Tuesday 6 December 2016

Very ladylike conduct -- the lesser-spotted female maestro

Published 17/09/2011 | 05:00

Last May, The Ulster Orchestra appointed its first woman to the role of principal conductor. American JoAnn Falletta is the first female and the first American to be appointed to this post.

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JoAnn is the Grammy award-winning music director of The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in New York and has been described by The New York Times as "one of the finest conductors of her generation".

JoAnn will conduct the orchestra for the first time as its principal conductor in The Ulster Hall on Wednesday September 21st. She will have eight engagements with the orchestra in the first season of her three-year contract.

It shouldn't matter of course if a conductor is male or female, but let's face it, it is a rare sighting to see a female conductor on the podium.

The 2008 TV reality show Maestro focused wider public attention on the question of what makes a good conductor and the competition was won by a woman, comedian Sue Perkins.

Ask Julia Jones, one of Britain's most successful conductors, why there are so few "female conductors" and she becomes quite irate!

"Women conductors should not be the issue -- it's what you can bring to the work, and for that gender is completely unimportant."

Jones works outside of the UK though and only last year made her debut at Covent Garden. Is the rest of Europe and the US a little more open to the idea of female conductors I wonder?

Marin Alsop's appointment as music director of the Baltimore Symphony made her the first woman to head a major US orchestra. Estonian conductor Anu Tali has been working with The Madison Symphony Orchestra. She is used to hearing surprise over her gender. She insists: "I'm a very normal human being. I'm not a typical maestro."

Is this part of the problem, are we still saddled with the stereotypical notion that conducting is a masculine occupation and that women are somehow unsuited for it?

Food for thought in a book by Beverly Taylor, conductor of the Madison Symphony Chorus who recently co-authored Wisdom, Wit and Will: Women Choral Conductors on their Art. When will we see the 'Women Orchestral Conductors' version?

Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals Saturday and Sunday 2-4pm and My Tunes Friday at 7pm on RTÉ lyric fm.

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