Not enough women? Let’s include over-40s…

Not enough women? Let’s include over-40s…


norman lebrecht

February 20, 2022

The Paris-based La Maestra competition, a women’s only conducting contest, was always a discriminatroy proposition.

Its first attempt in September 2022 yielded a broad range of international talent, mostly veterans of other contests.

This time, for a contest starting March 3, the contest has selected 14 candidates from 202 applicants.

They are:

Yeo Ryeong Ahn, 29 – South Korea

Clara Baget, 23 – France

Mélisse Brunet, 45 – France (pictured)

Mercedes Diaz Garcia, 42 – Spain

Ustina Dubitsky, 33 – Germany

Tamara Dworetz, 32 – USA

Beatriz Fernández Aucejo, 38 – Spain

Vivian Ip, 35 – Hong Kong

Nikol Kraft, 33 – Czech Republic

Maria Kurochkina, 32 – Russia

Natalia Raspopova, 39 – Australia

Joanna Natalia Slusarczyk, 36 – Poland

Anna Sulkowska-Migon, 26 – Poland

Zoe Zeniodi, 45 – Greece

Two of the contestants are 45 years old and one is 42.
This is not a level playing field.
A musician of 45 competing against another half her age has an unfair advantage of experience and strategy. A young woman entering this lineup must think, what am I dong here, among these tried-and-tested opponents?
The chair of the jury is Deborah Borda.


  • Malcolm James says:

    As against that, a 22 yo is quite likely to be a genuine talent. A 45 yo has been round the block several times and is probably a journey(wo)man.

  • Achim Mentzel says:

    Just imagine the shitstorm in the media if there was a conducting competition for men only, where some of the participants were in their mid-forties…

    • FrauGeigerin says:

      It would be taken to court and its organizers would be shamed on social media and never be employed again.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Just like in the old USSR. Many who failed to tow the line there ended up in Siberia composing music in their favourite key, A Salt Miner. It’s a perfect metaphor for the modern western world today.

        • La plus belle voix says:

          toe the line

        • True North says:

          You wouldn’t have lasted ten seconds in the former USSR, dear. Any comparison of the modern western world and soviet Russia is so beyond silly I cringe every time one of you jokers makes it.

          • Sue Sonata Form says:

            It all started out just as I describe. Conform or else. You think Russians are any different from other people the world over? That’s just naive and probably racist. We see enforced conformity throughout the western world today, ably supported by gulls who think they’re being “nice” and “good people”. No doubt exactly the thinking of the Bolsheviks. It all started out well until they finally ran out of body bags.

            And, no, I wouldn’t have lasted ‘five minutes’ because I will not conform to group-think.

          • True North says:

            … She says, from the genteel and privileged comfort of her suburban home in one of the most peaceful and pleasant countries on Earth, Australia, which is also however apparently experiencing social and economic conditions at present just as they were in early 20th century Russia.

          • True North says:

            A few more things: I really do think the true reason that many of you are so upset is because, for the first time in your lives, the conversation isn’t ALWAYS about you. In case you were unaware, there has always been “group-think” but you never noticed or objected to it before because it only ever benefitted people of the same basic demographics as you.

            Now, historically marginalized groups are being noticed, and even sometimes celebrated (horrors). Suddenly, we’re living in Soviet Russia, and next thing you know, we’re all being sent to the gulags. According to you, that is. It’s an absurd overreaction and it does your argument no favors at all.

            And I suspect that what you call “being nice” really means “not making casual racist or sexist remarks.” Guilty as charged, then.

            By the way, you still have the right to express dissenting opinions. The difference now is that you may be challenged on them. I bet you don’t like that either.

          • Benjamin Bittern says:

            Your totalitarian reasoning is at fault here, not anyone’s opinion. Lowering of standards just to accommodate lesser talents for political reasons is death to the art of classical music. Standing up for tradition, for standards, is not wrong, ever. The truth is, the doors have not been closed to anyone with a great talent. The only thing that fails to open the doors is a lack of money. And money does not discriminate. “Historically marginalized groups” is a broad and baseless generalism. Typical use of vague language to attack others. Grow up.

    • Curvy Honk Glove says:

      Looks like we found our misogynistic Trumpster! I bet if he had his way, women wouldn’t even be allowed in orchestras.

      • Achim Mentzel says:

        Looks like we found our misandric feminist! I bet if she had her way, men wouldn’t even be allowed in orchestras.

      • Benjamin Bittern says:

        I have a friend who conducted many orchestras, including Vienna’s, and he said, any conductor prefers to conduct men over women. A minority of women can blend into a mostly male orchestra, but when they become the majority, the orchestra is noticeably weakened. It loses power, expression, force, color, and becomes more decorative, soft, ineffectual.

    • Jack says:

      I’m more interested in the vast number of thumbs-up for your sexist comment. Says volumes about the SlippedDisc crowd.

      • FrauGeigerin says:

        Is sexist being a woman and being against a competition that discriminates men and agreeing that if there was a competition only for men there would be a massive outrage or anger?

  • Phil Greenfield says:

    Up until very, very recently, conducting competitions were exactly as Achim Nentzel described. Ah, irony…

  • Jim C. says:

    People who are more talented have an “advantage” over those who are less talented. That’s not considered to be unfair, so why is age?

    Or is it now? I can’t keep up with the new rules!

  • GGV says:

    Imagine if, on top of sex discriminating, this competition also age-discriminated!

    Competitions should not have an age limit but be open to those without full time conducting careers or to conductors not yet on full time conducting careers who have finished their conducting training in the 5 previous years, regardless of their age.

  • M McAlpine says:

    This is nonsense. If we believe in equality, then let women and men compete on an equal basis.

    • Brian says:

      I think you’re missing the point. The reason that female-focused competitions are needed is because women haven’t been able to compete on a level playing field. Far too many regular competitions have excluded or marginalized women, thus keeping the wider talent pools heavily skewed toward men.

    • Achim Mentzel says:

      The best comment so far.

      • True North says:

        You have missed the point. Read Brian’s comment above and try to understand it.

        • Achim Mentzel says:

          Brian wants to create gender equality by excluding one gender. Bravo! I‘m absolutely convinced that this is the right way to solve the problem.

  • msc says:

    If the entrants in their forties have only relatively recently started studying conducting, why shut them out? If the winner has a lot of experience, distaste over that fact will restrict her opportunities. It will be a self-correcting process, probably.

  • Justine Castreau says:

    Yeah, but the younger ones are hotter.

  • Peter says:

    Talent is talent. One would hope the jury would be able recognize the best conductor regardless of age.

  • Brian says:

    A counter-theory: The older women in their 40s would have a harder time against the more lithe, attractive women in their 20s and early 30s. Look at the other photo on the homepage right now, of the young female conductor from Boston. It’s the old Hollywood expiration date theory (not mine, but it’s pretty well-known).

    • Achim Mentzel says:

      SEXIST ALARM! You‘ve said the word attractive in connection with a female conductor. You are guilty and sentenced to watch just videos of Leif Segerstam for the rest of your life.

  • Kevin Lewis says:

    What have females contributed to classical music on the same level of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Wagner or Tchaikovsky to deserve any sort of “equity” or “equality”? Asking for a friend.

    • music lover says:

      Tell your friend the question is too stupid to deserve an answer.

      • Benjamin Bittern says:

        As composers, only a handful of women have been significant, and that is the painful truth. Germaine Tailleferre has few peers. Maybe Louise Charpentier… It is stupid to pretend otherwise.

    • Achim Mentzel says:

      Tell your friend that they were pretended by bad white men from contributing anything to classical music. Thats why men from our times have now to bleed for things which happened centuries ago.

      • Enquirer says:

        Your comment reeks of self-pity, and ignorance. Women certainly did contribute to what we call classical music, throughout the centuries. But social conditions made it hard for them to achieve universal fame. Attitudes like yours are why their contributions are overlooked or undervalued today.

      • music lover says:

        Poor thing…….

      • Benjamin Bittern says:

        They were not. Clara Schumann had a career.

    • Enquirer says:

      If Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Wagner or Tchaikovsky had been women, do you imagine they would be household names now? Get real, and study the history you obviously flunked in your education (if you had one).

    • Enquirer says:

      In other words, women today do not ‘deserve’ justice or an equal chance because female musicians in the past (who did not have the same freedom and opportunities as men did to pursue full-time careers as composers) did not come up to the level of Beethoven etc.? Strange ‘friends’ you have. Or is the question ironic?

    • Kevin Lewis says:

      Nobody said women didn’t contribute to classical music, sweeties. I said women did not contribute on the same level. We have scores of female composers from the same period as Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Wagner and Tchaikovsky. Their music never reached their level of genius. Got it? Good.

      Now, if your excuse is that they were “prevented” from shining by “evil men”, which is ludicrous since we know that female composers did exist going back centuries and their music did get performed in their lifetimes, then that would certainly be another sign of female inferiority, wouldn’t it? Only the weak and the lazy and the intellectually inferior allow themselves to be put aside and dominated. Century after century 😉

      Women’s lib has existed for 60 years and women are still far behind in achievements in classical music. What are your excuses now, sweeties? They have been given all the chances. But delivered very little. Where’s the female Philip Glass, John Adams, John Corigliano? Where’s the female John Williams, Bernard Herrmann, Nino Rota or Ennio Morricone? I’m waiting for your replies, sweeties, clock’s ticking.

      • Benjamin Bittern says:

        Many of the great women were wives and supporters to great men, and furthered their careers; and had great careers of their own as teachers, and as performers, as in the case of Olga Samaroff Stokowski. Remember Rosina Lhevinne, Mrs. Rosenthal?

  • Greg Tiwidichitch says:

    Well, what are inexperienced 20-somethings doing being allowed to compete for a profession that requires experience? Personally, I think the competitions should be for older, experienced but lesser-known conductors and then have competitions for younger ones to be assistants somewhere. Then it’s fair!

  • Freewheeler says:

    In these conducting competitions, do they use a real orchestra, or just a CD?

  • Alan Huckleberry says:

    1. There were 202 participants. I’m sure they could chosen plenty of sub-30 year olds. They chose the 14 best.
    2. This is completely in line with the rules of the competition. Don’t like it? Make your own competition.
    3. 20 years ago women had virtually no chance at becoming successful in this career. And they did not have an opportunity such as this. So you want to put even more barriers in their way? Nice.
    4. Women Conductors Matter. Of course all conductors should matter. But they don’t….yet. And until it doesn’t matter what gender (or race, etc.) you are, we must give more women the opportunity to succeed. And if some men get left behind, so be it. Welcome to the reality of women for millenia. Get over it.

    (I am writing only in terms of women, as this post is about that. However it applies equally to BIPOC conductors as well.)

    • Achim Mentzel says:

      Who exactly is „we“ in point 4?

      • Alan Huckleberry says:

        We = society, the profession, white men who have benefitted from extreme privilege like myself, etc.
        Also, why don’t you stop hiding behind a pseudonym and tell us who you really are. Don’t you believe in what you are saying? Own it!

    • Benjamin Bittern says:

      No, they do not matter for being women. Men do not deserve to get left behind any more than women. Reversing gender discrimination only creates more gender discrimination, it doesn’t correct anything. And women competing only against other women produces a false result. The finalists should be competing against men. We do not “must” do anything for political reasons. Get over that.

  • Alan Huckleberry says:

    And by the way, the average age of the finalists is almost 36. There are three under 30 and three over 40. That seems like a solid distribution to me.

  • Real life says:

    The truth of the conducting profession is this 1) the conducting field has been dominated by men because the idea of “leadership” has been dominated by men and orchestra executive positions have been dominated by men and agencies have been dominated by men and the complete make up of the orchestras have been dominated by men and concertmaster positions have been dominated by men and head artistic staff positions have been dominated by men … so when all the men get into a room do you think they’re looking for a woman? Nope. They’re perfectly happy to help or make excuses for a young man to fail upward. And especially yes, there is still a huge elephant in the room when a “middle-aged?*” (how old is that, exactly … 35??) woman’s application falls on the desk. It’s getting better by inches, not by the yards it should be. Not to mention the hilarious excuse that “there currently aren’t enough female conductors so we need special training programs.” No you don’t. The women who musically speaking can keep up with the boys by getting into top grad schools can musically speaking keep up with the boys outside of top grad schools. But the barriers to complete-professional-let’s-launch-your-career-entry into the profession after the bubble of education are massively skewed to favor the young men, and it takes a lot to happen to send a female conductor into the professional networked orbit where they might belong. So the problem isn’t the training, it’s the events after the training. Yes, the women in this competition are older – you know why? Because also anyone who has ever worked as a professional musician for 2 seconds in an orchestra knows that a 20-something (male OR female) conductor that agencies are trying to get into a money/sales rotation on their books who DON’T have the experience to actually be leaders in the field yet are NOT WHAT THE PROFESSION OR THE ORCHESTRA ACTUALLY NEEDS. BUT GUESS WHO NEEDS IT? Askonas and Harrison Parrott and IMG and Intermusica and every other agent desperate to try and sell the “next young talent” when they are really wind-up robots who don’t have an artistic personality, and often times never develop one. Just ask the orchestras. And no guess as to who gets paid more – a young male conductor in his 20’s over a proven female conductor who is 35+ (unless you are in a top tier career). And the network of orchestra executives .. they pick up the phone to agencies, not to individual conductors … Thank god there is actually a competition who looks at the musicality, the maturity, the track record, the artistic leadership, and the ability for these musicians to actually step into leadership positions now for cities and communities and caretake and curate their culture. These are the women who have earned their right over the last decade (perhaps) to actually be in front of professional orchestras, because they’ve proven their artistic worth over and over. Get a grip boys, you’re still allowed to breath air. But yes, you just might have to watch a woman older than what you might “think is fair” to be in the spotlight. And if this thread has proven anything, it is the hidden fact that it is AGESIM, not SEXISM, that is the larger hidden dagger in the music profession and elsewhere perhaps. The music profession is a Profession, not a minor league try-out or a draft that hopes a player will be a million dollar earner in the future …. or is it?

    • Achim Mentzel says:

      Who would have thought in the 21st century that music is not about art but about power and money? Wait, isn’t that an antroposophical constant since the beginnings of civilization?

  • Benjamin Bittern says:

    Someone needs to tell them that they, being shorter and smaller than male colleagues, need to use larger batons. And using a male name won’t help them, either.