To look in a positive way at the issues of women conductors and artists of color – two minorities in classical music – I came up with two short lists: one of female conductors now active internationally, the other a list of artists of color appearing with our Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra – both with more names than I expected and that I was pleasantly surprised to see.
A handful of women conductors of various nationalities now lead various international orchestras as music directors. Joanna Carneiro oversees matters musical for her birth country’s Orquestra Sinfónica Portuguesa; Lithuania’s Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is now at the helm of Great Britain’s Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Simone Young is the newly appointed chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra – the first female conductor in that orchestra’s history; Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music- trained, Chinese-born Xian Zhang is again at the podium of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
Recently Nathalie Stutzmann, a respected French-born Baroque music specialist, contralto singer, and conductor has just made history by being appointed to lead the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra – the second woman in America ever to lead a major symphony orchestra, after Baltimore’s Marin Alsop.
Several other female conductors have artfully put together ensembles of their own, closer in spirit and repertoire to their artistic identities.
Cuban-born Odaline de la Martinez leads her own Lontano Ensemble and the European Women’s Orchestra, both of which she founded as well as holding the distinction of being the first female to conduct at the British BBC Proms. France’s Emmanuelle Haïm, also a noted Baroque music specialist leads the early music ensemble Le concert d’Astrée, while Finland’s Susanna Mälkki leads the Ensemble Intercontemporain, a group of musicians that focuses on new music. Another invaluable early music ensemble, Chicago’s Music of the Baroque has as its distinguished leader, British-born Dame Jane Glover.
This season two notable women guest conductors will be appearing with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Dalia Stasevska, the Finnish music director of Finland’s Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and the Russian Anna Rakitina, co-founder of Moscow’s Affretando Chamber Orchestra.
Also, on the stage of Cincinnati’s Music Hall as part of season 2022-2023, several artists of color will make debuts to enrich the gradually improving ethnic and gender mix in the CSO line up: pianists Courtney Brian and Michelle Cahn, violinist Randall Goodsby, saxophonist Steven Banks, and the young maestro Kevin John Edusei.
While African American artists are gradually being given the much deserved and heretofore denied opportunities in symphonic music, their Latinx counterparts are by and large still waiting at the gates of American orchestras. The names of Gustavo Dudamel and Andres Orozco-Estrada and Giancarlo Guerrero will readily come to mind proving our statement wrong, but countless other musical artists from Latin American birth or extraction still cool their heels impatiently waiting their turn.
Internationally, nationally, and now locally the up to now half-empty glass of diversity is slowly beginning to look – one drop at a time – less empty and fuller than before, but we wish the pouring of talent to go quicker and generously.
Rafael de Acha © 2022