Women on the podium
This week, the League of American Orchestras announced the award of four $10,000 grants to four female conductors. The Women Conductors Grant Program, put together with foundation moneys, is designed to give women a leg up in a field that, the theory goes, still remains a challenge to them.
I’m of two minds about this. It’s true that women have had an uphill battle, and it took them a long time to start being able to have professional careers as conductors. JoAnn Falletta, Marin Alsop, Simone Young are pioneers and trail-blazers who -- particularly the first two, who are slightly older -- had to overcome a lot of resistance to establish themselves at all, after generations of women before them no less gifted who simply had to seek out other lines of work because they found the door so firmly closed to them.
But it’s also true that women have made huge strides in the last few years. Xian Zhang, a former associate conductor of the New York Philharmonic, now heads the Verdi orchestra in Milan; Anne Manson, formerly music director of the Kansas City Symphony, is now music director of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra; Keri-Lynn Wilson has an international career; Anu Tali conducts around Europe after founding her own Nordic Orchestra in 1997 (a traditional career path for women conductors unable to get gigs with orchestras has been to found their own: Eve Queler, Alsop, and Alondra de la Parra, one of the current grantees, are just a few examples). This is a relatively small sampling (readers: add your own names to the list).
Still, these and other women conductors remain a drop in the bucket relative to the men who continue to dominate the field. This, I think, is the idea underlying the current grants: we need to do something to help level the playing field and draw attention to the talents who are working.
(read more after the jump)
Not all of the women I’ve mentioned above are, by the way, equally talented. A particular beef of mine is what I see in some cases as a kind of reverse affirmative action, people praising praises so-so work from women that they’d never tolerate from men. I think this only hurts the cause of women in the field, however well-meaning it may be.
For this reason, I wonder if singling out women and giving them special grants has the effect one wants. I don’t want to see women being rewarded just for being women. This is nothing against the four conductors who received the current grant: Mihaela Cesa-Goje, Mei-Ann Chen, Alondra de la Parra, and Annunziata Tomaro. I’m just concerned that it fosters the idea that women somehow continue to need extra help and extra tolerance, and even reflects a touch of sexism -- though I can’t deny that the grant is a concrete step to tackle a problem that seems obdurately difficult to fix.
What are your thoughts on the grant, and on the glacial pace at which women are gradually breaking in to the field of conducting?
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