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Ask Alice, with Kelly Ferjutz

Whilst Classical Music Agony Aunt Alice is on holiday,
KELLY FERJUTZ steps in with a special feature
about women conductors ...

A journalist once asked the French conductor and teacher Nadia Boulanger how it felt to be the first woman to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. 'I have been a woman for fifty years,' Boulanger replied, 'and long since overcome my initial astonishment.'

In mid-July, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra sort of announced the appointment of a new Music Director. I say 'sort of' because there was an immediate outcry of protest, followed by another announcement a few days later that repeated the original one. Goodness! Such a flap. As usual, the population was divided. Women responded 'It's about time!' whereas many men said, 'Oh, no, not yet! We didn't want her, really.' The key word there being her. Because, indeed, it was a woman who had been or was about to be, appointed to that post in Baltimore. As in --

Dear Kelly

What do you think about a woman -- Marin Alsop -- being named conductor of the Baltimore Symphony?

Interested in US

Ask Alice

Dear Kelly,

What do you think about Marin Alsop getting the Baltimore job then?

I thought there weren't many women conductors at all, until I found this page:

Sam in Malta

Ask Alice

Could you please tell me the name of the female Conductor who made national news some years back when she became conductor of the Denver Colorado Symphony Orchestra. What has become of her?

William Rowland

Ask Alice

Marin Alsop

Well. Three notes with a single theme. Because, of course, the answer to the third question is Marin Alsop, who is now officially Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. This is the largest orchestra to have named a woman to that post, although JoAnn Falletta has been Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra since 1999, following such distinguished conductors as Lukas Foss and Michael Tilson-Thomas. Ms Falletta is also a very gifted writer. You might enjoy her poems and essays at:

JoAnn Falletta

Previously, Ms Falletta had conducted the Women's Orchestra, based in San Francisco, California. They specialized in performing music written by women, and made several acclaimed recordings in the process.

However, I must express my deepest gratitude to 'Sam in Malta' for having sent me the link to The Kapralova Society. What a treasure trove it is! There are currently 362 women conductors listed there. Can you believe it? 362! I kept getting lost at the site, wandering around, enjoying myself immensely!

Several conducting women sent me little anecdotes about their careers. My gratitude to them is boundless. For example, Deborah Freedman wrote:

I am the conductor of the St Joseph Symphony in St Joseph, Missouri and the Missouri Western State University Orchestra. My career has taken me to many states and allowed me to conduct orchestras from student level to professional. I have been with these two orchestras since 1988. It is curious that since I have conducted in St Joseph for 17 years, many of the youth believe women are conductors as that is all they have seen. [note from Kelly: I LOVE this quote!]

Of course, women conductors are beginning to flourish, but that was not always the case. My master's thesis looks at the careers of Antonio Brico, Margaret Hillis, and Sarah Caldwell, three women conductors whose careers started in the early to mid 20th Century. Their challenges were great and their paths dictated greatly by their sex. While I have experienced some discrimination from older men, most of my experiences have been positive.

Deborah Freedman

It has been talent that has won out in the end. I encourage women to become conductors and pursue their dreams of a career in music. My life has been fulfilling because of my choices to be a conductor.

(Ms Freedman was a horn player and attended Interlochen.)

Ask Alice

Mary Woodmansee Green wrote:

Hi, Just thought I would send 'Kudos' to my two Boards. I conduct the Kennett Symphony of Chester County in suburban Philadelphia (17 years) and the Hilton Head Orchestra in SC (7 years) and have been blessed with forward thinking Directors and musicians.

At my first concert of the KSCC, we had an old Italian man in the first violin section who was a retiree of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who believed women belonged at home (or at least they did not belong on the podium). He decided not to return. Otherwise, I have felt nothing but support. I did learn early, that high heels are for social wear, not professional!

Mary Woodmansee Green

I did have a conducting professor in college -- I was the only woman in the class -- and I asked him a question about the Beethoven 7th Symphony. I remember that he said simply, 'You won't have to worry about that', implying that I would never conduct so why should he bother explaining ...

Ask Alice

From Natalia Luis-Bassa:

During the spring of 2004 Natalia was appointed Musical Director of the Haffner Orchestra in Lancaster and Principal Conductor of the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra.

Natalia Luis-Bassa

Finalist in the Maazel-Vilar Conductors' Competition 2002 in Carnegie Hall, she was the first person in Venezuela to receive the BMus in orchestral conducting. After completing her postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Music in London in 1997 Natalia was awarded the RCM Junior Fellowship in Opera Conducting until 1999.

Ask Alice

We also heard from Paige Vickery, who was a Prize Winner at the 2003 Vakhtang Jordania International Conducting Competition. She is currently in New York, she works with Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops. In addition, Paige works with the Denver Brass and the Boulder Youth Symphony Society, after a nine-year tenure with the Colorado Youth Symphony.

Paige Vickery

It isn't all easy, however, as Blair Tindall, author of Mozart in the Jungle, writes, at:

Until a couple of years ago, my only experience of a woman conductor was the two times Sian Edwards conducted the Cleveland Orchestra: once at Severance Hall and once at Blossom Music Center. The first event, 20 May 1993, was not only her own début with this world-renowned institution, but also the first-ever subscription concert conducted by a woman. It may still be the only such occurrence in the orchestra's history.

Jeannette Sorrell

However, Cleveland has two other conducting women: Jeanette Sorrell, who founded and is the principal conductor of the highly-acclaimed Baroque orchestra Apollo's Fire, (see also my article in Angle Magazine) and Liza Grossman, who founded and conducts the Cleveland Contemporary Youth Orchestra, which plays rock music on the same programs as the more traditional classical variety. (This orchestra gave the world première performance of the Doors Concerto Riders on the Storm by Jaz Coleman, with Mark Jackobs as soloist. See my article in Perfect Sound Forever.)

Liza Grossman

Huge thanks to Basil, Keith and Alice for allowing me to try to fill-in for Alice who is on well-deserved holiday. It is presumed she will be back shortly. Thank you all!


Copyright © 15 August 2005 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA

Ask Alice

Any other women conductors with tales to tell, or anyone else, for that matter, is invited to get in touch via the WRITE NOW TO 'ASK ALICE' link.






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