He’s Like Strom Thurmond Sans The Whimsy

Every now and then something comes along in the field that throws a truck load of old whitewalls on the seemingly unending tire fire that is negative classical music stereotypes. The latest collective embarrassment is from Maestro Yuri Temirkanov who reportedly believes that “the essence of a woman is weakness.” It goes downhill from there.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-083Thankfully, Alex Ross published the definitive forehead-slap article about all of this on 10/3/2013 accompanied by a translated transcript of Temirkanov’s full interview with Elena Gantchikova.

Q.: In your opinion, could a woman conduct?
A.: In my view, no.
Q.: Why not?!
A.: I don’t know if it’s God’s will, or nature’s, that women give birth and men do not. That’s something that no one takes offense at. But if you say that a women can’t conduct, then everyone’s offended. As Marx said, in response to the question “What’s your favorite virtue in a woman?”—”Weakness.” And this is correct. The important thing is, a woman should be beautiful, likable, attractive. Musicians will look at her and be distracted from the music!
Q.: Why? There are women in the orchestra; people indifferent to a women’s charms. Besides, how many times would you be enraptured by appearances? After all, it’s something you tire of, and switch to the heart of the question. Statistically, of course, there are women conductors.
A.: Yes, they do exist.
Q.: Nevertheless, you maintain that these are less than women, or less than conductors.
A.: No, simply that in my opinion, it’s counter to nature.
Q.: And what is it in the conductor’s profession that runs counter to a woman’s nature? That’s counter to the essence of the conductor’s profession?
A.: The essence of the conductor’s profession is strength. The essence of a woman is weakness.

Fortunately, it’s not all bare-foot-and-pregnant for women in classical music (Temirkanov’s Die Maestrostinker inner circle notwithstanding); in fact, things are awfully bright.

Women concertmasters and section leaders across all instruments are at all time highs while the majority of rank and file orchestra musicians are women. Women composers are big too and are arguably just as well known as male counterparts (shout out to my personal fav, Jennifer Higdon).

Mercifully, throwbacks with beliefs like those espoused by Temirkanov are a dying breed.

Postscript: just in case there are any Gen X or Millennial readers who don’t get the Strom Thurmond reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strom_Thurmond

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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6 thoughts on “He’s Like Strom Thurmond Sans The Whimsy”

  1. “Mercifully, throwbacks with beliefs like those espoused by Temirkanov are a dying breed.”

    Really? Because between Temirkanov, Liverpool’s Vasily Petrenko, and LSO’s Valery Gergiev it would appear such opinions are abound. But why would anyone take offense to such jabber? All the professionals know that talent speaks louder than words. If one has nothing to contribute they are spending their time talking.

  2. I guess it’s inevitable that you will always have older generation types harbor these types of views. It’s quite sad because these people are fantastic conductors. I was in a rehearsal with a very famous ‘old school’ german conductor and an asian piano soloist. He proclaimed in rehearsal something to the effect that “only a german can truly understand Menelssohn’s music”, with the obvious intention of degrading the soloist’s capability based on her race. *sigh……

  3. Most of the women who have ascended have skills. The gentlemen mentioned above rely on the generosity of the orchestras they conduct to decode their mystical gestures which they believe is actually conducting.
    I think the real issue is that men in orchestras are weak and insecure, while the women are jealous of the female conductors.
    Grow up, everybody. Your job is to follow the conductor to the best of your ability, and play to the orchestra’s level, Save the music from bad conductors, and give your support to the good ones.
    Good conductors are so rare that when you find one, you should be grateful. Marin Alsop and Joanne Falletta, for example, are fine conductors.
    Most orchestras never see a good conductor, but they see many bad ones, of which the most famous are the worst. Anyone see Barenboim’s Verdi Requiem? Jeez. If there is a God, he is truly merciful that he did not take him right off the stage at La Scala and put him where he belongs. And they call him one of the world’s greatest maestros. Ask anyone in Chicago or Milan and you will get a different story.

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