

          • True North says:

            This is a favorite trope of the right, but, like most things they say, it isn’t based in fact. If anything, trans people are far more likely themselves to be assaulted in washrooms and changing facilities. You’ve gotten yourself into a lather over something your daughter probably doesn’t even think twice about. What does any of this have to do with a music festival, anyway?

      • N/A says:

        I’m sure you daughter can cope with sharing a changing room with another human Helen. Meanwhile, the person you’ve clearly just misgendered is probably fearing for their life on a daily basis. Some understanding and love goes a long way.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The problem with such antidiscriminatory exercises is that they reduce individuals to first and foremost as representing a group, which is rather dehumanizing. Removing prejudice is something different from group think, because discriminatory prejudice IS group think. To counter group think with another group think does not seem to be the best way fighting discrimination.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    The next person who asks what I “identify” as will probably get told a goldfish. I AM a woman I don’t need to identify! Grrrrr

    • Achim Mentzel says:

      Bravo. But, according to all this paranoid drivel, you’re just lucky, like about 99.9% of the world’s population, that “your sex is identical with your gender”.

    • John Borstlap says:

      A research team at the Texas Institute for Technology once had a project consisting of examining a middle-aged woman who identified as a goldfish and insisted to spend most of her time in a water-filled basin, only eating muesli if thrown into the water. It appeared that the symptoms started when she read about identity-framing debates at the university of [redacted] where her two sons were studying at the time. Ideas can be dangerous.

  • Come on now… says:

    Ok, so I think we can all agree that there are far fewer women conductors than men, and certainly this is the case for those working at the highest levels. This lack of balance is why there are initiatives which feature positive discrimination (discrimination which favours underrepresented groups over represented ones) exist, so as to provide additional support, encouragement and opportunity to those who need it.

    By the by, those making snide comments about gender self-identification, you remind me an awful lot of the homophobes I encountered in the 1980s/90s. My challenge to you is to read up on or speak to people who are transgender, and try to understand and appreciated their experiences. That way, even if you feel the same way, you will have a more well-rounded opinion and would sound a little less ignorant.

    • player says:


    • Allen says:

      We’re being lectured on gender self-identification all the time. No extra research necessary.

      • V. Lind says:

        That’s bad enough. It’s the being tod what we MUST think about it that gets up my nose, big time. Just ask J.K. Rowling.

        Never has so small a minority dictated to, and destroyed the happiness of, so many. |From causing discomfort in washrooms and changing rooms to fear in prisons to bitterness in sport (supposedly one of our pleasures) to cancellation anywhere for not toeing the increasingly dictatorial and demanding line.

        Just ask J.K. Rowling again. The people whom she made stars, and rich, and successful, just held a 20th anniversary reunion on TV and guess who was not there. Oh, she offered an excuse, but it would have been a less happy event for them and all their fans to see the woman to whom they owe so much, and from whom they so knee-jerkedly distanced themselves so fast, received with painful politeness.

      • True North says:

        Perhaps, but it doesn’t seem to be sinking in.

      • N/A says:

        One can never be so educated that they simply stop. Society changes all the time. It’s not a bad thing to admit you might need a little bit of extra education on a certain topic.

    • N/A says:

      Best comment so far

  • Anon. says:

    This is a hard post to write: there is self-evidently an imbalance in the profession, and we need to address it. I’m invariably on the progressive end of almost all identity discussions and generally disapprove of most of what is posted on here, but I think it is necessary to have this important conversation about how. I think in the future, people will write PhDs about gender balance in conducting as a microcosm of post-millennial social realignment, but for now I’m deliberately keeping details as vague as possible…

    I must declare my interest and probably therefore bias: I’m a youngish male conductor – young enough to be considered a ‘young artist’, but in the real world, I’m not that young. I’ve worked a little in the US, quite a lot in Europe, but mostly in the UK, almost all with reputable orchestras and opera companies, either as conductor or assistant conductor. Maybe I’m no Dudamel, but I’ve always been busy, and mostly rehired by the people that I work with. Orchestras like me, and I think, objectively, I am quite good at my job, if not a high-flyer… but I still have ambitions for the future. The last few years have been a real struggle, not just because of covid, but also because of the politics that now governs the selection of conductors, especially in the UK and US – that is unless you are a famous old man, and therefore somehow entirely immune to any of this. Having been told many times by agents and employers that I am not ‘viable’ for them because of the ‘political climate’ and that it’s ‘hard to sell young male conductors’, I’m finding it hard to move forward with my career. I’ve even been told by the artistic director of one of the most important orchestras in the world that I would do much better if I were a woman… and they were only half joking. This issue is an open secret. I did probably the best performance of my life with an orchestra I had such chemistry with, but whose management have completely ignored me since; their comms are almost all now about diversity and inclusion, and they have a now role exclusively for female conductors. I could list dozens of personal anecdotes about this, but personally I’m now starting to struggle to fill my planner and considering whether there are other jobs I’m able to make a living from.

    The reverse of this coin is that many female colleagues have been told ‘it’s a great time to be a woman’ by directors and agents – I know that many of them find this pretty hard to hear because I’ve had countless conversations about it. For those women who emphatically do deserve the opportunities they are getting, it’s really insulting.

    However, it has become quite difficult to watching those less able and less experienced female colleagues vaulting over me and far more talented male conductors than I, making big debut after big debut. For generations, I’m sure there have been many women who have felt the same about their male counterparts, and I think for the more conservative upper echelons of our profession, this male advantage largely remains. For young conductors though, I am fairly certain that being female is the most valuable characteristic you can possess to start gaining professional momentum. Some of these young women will turn out to be exceptional musicians, but my feeling is that disproportionately many could not yet be classed as competent (I know this observation will upset some). A few years on, I’ve seen the careers of many of them start to stall after they are put in situations for which they are not yet ready. Not many of us mere mortals can progress at the speed of a Simon Rattle or Klaus Mäkelä, nor should we, no matter the pressures of the industry. Even sadder, it’s reinforcing bad stereotypes about female conductors: orchestral musicians are learning that young women conductors often don’t have the level of competence it now takes for a male conductor to get an equivalent engagement. As a result, to put it frankly, they give them a really hard time. This is based on anecdotal evidence, and I’d be keen to hear from any orchestral players if they have differing experiences.

    I know a certain portion of folk reading this will think me rather bitter and probably not a very good conductor. I can’t be the judge of that, but I believe that what I’ve described above is not the way to fix classical music. So actually I’m really pleased to see that Dartington is doing this. Courses like this are where positive discrimination should be happening, and not in the profession. We understand this readily with other elite jobs: if you want great elite athletes or scientists from less represented groups, you have to get to people young and train them (LOTS of them), not wait until the educational output and then push them into senior positions. To do so in the arts is to diminish the importance of what we do. Courses like this are a great way for young female musicians to start. And ultimately, reserving some of these opportunities for young women, especially pre-conservatoire level, might actually start solving the representation problem in the profession – the pool of applicants to conservatoires will broaden, and then, in turn, the pool of competent conductors available to orchestras. It’s a shame for the young men that might miss out, but there are plenty of other chances out there at this stage in their conducting careers. It’s certainly a lot better than training, gaining experience, making huge sacrifices to become good at what you do, only to be discounted at the final stage entirely based on your gender. Just as in any other job, if you have an experienced and capable team (as most orchestras are) you need an experienced and capable manager, because otherwise the team can’t do its job. Once you’re out there in the real world, gender shouldn’t come into it. If we’re educating people properly, gender equality will be merely a byproduct.

    • doubleduty says:

      Dear Anon, you are describing the mirror image of what I, a “youngish female conductor” and those like me went through in the 70s, 80s and 90s, when being a female on the podium was the greatest (and possibly only) liability for educators (“girls don’t do that”, with the condescending pat on the head), theaters, orchestras, agents (“I’d love to suggest you to Orchestra X, but they don’t want a woman”, etc.etc. for decades. At the first masterclass where I sought admission, I was LAUGHED AT for wanting to audition. The teacher was a fair person, though, and had already set the admission bar, so when I passed it, had to be accepted. And so it moved on from there, thanks too to some special people in the profession with more open minds than most. The biggest burden was having to prove myself day in and day out on the basis of my gender while I had no interest whatsoever in pursuing a female or feminist agenda in this regard. I wasn’t there for that. I was there to make music on an equal footing, as much as it was even possible – while watching a good number of male colleagues with less personality and qualifications leapfrog into better careers and positions. Now, much later on in my own life, with these visible and invisible barriers dissolving, I am very happy to see many excellent and deserving women on major podiums and in major pits, and maybe, just maybe, the efforts I and other women made 30, 40 years ago helped pave the way and make the playing field more equal. Anon, when agents and employers tell you that you are not “viable” and that “it’s a great time to be a woman” that tells me the pendulum has simply swung too far in the other direction and it’s my hope it will swing back to the middle and gender ceases to be an issue, as it ideally never should have been. It wasn’t all that long ago when I had to hear from these same entities that it was a lousy time to be a woman. The only thing to do is persist and believe in the music you offer. I hear you, Anon, and wish you all the best.

    • V. Lind says:

      I am so sympathetic to what you are saying. What has happened to discrimination laws? This also happened in the US during affirmative action.

      But then I read doubleduty, below, and she is right, too.

      You have both contributed valuably to the discussion, but you, anon, have moved beyond historical, even if anecdotal, contest to solution. It’s the same one that it would be nice to see BLM and its ilk accept.

      I appreciate the impatience of the too-long overlooked, but as long as a field, be it music or anything else, is determinedly tacking discrimination — of ANY sort — in its hiring, AND the same industry or field or interest is determinedly making sure it focuses on educating ALL interested parties in its tools and craft and standards, all it has to do is apply stringent professional standards to its hiring practice and it will soon see a much more diverse, QUALIFIED group of applicants.

      In the meantime, Anon, I suggest that if you need to supplement your income you contact some op-ed editors. And you could start with adapting your post, and submitting it to high end newspapers or magazines on either side of the Atlantic.

    • Anon says:

      As another youngish conductor, I agree with every word of this. The current means of correcting the gender imbalance is harming everyone – young male conductors, audiences, and most importantly female conductors, since the old (false) stereotype that women can’t conduct is reinforced by the presence of so many mis-promoted young women in big opportunities. Meaningful change happens at much earlier stages and allows talented women to take their place naturally based on their ability. The current solution is a mere sticking plaster and we can only hope it won’t last too long.

  • marcus says:

    Simple enough. All the blokes have to do is claim to self identify as women and Dartington, being Woke Central, will be able to do precisely fuck all about it.

  • mary says:

    “Identifying” as a woman does not make you a woman.

    Drag queens, trans, are not women, they are biological males raised with all the privileges of being a man, while bearing none of the biological consequences of being a woman, such as menstruation and pregnancy.

    Just because a man puts on (drag queens) or in (trans) silicon breasts doesn’t make them a woman, because his body will never be regulated and controlled by society as the body of biological female, as in laws limiting abortion or breast feeding in public.

    So, no, if the Dartington Festival is really invested in empowering women, they should not allow men identifying as women to usurp, once again, the place of a woman.

  • J Barcelo says:

    Is a female conductor really so new and unusual for so many people? In my part of the world we’ve had Sarah Caldwell conduct at a summer festival, the host university had a female band director, Patricia Hoy. The local symphony had Elizabeth Schwarz as the conductor for many years. Mei-Ann Chen is a frequent guest conductor. Years ago we were blessed with Catherine Comet. And so on. It should not matter one bit what genes a wannabe has, or how it identitifies: all that matters is do they have the leadership qualities, the skill, and the extreme level of musicianship that matters. There are a lot of people of both sexes who want to wave the stick, but very few who are really good at it.

    • Enquirer says:

      From the RPS women conductors program webpage: “At our last count, only two British orchestras had a female principal conductor, and only six women conductors had titled roles amid the several hundred conductors on the staff of professional British orchestras. Furthermore, only 22 of the 371 conductors represented by British agents were female. That’s 5.5%.”

      If it doesn’t matter what sex a conductor is, how do you explain the statistics?

      • Anon says:

        The information in that quote does not compare like with like. If you look at the gender balance for conductors of all ages, that will of course include all of those who entered the profession in the days of general discrimination against women conductors. I don’t think many conductors in their 50s are going to be on a conducting course like this. You have to put it in the context of the current opportunities for young conductors, which currently massively favour women, whether formally (women-only jobs and courses) or in the general push for hiring young women conductors (see comments above). The gender balance of conductors under 40 is vastly more equal. Barring young men from many professional opportunities does nothing whatsoever to increase the proportion of present female music directors in their 60s.

  • NJTP says:

    Discriminating against men by women=woke.
    Discriminating against women by men= sexist. I guess somebody needs to do the discriminating.

  • La plus belle voix says:

    What does self-identify as a woman even mean? Feel like one, or what? Dartington should simple schedule courses for those with XX and those with XY chromosomes. And maybe for those with Kinefelter syndrome, too. Can’t argue with that, hope you identify with it though.

    • N/A says:

      Some people are born in a man’s body but are very much female at heart. They’ll go through life feeling trapped, with many not wanting to even live anymore. Being able to change and self-identify as a woman, something they feel they’ve always been, is their right. And for many it will save their lives. Let’s celebrate the diversity of our communities.

      • John Borstlap says:

        But that is a whole different territory. There is an argument to be made that people having that feeling, have a psychological problem and not a gender problem. Terms like ‘gender’ are inventions, not realities. It is a normal variation of nature that some people feel having many traits of the opposite sex, and it is with the invention of labels and the cult of individual freedom to make your life as you want it, that suddenly people feel ‘trapped’ in their body. I bet that some depth psychology would reveal very different problems lurking underneath such phenomena.

  • Enquirer says:

    Looking at the Dartington prospectus, and at the RPS women conductors program website, I see only ‘women’ and ‘female’. Where did SD get ‘identifying as women’? But never mind, it served its function: it generated plenty of standard bigoted comments!

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Here under “Week 3”:

      And again, just to underline how ludicrous the announcement is, it begs the question what if a biological female self identifies as a man? I guess any application would be rejected.

      I don’t believe the thread is full of bigotry, any negativeness shown is directed toward agendaism and Orwellian language.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A research team under the leadership of famous Dr Hofstadter at the Texas Institute of Technology studied, in the nineties, a case of a male teenager who identified as a bonobo. It was the first case of that type at TIT and it was widely published in animal and zoo magazines, like Ape International, Zoo Loafing, The Primary Primate, Girl’s Life Magazine, Animal Pursuit and the French La Giraffe Partout. As Dr Hofstadter put it: “As soon as the idea of identification process is let loose into the population, we get more and more interesting mixtures of synthesis and parabolic interlucations that greatly extend the field of inquiry”.

  • Del Boy says:

    Discrimination on the basis of race/gender/disability is unlawful under English law.

    That’s kind of the awkward thing about the Law Sara… don’t get to pick and choose which ones apply to you.

    • V. Lind says:

      I that’s true it is not applied very vigorously. Quite a few of these EDI moves have been transparently a matter of losing some of the white participants to make room for (certain) minorities.

  • msc says:

    Ms Mohr-Pietsch is another example of the increasingly negative influence of the BBC, which nurtured her career, on wider culture. She was a decent host, but that gives people little scope for putting their ideologies into effect.

  • Harry Collier says:

    In the Year 2033, we will have concerts for women, conducted and played by women, and concerts for men, conducted and played by men. And occasional concerts for “others”, conducted and played by others. Meanwhile, I’ll listen happily to my vast collection of CDs without worrying about the sex, political views, eating phobias, or whatever concerning the composers or the performers.

  • A Dolfadam says:

    It’s an outrage. But all the men have to do is announce that they “identify as women.” Put on a wig and do it.

  • Conductress says:

    This is a clear sign that Vanessa Benelli Mosell will rise to greatness as a conductor. She will be a Music Director of a major orchestra in a few years.