Concertmaster Frank Almond posted a thought provoking article on 11/6/2013 on the topic of women conductors. Written from his perspective of someone in the front row of orchestra musician trenches, he provides some much needed clarity on the topic.

ITA-Guy-168You may wonder what angle could possibly be missing from the avalanche of words spilled (and sometimes wasted) on what is rapidly becoming a tiresome dialogue (to me, anyway). Here’s a little secret, at least in my experience: nobody cares. That is to say, truly gifted conductors are in such short supply these days that most orchestras wouldn’t care if you are male, female, or some combination as long as you possess that intangible and complex set of skills that both inspires and challenges a large group of musicians to play their best on a regular basis without growing to despise you in the process. And even if that happens, they’ll still be happy about some great concerts.

That pretty much says it all. Outrageous attitudes by some in the field notwithstanding, most of the professionals actually making the music don’t care about which vowel appears at the end of the ceremonial title.

And that’s exactly the way it should be.

I’d go so far to say board members and executives think more about it than the musicians; in fact, that would make for a fascinating study.

But what do you think, is Almond’s assessment of musician attitudes overly generous or spot on?

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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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4 thoughts on “Maestragen”

  1. Actually the “vowel at the end of the ceremonial title” does make a difference. A “maestro” is a “maestro” regardless of gender. A “maestra” is a schoolmarm.

    In my own (limited) research into the subject, it seems as though the critics are responsible for a great deal of the attitudes toward female conductors. Concert reviews incessantly refer to women as “petite” and often discuss their choice of attire. Males have little to worry about, despite their lack of height, as all are (according to Lynn Harrell) dressed like “Captain von Trapp’s butler.

  2. Frank is right in every respect. The musicians care deeply about quality. The obsession with gender and race in music is almost entirely the concern of orchestra administrations and managements. One may almost forgive them, for they are responding to an onslaught of inquisition, accusation and demands concerning diversity from funding organizations and sectors of their audience who insist that an orchestra’s demographics should reflect the demographics of their place of residence, and that is causing some organizations to make poor decisions which can exacerbate extant tensions. One can almost forgive them. Almost.

    One caveat: we should perhaps restrict these observations to American orchestras, for as William Osborne has ably shown there are still problems emanating from the rank and file in places like Vienna. Additionally, I have observed it firsthand in Ukraine.

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