Women in Music | Women Conductors | Modern Era | Classical
As the conductor is placed in a very visible position of power over other musicians, conducting has been a particularly difficult career for women to pursue. While women have, in fact, conducted throughout history, it is still relatively rare to find them working with professional symphony orchestras. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, women such as Frédérique Petrides (1903–83), director of the American Orchestrette Classique, often conducted all-women ensembles, while female composers such as Ethel Smyth (1858–1944) frequently took the baton for performances of their own works.
The pioneering Ethel Leginska (1886–1970) began her conducting career in the 1920s, appearing with orchestras in Germany, France, Britain and the US. The Dutch-born Antonia Brico (1902–89) established her conducting career with professional orchestras in the US in the 1920s and 30s. From the 1940s she was the conductor of the semi-professional Brico Symphony Orchestra. The British composer and conductor Ruth Gipps (1921–99) also worked for most of her career with a semi-professional orchestra, the London Repertoire, as well as founding the professional Chanticleer Orchestra which specialized in contemporary British music. Several women conductors have concentrated on conducting opera, including the American Sarah Caldwell (1924–2006), the first woman to conduct at the New York Metropolitan Opera House (in 1976), and the British Sîan Edwards (b. 1959), musical director of English National Opera in the early 1990s and the first woman to conduct at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (in 1988). The British Jane Glover (b. 1949) and the French Emmanuelle Haïm (b. 1967) have both established reputations specializing in early music. During the 1990s the Australian Simone Young (b. 1961) and the American Marin Alsop (b. 1956) forged wide-ranging international careers. Young was appointed artistic director of the Hamburg State Opera and musical director of the Hamburg Philharmonic in 2005, that same year becoming the first woman to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic. Alsop, successively principal conductor of the Colorado, Bournemouth and Baltimore symphony orchestras, was in 2013 the first female conductor of the Last Night of the Proms.
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