Debating the role of women in top orchestra spots

Posted on: September 3, 2013

In Thursday’s (8/29) Washington Post, Anne Midgette comments on female leadership at performing arts organizations, noting that “in Washington, at least, women have taken over classical music’s traditional male network. In January, Francesca Zambello officially became the Washington National Opera’s artistic director; in April, Jenny Bilfield took over as president of the Washington Performing Arts Society. Add Rita Shapiro of the National Symphony Orchestra and you have the three major classical institutions in the city led by women.… For [Los Angeles Philharmonic President and CEO Deborah] Borda, 63, one of the first women in classical music to attain a high-profile leadership position, it’s important to look at the bigger picture. ‘If you look at Fortune 500 companies,’ she said in a recent phone interview, ‘4.2 percent are led by women.’ Seen in that light, Washington’s situation may seem more noteworthy.” Catherine French, former president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras and now “a prominent headhunter for nonprofit organizations,” says, “ ‘I think the biases are still there. I think it is an evolution.… 40 years from the major schools going coed. I think that was really the great equalizer.… It was no longer strange for the men who were growing up in the ’70s and ’80s to have women in class with them and clubs with them, and then you see [that reflected] inside the orchestras.” A separate news story in Tuesday’s (9/3) Guardian (London) covers the uproar following comments made by conductor Vasily Petrenko in a Norwegian newspaper that “orchestras react better when they have a man in front of them.”

Posted September 3, 2013