Female conductors, composers are still rarities in classical music. How can that change?
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The acclaimed new movie Tár is stirring up controversy with its portrayal of Lydia Tár, a fictional female conductor. Tár, played by Cate Blanchett, is predatory, controlling and abuses her power throughout the movie.
Blanchett’s Tár is make-believe, but the film has reignited an all too realistic conversation about the lack of female conductors in orchestras and opera companies.
In the U.S., the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Nathalie Stutzmann is the only female music director at a major orchestra. Both the Dallas and Fort Worth symphony orchestras have never been led by female music directors, though the DSO has hired several female assistant conductors over the past few decades, and appointed Gemma New as principal guest conductor in 2018. The FWSO has also brought in more female guest conductors in recent seasons. Classical music groups across the country have also been programming more female composers, but they are still underrepresented.
The DSO’s fourth annual Women in Classical Music Symposium will address the lingering gender gaps — and speak to the challenges facing women moving toward leadership roles in classical music. From Nov. 6-9, the symposium will include panels and workshops to help attendees navigate barriers in the field.
Historically, major groups have also struggled to hire and retain women of color. This week, Fort Worth Opera’s general and artistic director Afton Battle — one of the first Black women to lead a U.S. opera company — resigned amid tensions with her role.
Sarah Whitling, the DSO’s director of institutional giving, said that over the last two years more women who are midcareer are leaving classical music.
“This is a really time-intensive industry that we’re in and there’s not a lot of support” for those who are midcareer heading toward leadership positions, she said. “So a lot of the discussion this year will focus on kind of, OK, you’re at the middle of your career. What comes next?”
In addition, Whitling said this year’s symposium aims to spark broader conversations about the structural barriers faced by women in classical music.
“It’s a pretty patriarchal industry. So then how do we break down some of those cultural things that make it harder for women to advance?” Whitling said. “So it’s not necessarily just what can women do, but what can the industry do as well.”
Around 300 people are expected to attend the event, including students from South Dallas, SMU and Plano ISD who have been invited to participate in some of the panels.
Participants can attend networking events and discussions on topics like the challenges of balancing work and personal life and the experiences of Black women in U.S. orchestras. The symposium will also feature a documentary viewing and discussion about Zohra, Afghanistan’s all-women orchestrathat was evacuated from the country when the Taliban retook control.
The DSO isn’t the only group in town boosting the visibility of women in classical music. Since 2015, the Dallas Opera’s Hart Institute has advanced the careers of female conductors, offering workshops and performance opportunities. Alumnae have gone on to conduct at prominent orchestras and opera companies around the globe.
A Nov. 8 symposium panel called “The Burden of Breaking Through: Power Structures and Paths to Progress” will be moderated by Elizabeth Myong, a reporter and producer for Arts Access — a new partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA. Vocalist Katherine Goforth, conductor Sarah Ioannides and DSO composer-in-residence Angélica Negrón will discuss how they’ve overcome barriers in classical music and the way biases and power dynamics contribute to the challenges they face.
The symposium will also feature a series of concerts, including a full-orchestra program of all women composers, a chamber music concert curated by Negrón and a song recital by Katherine Goforth, with pianist Anastasia Markina.
“The Burden of Breaking Through: Power Structures and Paths to Progress” panel will be on Tuesday, Nov. 8 from 1:45 to 3:15 p.m. at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Attendance is free and open to the public. Click here to register.
Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity.
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