Conductor at Last Night of the Proms is the Subject of Off-Key Comments

Marlyn Glen

6 September 2013

Tomorrow evening will mark another achievement for women, this time in the field of music, when Marin Alsop becomes the first woman to conduct the traditional Last Night of the Proms .

 Female conductors are in as short supply as female composers are in the Pantheon of Classical Music, and so Saturday’s step up to the podium is another step up for women showing that they are the musical equal of men.

Not so, according to Vasily Petrenko, the principal conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

He told a Norwegian newspaper that orchestras  “react better when they have a man in front of them” because “a cute girl on a podium means that musicians think about other things.”

 He went on,

“When women have families, it becomes difficult to be as dedicated as is demanded in the business.”

As the outrage at his remarks broke, Mr. Petrenko clarified his remarks to indicate that his comments referred only to the situation in his native Russia.

He backtracked , saying that his words had been “taken out of context” and mentioned that his wife was a choral conductor.

The young American conductor , Tara  Simoncic relates,

It's funny, sometimes when I tell people I'm a conductor, they assume I am a train conductor.

Yes, I have experienced sexism. I look forward to the day when it won't be highlighted that I am a female conductor.

To me, I am just a conductor and I've been a conductor for over 15 years.

I think it is an issue at every job for every woman at some point in their lives.”

Marin Alsop  can rise well above the bruised male egos and the incautious comments about women as second-class conductors to comment on the far wider issue of women’s rights internationally, writing in the “Evening Standard” :

 “The fact that there can still be firsts for women in 2013 is what should really grab our collective attention…we  must never fall into the trap of getting complacent about things getting better for all women because they simply are not.

“ When a girl can be shot in Pakistan for going to school, when women are arrested after being raped in Saudi Arabia and when the number of rapes in African war zones reaches numbers that are impossible to calculate, we need to keep busy fighting injustice wherever it occurs.

"And we need to speak openly about inequality, whether in relation to these egregious events or in terms of unequal pay for equal work.”






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