Women in Music
WOMEN CONDUCTORS ON THE PODIUM
By Marie DuBois
For a long time, it looked like there was a little forward momentum regarding women on the podium of not only American Orchestras, but of other orchestras scattered across the world. But over the last few years, except for the sensationalized appointment of Marin Alsop as Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony, it seems like the trend has slowed. When one looks at Music Director searches across the country, no longer does one see the “token” women on the list. More and more, orchestras are moving back to the tried and true male role on the podium. In doing so, however, they cut themselves off from some of the superb things that are happening in the orchestras that are being lead by women across the country.
Take for example, Diane Wittry’s work with the Allentown Symphony. When Diane Wittry was first appointed as Music Director of this regional orchestra, the orchestra was professional, yet lingering with an organization structure left over from its rise from the ranks of a community orchestra. To hear the orchestra now, one can not even imagine it is the same ensemble. The programming over the last few years has been sensational. This is what Ms. Wittry really brings to the podium, a deep understanding of how the orchestra functions in the community and the type of programming that is unique and fascinating to the audience. This, combined with her engaging personality and her impeccable baton technique, really makes her prime for a larger position. Her commitment to the community is shown clearly with her new book “Beyond the Baton” (nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award) which is printed by Oxford University Press (2007) and focuses on the role of the music director off the podium. This is a first for this type of book and it is making an impressive impact on the field.
There is also something about a woman’s way of working with people that somehow makes the growth process of an orchestra seem easier. They seem to have an innate sense of how to work with their players so that even if people are released from the orchestra, they don’t harbor the hard feelings and conflict that often come with confrontation with the male role model on the podium. Women, in general, just seem to be able to get along with people better and seem to be able to move them towards unified goals. JoAnn Falletta has done wonderful things with the Buffalo Philharmonic with really bringing the musicians together.
The musical sensitivity of a women on the podium is also something to admire. To see them linger over a tender phrase, or bring out the inner voices of a complex development section is truly admirable. Their ability to multi-task seems to transfer over to their ability to focus and separate multiple musical ideas.
Many women conduct regional orchestras across the United States. To name just a few, we have Catherine Comet, Marin Alsop, JoAnn Falletta, Diane Wittry, Xian Zhang, Sian Edwards, Joana Carneiro, Laura Jackson, Elizabeth Schulze, Sarah Ioannides, Sarah Hicks, Anne Manson, Mary Woodsmansee Green, Susan Haig, Karen Lynne Deal, and Karen Nixon-Lane. Internationally, some of the names to watch are: Simone Young, music director of the Hamburg State Opera; Emmanuelle Haim, with her ensemble Le Concert d'Astrée; and Susanna Mälkki, a conductor of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and the new music director of L'Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris.
One can see that there are many qualified women already on the podium, more and more are waiting in the wings. At the conducting masterclasses offered around the country and in Europe, often 1/3 to 1/2 of the class is female. How many of these young women will actually be able to get conducting positions and become professional conductors remains to be seen, but hopefully the trend started in the late 1980’s will continue, and women will eventually be equal with men, not only in the orchestra, but also on the podium.