Welcome to the women’s philharmonic orchestra

Welcome to the women’s philharmonic orchestra


norman lebrecht

November 22, 2022

The New York Philharmonic has tipped off the parish news letter that it now has more women than men.

The tipping point is slender. It’s 44 women to 43 men.

But there are 16 vacancies so numbers may yet swing back. But there is no denying the approach of gender equality in major orchestras – except perhaps Vienna.




  • lamed says:

    By far the most interesting thing about that article is the link to Zubin Mehta’s 1970 NYT interview:


    The article title says it all. OMG, it is jaw droppingly shocking, even by 1970s standards, I know, I grew up in the 1970s and I didn’t say things like that!

    I will not offer any spoilers here. Just one advice: Read through to the end, it only gets better and better (or worse and worse depending on your POV).

    • Michael says:

      Ye gods and little fishes! – what a dinosaur…..

      He reminds me of the late, great Hugh Bean, leader (concertmaster) of the (New) Philharmonia back in the mid-60s, who was asked to comment on the fact that the Philharmonia was employing more women. (The Philharmonia already had a few women in the Strings, at a time when the LSO was 100% male and noted for its – how shall I put it? – at times ‘rumbustious’ behaviour ‘on and off the pitch’; forty years later, Sir Colin Davis was to acknowledge that the orchestra was a far healthier environment, and better team, for including many outstanding women in its ranks.)

      Hugh Bean’s response: the orchestra should change its name to ‘Filly-monia’.

      Half a century after the heydays of Mehta and Bean and other musicians of the Cretaceous Era, to have to sit and watch an all male orchestra would be weirdly dispiriting – thank goodness it is now vanishingly rare.

  • Larry says:

    There actually was an orchestra called the Women’s Philharmonic, based in San Francisco, 1981 – 2004.

    • J. Barcelo says:

      They are very much still active, doing some great things and published, among other things, a new edition of the Amy Beach symphony.

  • Heidi says:

    for me, it sounds better than ever, at least in the last 20 years that I have been attending

  • D Harris says:

    A profession previously dominated by men. What this hides, is that not enough boys learn an instrument at school.

  • Hayne says:

    It seems to me that the more female players in an orchestra, the less weight in sound there seems to be, all things being equal. Of course, there are many women who are fantastic players, but my OPINION is an orchestra sound tends to sound less full, robust, whatever. If I personally had to choose between a male or a female orchestra, certeris paribus, I would listen to a male orchestra. My opinion.

    • Susan Bradley says:

      Being a woman of substance, I weigh almost 100kg, . My tuba weighs 15kg. Is that enough weight for you? I doubt that the anatomical differences between men and women would amount to more than a kilo; those little dangly bits are so small, compared to the weight contained in the average bosom. Where does this magical ‘weight’ come from? Oh, and the weight of the average dictionary would be around 1kg; in which you could check your spelling of Latin phrases.

    • sammy says:

      It’s so obvious: less lung power, less arm power, less stamina, less height to project, in short, all the reasons why cis-gender women protest vehemently against allowing transgender women (ie, cis-male to trans-female) to compete in “female” athletic events, how it’s biologically unfair and unjust and puts cis-females at a disadvantage.

      So physicality does have an effect, whether you see the results on a clock or hear the results in sound.

      It’s like professional tennis, I have no problems paying women who plays 3 set matches at parity with men who play 5 set matches, but even the women are against playing 5-set matches, because it’s just not physically viable.

      Yes, classical music connoisseurs can hear the difference.

    • Emil says:

      We’ve gone from “all auditions should be held behind a screen, no personal characteristics allowed” to “No, not like that, there’s not enough *weight*, you see.”

      Not unlike the “emotional unity” and “soul” the Vienna Phil invented to exclude women and non-white candidates.

      If we’re going to invent meaningless categories to argue only men can be proper musicians, may I propose “macho-tropical energy”: it doesn’t mean anything, but it makes an orchestra so, so much better and somehow only men have it. /s

      • Hayne says:

        Auditions where people say, “Good player but very light.” You’ve never heard of that?
        In the US there tends to be less male string players in music schools. Why? I don’t know. Interesting though.
        Then you imply that I agree with discrimination for hiring. Quite the contrary, I am all for meritocracy.
        I’m sure you would agree that advancing people in auditions to semis and even finals or creating special positions for people based on their skin color is to be condemned also.
        “…only men can be proper musicians…” For God’s sake man, I never said that. You are letting your emotions get the better of you.

  • GCMP says:

    But this does point out an interesting fact: 16 vacancies. I noticed at both the CSO and Lyric Opera of Chicago there are a lot of vacancies as well. I don’t know how many might be due to Covid and related factors, and how many might be due to moving, job dis-satisfaction, etc. But it would seem to be a good time to be looking for an orchestral job, assuming managements fill their rosters in a timely manner.

    • NYMike says:

      Besides the fact that some orchestras are notoriously slow to fill vacancies, there’s the cost-saving component in hiring subs to fill empty slots since certain benefits don’t have to be paid to them.

  • Christoph says:

    Yes, to the point above: “The Vienna Philharmonic did not allow women to audition until 1997. It is now about 17 percent female.”

    25 years and that’s the best they can do? Really? Do better, Vienna.

  • N/A says:

    How is it the ‘women’s orchestra’ when the numbers are almost equal? Do you call majority male orchestras the ‘men’s orchestra’? What’s with the agenda against women, Norman?

  • JollyOldStNick says:

    Who cares? What difference does it make? First-wave feminists didn’t fight for the right to join the orchestra, their idea of equality was more grounded in the reality of things that really matter. We’ve already achieved equality, can we not just get along as fellow humans and enjoy the joys of music together without feeling the need to point out each other’s dangly bits?

  • Anon says:

    Yet the gender balance in individual sections still differs hugely in many orchestras. For violins it now strikes me as very often there’s a clear majority of women (with the exception of leadership positions), while double basses are still a long way off gender equality and it’s still depressingly common to see all-male sections, for example.