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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.