“A sweet girl on the podium can make one’s thoughts drift toward something else.”

“A sweet girl on the podium can make one’s thoughts drift toward something else.”

Jenna Simeonov

Ah, classical music. Old-fashioned to the bone. It’s almost charming, except we still need to write articles about the plight of the female conductor and the female composer. Young Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko basically said that the male players in the orchestra wouldn’t be able to control themselves if they had to look up at the podium and see a pretty lady there. According to Petrenko, male conductors “often have less sexual energy and can focus more on the music. A sweet girl on the podium can make one’s thoughts drift towards something else.”

Now, this article is slightly optimistic, and echoes a few feelings I’ve had on the subject of women conductors. There may be something to the idea that conducting doesn’t appeal to women as much as it does to men. Perhaps the desire to be a conductor comes from a drive for podium power, or the thrill of inspiring a mass of people. Or maybe they’re just after attention. But maybe these are also masculine tendencies, and maybe women just don’t feel like playing that role in their careers.

But it still stands that women’s presence in classical music is comparatively rare. The Metropolitan Opera just had its third female conductor make her debut last week. Jane Glover, I tip my hat to you, especially since you had to conduct that lame “family friendly,” a.k.a., “huge cuts were made” version of The Magic Flute. In its 2016-17 season, the Met will bring in its fourth lady of the podium, Susanna Mälkki, to conduct Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de loin.

Similarly to the world of conducting, the proportions of female composers are slowly creeping up. The Met’s L’amour de loin will not only feature its fourth (FOURTH!) maestra, but also the second (SECOND!) performance of an opera written by a female composer. The first was in 1903. Nineteen-oh-three! It was Der Wald, by Ethel Smyth, an English composer, and the reviews from the premiére are hilarious:

“After an hour of ultra-modern music, strident, formless, passionate music that stirred the blood with clangor of brass, the shrieks of strings, the plaint of wood winds and disdained to woo the senses with flower-soft melodic phrase, the audience at the Metropolitan Opera House clamored for the composer and held its breath when she appeared. A fragile creature, feminine to her fingertips in rather old-fashioned gown of black silk, red roses in her dark hair and a courtesy like grandmother used to make… She was Ethel M. Smyth, a young Englishwoman, whose one-act opera, Der Wald, had just received its first American presentation….”


I found a neat talk about the idea that women can’t paint or do anything else creative.

And as much as I love him, Christopher Hitchens maintained that women aren’t funny.

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