Are We Really Talking about Why Women “Can’t” Conduct?

Above: Conductor Marin Alsop’s speech at the last night of the 2013 BBC Proms – “I’m incredibly honored and proud to have this title, but I have to say I’m still quite shocked that it can be 2013 and there can be firsts for women. Here’s to the seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, hundreds to come.”

No, the title of this post isn’t just a rhetorical question. It is true that over the last several weeks, no small amount of ink has been spilled bringing to light both phenomenal accomplishments of women conductors and spectacularly unprofessional remarks from some top-ranking male conductors about the relative incompetence of their female counterparts. So yes, we literally are, in the year 2013, having a conversation about why women “can’t” conduct.

But you can also read the title of this post as a rhetorical question, in which case you’ll no doubt recognize the tone of disbelief, of weariness that can only come from centuries – nay, millennia – of having to reinvent the wheel.

Sisyphus comes to mind, the poor fellow in Greek mythology fated always to push the boulder only partway up the mountain, thus causing it to roll back down again to the bottom of the hill. Push, roll, push, roll. So on and so forth. For eternity.

Finding solutions to, or at least work-arounds for, the inequities and challenges women face in the world of classical music, and especially classical music conducting, was the focus of a recent symposium at London’s Southbank Centre. The gathering, which included Southbank director Jude Kelly, conductor Marin Alsop and other noted women classical music professionals, was devoted to creating ways for women to develop their classical music talents and careers proactively, despite the challenges of a male-dominated profession.

Ideas presented at the symposium included developing a conducting class for teen girls, creating a high-profile award for women classical musicians and creating a fund to help develop “a new approach to photography” that conveys (or doesn’t hide) women conductors’ physical attractiveness while also promoting their professional authority.

But like Marin Alsop, I, too, am mystified about why women are still having to prove themselves – again and again – viable, much less strong, in so many professional walks of life. Progress had been made in the classical music world, thanks in no small part to pioneers like Alsop. But much remains to be done to erase the notion that there is work in the classical music professions that women ipso facto cannot do as well as men, even as they demonstrate – again and again – that they are up to the task. How can this perception be eliminated, once and for all time?

Read more: 

  • Why Aren’t there More Women Conductors? Jude Kelly Leads a Discussion at the Southbank Centre (classical-music.com)
  • What is Classical Music’s Women Problem ? (NPR)
  • Women, Gays and Classical Music (The New Yorker)
  • Où sont les femmes? (France Musique)
Comments