New York Philharmonic: It’s women front and centre

New York Philharmonic: It’s women front and centre


norman lebrecht

March 21, 2023

The orchestra has just unrolled its 2023-24 season. Just? Well about 24 hours after sharing it with editors on the parish rag.

So here, at a glance, is what we find in October:

1 Long delayed debut of conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pic) across 4 concerts.

2 NY premiere of Elena Firsova’s piano concerto by Yefim Bronfman (3 concerts).

3 Jeannette Sorrell leads Handel’s Israel in Egypt (2 concerts)

4 Unsuk Chin double concerto (1 concert)

And that’s just the first full month of the season.

Dis is the new parity.


  • Sine Nomine says:

    It’s about damn time!

  • John Chunch says:

    Women are consistently delivering sensitive, powerful, and ego-free performances from the podium. This is the future – get used to it!

    • Robin says:

      The Miramar Group: John Chunch, above, is talking rubbish. A group of us here in Miramar, Wellington, decided to listen to women conductors. We’re all ex-musicians and decided to compare 8 of the same works recorded by women and 8 by men from the standard classical repertoire. This was a blind test in the sense that only one of our group knew which recordings were by women and which were by men. With full orchestral scores (Dover) in front of us we made notes as the music played. The result was none of us could tell which recordings were by men and which were by women. One or two picks were correct but that was probably by chance. Amongst the women we found none were “consistently delivering sensitive, powerful, and ego-free performances”. Rubbish. On the contrary all performances had a pervading sameness. I challenge anyone to play any classical recording and say “Ah yes, that’s a female conducting.” For goodness sake cut out the woke gender signaling.

      • Jobim75 says:

        Time to push back indeed!!

      • pura musica artists says:

        I agree with the fact, that you cannot hear “female conducting”. That would be kind of ridiculous. There is good conducting and bad conducting. Period. That said, women on the podium still do not get the same opportunities as their male colleagues. And that’s why I applaud the New York Philharmonic for the upcoming season. This has nothing to do with woke-ism. Give female conductors a chance and let the public and the orchestras decide.

      • Gianni says:

        Thank you, but unfortunately ideology and facts are two different things.

    • Tamino says:

      women… ego-free… rrright…

    • Anonymous says:

      I see sexism is alive and well in 2023.

  • CleferClefer says:

    “Dis is the new parity?” They’re all first-rate names with first-rate track records. Just close your eyes, if you must, listen to the music, and then decide.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Common sense is often times not welcomed around here. So far you’re doing just fine (if you give a hoot about ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’).

  • Save the MET says:

    To paraphrase Dimitri Mitropoulos as Music Director of the NY Phil in the 1950’s when writing to Steinway when they were pushing Gunnar Johannsen and the Busoni piano concerto and negating their request, “When we bring in Rudolf Serkin to perform something unknown by the public and interesting, we fill half the house. When we bring in Mr. Serkin to perform the Beethoven 5th Piano Concerto, we fill the house.” Unfortunately the same holds true today. War horses by male composers, conducted by well known male conductors still fill the house. You don’t hear Clara Schumann, or Fanny Mendelssohn, or Cecile Chaminade’s works getting dusted off for performance by major orchestras. I wish it were different, but ticket sales and paid butts in seats clearly tell us it’s not. Marin Alsop as a female conductor still remains a unicorn so to speak. The one way the house gets filled is if there is a male conductor conducting a war horse after the intermission with a book ended piece written by a female composer during the first part of the concert. It gets heard, but that’s not why the public is there. The classical music business is generally sexist. There is really not a great explanation, but it is.

    • Rebuild the Met with better acoustics says:

      I think a bit clarification is needed here. All three composers you bring up were pianists, and were not involved with orchestras per se. Clara Schumann wrote her early piano concerto (and it’s a good one). Fanny Mendelssohn composed a concert overture, and little else for orchestra. Ms. Chaminade composed a “Konzertstuck” for piano and orchestra; ballet music to “Callirhoe”, and a few other minor orchestral works. None of them composed a symphony or a tone poem. As for Marin Alsop, you really consider her as little more than a unicorn? (actually, I’m not certain just what you mean by that). What about JoAnn Fallletta, who just keeps coming out with knock-out recordings on the Naxos label?

      • Ludwig's Van says:

        The quality of the Clara Schumann Concerto is debatable – personally i think it’s overrated. The Chaminade Concertstuck is a fine work, and its neglect is inexplicable.

  • Samach says:

    Van Zweden gets Mahler 2 as his farewell concert.

    Poor guy, doesn’t get Mahler 9, the ultimate sign of respect and love conferred on a conductor by the Philharmonic (Dudamel got it and he wasn’t even named as music director then), and no victory lap at Carnegie Hall (that honor went to Muti and the CSO for his final season), and even the NYT joked that there’s nothing they want “Resurrected” by Zweden of his era at the Philharmonic.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Maybe some people would rather hear the “Resurrection” than the 9th. I would. As far as it concerns me, noisy concert audiences nearly always ruin my experience at a Mahler 9 performance. I hardly think performing the 2nd Symphony is somehow a snub.

  • anon says:

    Please do explain, Norman, how it is a disparity to have two conductors who happen to be women, and two works by composers who happen to be women within one month of the season.

    I am always strongly reminded of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s sentiment on how many women on the Supreme Court was enough.
    “When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen this blog raise a question of if there were too many white men represented in an orchestra’s season, but the appearance of a woman, or any person of color is automatically treated with grotesque suspicion of their qualifications, talent, and pedigree.

    • Jobim75 says:

      In our woke times , with no ideology involved, no racism replaced by reversed racism, no reversed sexism, no rejection of centuries of our history ,’grotesque suspicion’ it is…

  • Robin Blick says:

    I suggest that all male conductors, soloists and composers transition.

  • Khak Khakinsen says:

    Very inspiring!

    Down with all these misogynist-predatory old white men who dominated the industry for FAR too long.

    Now women can feel comfortable being bossed around by one of their own.

    Long and peaceful era is on our doorstep.

  • Couperin says:

    WAY nicer programming than the current season, we have to admit. Good for the women. At least it doesn’t feel as forced and contrived as the current season. Some great classic powerhouse works, some exciting debuts including the latest Chopin competition winner, Ligeti centennial concerts and more. I don’t see much to complain about.

  • CleferClefer says:

    It’s just the new normal. Even better will be when this kind of thing seems no longer worthy of special comment.

  • Michael B. says:

    I hope that they can record the Firsova piano concerto with Bronfman as soloist. I would love to hear that!

  • Sisko24 says:

    As a long-time NY Philharmonic subscriber, I don’t see much which is objectionable with the upcoming season. I do prefer a bit more war horses than modern pieces receiving their debut particularly since those modern pieces aren’t likely to be heard again any time soon (if at all). For most, I believe the increasing presence of women on the program and on the podium is unobjectionable….or at least it should

    My complaint is not gender-based but organ-based: David Geffen Hall does not have a pipe organ but the upcoming season has several works which the Philharmonic will perform by inflicting upon us using an electronic/digital organ. Attempting to deceive us in this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs and is a lot like telling us someone is going to serve us fine wine and cheese only to have it turn out to be Cheez-Whiz and grape Kool-Aid, and expect no one in attendance to notice or comment.

  • Pepe Ledouche says:

    Yay! Let’s all just celebrate someone’s genitals instead of their accomplishments! Such a great time to be alive….

    • Truth says:

      We’ve been celebrating male genitalia for centuries, 24/7/365. No one without the right plumbing has had a chance for a long, long time. At least 50 percent of the women are better than 50 percent of the men. So I’ll celebrate when the best talent really is on the podium of 50 percent of the orchestras.

  • Mr. Ron says:

    All of this is part of project 19, a multiyear initiative to commission new pieces from 19 women.

    Van Zweden gets not only Mahler 2 but Mozart’s Requiem and a gala featuring the cellist Yo-Yo Ma as the soloist in Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. Rather a nice send-off.

  • J Barcelo says:

    Meh…a lot of old standard warhorses. A lot of new, unknown music that will likely disappear soon enough. Some interesting off-the-wall stuff. But, alas, for all the talk about monumental symphonies there’s nothing by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Bruckner, Bax, Schmidt, Korngold. Not much there to get me to travel to NYC with its increasingly ugly and violent atmosphere.

  • Dennis Pastrami says:

    I’m disappointed that the NYPhil has once again neglected to invite the next generation of trans conductors onto their podium. Shame on them for their bigotry. I sincerely hope we can do better in the future.

    As a side note, will these guest conductors (female-identifying or otherwise) be required to show proof of vaccination in order to work? Patron comfort and safety should remain the utmost concern.

    All the best,

  • MacroV says:

    Norman Lebrecht calling the New York Times “The Parish Rag?” Now that’s rich.

  • Kman says:

    I knew this headline would draw comments.

    For those who want to cry “woke,” actually check out the season. I think it’s an excellent mix of diverse artists, and music old and new. If I could put together a season that recognizes the importance of diversity while still maintaining a strong foothold in old traditions, it would be this one. Kudos to the NY Phil!

  • trumpetherald says:


  • freddynyc says:

    I’d like to attend Mirga’s debut but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to contain my laughter watching her conduct…..

  • curtains, lights says:

    I see there’s a Meistersinger Prelude next season and a William Tell this summer, all I can see from the the column ‘once standard overtures’.

  • Sammy says:

    The Met, led by Yannick, have been featuring female conductors since last year. Some are terrible. Some are good. But making it a norm is the way to go! The level will only go up and there’s absolutely no reason not to have female conductors as much as male conductors.
    And just a side note- many male conductors are terrible too.
    What makes a quality conductor is not their sex. But their ability, musicality and charisma.

  • Edenstein says:

    It has been wonderful to see so many women joining the ranks of the brass this season as guests.
    Brava New York Philharmonic!