The question ‘why aren’t there more women conductors?’ remains as relevant in today’s music industry as it always has been.
At the end of 2014, music listings website Bachtrack reported that, in a list of the world’s 150 top conductors that year, only five were women.
Then, at the Association of British Orchestra’s conference earlier this year, Southbank Sinfonia’s managing director James Murphy revealed that just 5.5% of conductors represented by classical music management companies were women.
There are several women, though, whose work against this trend has been instrumental in getting superb female conductors seen on the podiums of the world’s greatest stages and they are worth celebrating.
1. Marin Alsop
Marin Alsop made history when she became the first female to conduct a major US symphony orchestra when appointed to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2007. Six years later she made history again when she became the first ever woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms. Watch her speech at that historic Last Night in the video below.
2. Gisèle Ben-Dor
Currently conductor laureate of the Santa Barbara Symphony, the Uruguayan conductor has won particular praise for her performances of South American works.
3. Odaline de la Martinez
Martinez is the conductor who holds the historic record for being the first woman ever to conduct at the BBC Proms. The Cuban-born musician is founder of the Lontano Chamber Orchestra and the European Women’s Orchestra.
4. Sian Edwards
English conductor Sian Edwards shot to prominence as music director at English National Opera between 1993 and 95. She conducted a programme of Britten, Holst, Berkeley and Tippett with the Britten Sinfonia at the 2013 Proms.
5. JoAnn Falletta
6. Jane Glover
The former music director of the London Mozart Players and Glyndebourne Touring Opera appeared regularly on TV in the 1980s. Currently music director of Chicago’s Music of the Baroque, Glover is also director of opera at the Royal Academy of Music.
7. Emmanuelle Haïm
Haïm is a brilliant French Baroque specialist who has set the opera world alight with her own Le Concert d’Astrée ensemble.
8. Susanna Mälkki
9. Andrea Quinn
10. Simone Young
The Australian conductor Simone Young’s posts have included chief conductor of Opera Australia and – currently – the Hamburg Philharmonic. She became familiar to TV audiences as a judge on the BBC’s Maestro! TV series in 2008.
11. Xian Zhang
Director of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi since 2009, Chinese American conductor Xian Xhang conducted a programme of Verdi arias with Joseph Calleja at the 2013 Proms and regularly guest conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Along with Alsop, Young, Glover and Falletta, she was listed among the world’s top five conductors in Bachtrack’s 2014 music trends report. In 2016 she became principal guest conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
12. Barbara Hannigan
Already famous as a soprano, performing roles like Berg’s Lulu, Handel oratorios or cutting-edge contemporary new music, Barbara Hannigan has also made a name for herself as a conductor, beginning in 2011 with Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre (below).
13. Alice Farnham
A British conductor who trained at the St Petersburg Conservatoire, Alice Farnham (below) has an international reputation working with the Mariinsky Theatre in Stravinsky’s Rape of Lucretia and at the Royal Opera House.
She is keen to inspire the next generation of conducting talent and is artistic director of the Women Conductors with the Royal Philharmonic Society programme.
14. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
The Lithuanian conductor made newspaper headlines when she was named as the new chief conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) in 2016, at the age of 29. She is the first woman to hold that post and only the third female chief conductor of a major British orchestra. Previously associate conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gražinytė-Tyla is also music director of the Salzburg Landestheater in Austria.
15. Elim Chan
The first female winner of the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition, in 2014, Hong Kong-born Chan was assisstant conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 2015-16. She is now chief conductor at Norrlands Opera in Umea, Sweden, and has been appointed a Dudamel Fellow at the LA Philharmonic.
16. Han-Na Chang
The highly regarded cellist made the switch to conducting in 2007, and has worked with a host of prestigious orhestras. After a bruising experience with the Qatar Philharmonic, she’s set to become chief conductor of Trondheim Symphony Orchestra.
17. Joana Carneiro
Portuguese Carneiro is music director of the Berkeley Symphony and principal conductor of the Orquestra Sinfonica Portuguesa. She came to attention with the successful UK premiere of John Adams’s The Gospel According to the Other Mary at English National Opera.
18. Alondra de la Parra
Alondra de la Parra was just 23 when she founded her own ensemble, the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas. In 2010, they recorded their first disc together. The Mexican is now principal conductor of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
19. Laurence Equilbey
Conductor and musical director of the historically informed Insula Orchestra and Accentus choir, Laurence Equilbey is one of France’s leading conductors. She also runs the Paris’s newest concert hall, La Seine Musicale.