For the first time in the 119-year history of the Proms, a woman – violinist and conductor Marin Alsop – has led the orchestra in the Last Night of the Proms. This is indeed particularly heartening news for a profession that has been typically male-dominated in the past, but it does beg the question: why aren’t there more female conductors out there in the UK?
Names such as Alsop, Jane Glover, Simone Young and JoAnn Falletta do command respect in the classical music world, this is undeniable, but there can be no disputing the fact that none of the 15 leading orchestras in the world have female chief conductors at the helm.
Although the industry has been accused of sexism and discrimination in the past – with manager of the New York Philharmonia in the 1970s Helen Thompson once saying “women can’t conduct Brahms, and Mahler is men’s music” – great inroads have been made in the last five years, with an increasing number of women signing up to study the vocation, and North America and Scandinavia leading the trend.
“We still have to fight stereotypes,” Ewa Strusinska, who recently moved from England’s Hallé Orchestra to become music director of a Polish orchestra, told The Economist. “In the UK there aren’t many female conductors at all. People would look at us as individuals doing men’s work.”
Seeing a woman take the helm and lead the orchestra at one of the biggest classical music concerts on the yearly calendar will surely help further the cause of female conductors in the UK – and with increasing numbers of young women joining youth orchestras in the country, we think it’s surely only a matter of time before we have a leading female conductor appointed at one of our most prominent orchestras.
Are you an aspiring female conductor? What do you think needs to happen to enact change in this part of the classical music industry?
- AUDIO: First female conductor for Last Night of the Proms (bbc.co.uk)
- Flustered by our sexual energy? Just keep your eyes on the score (telegraph.co.uk)
- Marin Alsop, conductor of Last Night of the Proms, on sexism in classical music (theguardian.com)
- Marin Alsop: society is uncomfortable with women in authority roles (theguardian.com)
- Male conductors are better for orchestras, says Vasily Petrenko (theguardian.com)
- Marin Alsop on becoming the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms (standard.co.uk)
- Vasily Petrenko must resign over his comments about female conductors | Femke Colborne (theguardian.com)
- Sexism row hits classical music after conductor says orchestras are ‘better led by men’ (standard.co.uk)