Alice Farnham, one of Britain’s most prominent female conductors, is currently running a radical female-only conducting course at Morley College, South London. The second part of the course took place this weekend (23 March).
The debate around female conductors was stirred up in September last year when Marin Alsop became the first ever woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms.
This was followed by a range of comments made within the music industry, including by Bruno Mantavani, head of the Paris Conservatoire, who claimed that conducting was too ‘physically demanding’ for the majority of women.
Mantavani’s comments were not the only ones to make a noise. Vasily Petrenko, principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, aroused huge controversy with the comments he made to the Norwegian Newspaper, Aftenposten, around his views on female conductors.
Although the Russian conductor claimed his views were relating only to his homeland, his comments that ‘a sweet girl on the podium can make one’s thoughts drift towards something else’ were not taken lightly.
‘If I’d known then how little would change in 20 years I would have been surprised, and it does make me rather sad,’ Farnham said. ‘I was also surprised at myself for having been a little bit complacent about it, and thinking that’s just the way it is, maybe conducting is just something not many women want to do.’
Speaking about Farnham’s course, Andrea Brown, director of Music at Morely college said: ‘It’s about celebrating role models and equal opportunities, but it’s also about putting that initial germ of an idea into a girl’s mind, that this could be for me.’
The course hopes to break down the sexist barriers that are still apparent in the classical music industry by breaking down stereotypical images that are riff and by encouraging confident young women to step forward and take the baton.