Hallé hits a high note with its first female conductor

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The Independent Culture

Ewa Strusinska, a 30-year-old musician and a rising star in the predominantly male world of conducting, had her "glass ceiling" breakthrough yesterday to become the first female assistant conductor with the oldest orchestra in Britain.

Although the Hallé Orchestra has invited female guest conductors to perform with them before, Polish-born Ms Strusinska, who teaches at the Royal Northern College of Music, will be the first one to be on a two-year contract, the first woman to hold such a position in the country.

She succeeds Rory Macdonald at the end of his30-month tenure in September this year. Ms Strusinska will assist the Hallé's music director, Mark Elder, and other guest conductors as well as directing the Hallé Youth Orchestra. The Halle, based in Manchester and celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, is among the world's leading orchestras.

Martin Cullingford, the deputy editor of the classical music magazine, Gramophone, said Ms Strusinska had performed an impressive feat. "There are not a lot of women conducting in the world although the numbers are increasing. She is one of the highest-performing female conductors and she is where she is because she is a fabulous conductor. There were fewer female conductors maybe through an institutionalised acceptance that men would have these roles, and some orchestras have only recently allowed women in," he added. "When people see women conducting on the podium, they will realise these talents have nothing to do with gender."

Among other world-recognised female conductors are Marin Alsop, of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, who is also beginning to conduct at Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and JoAnn Falletta, at the Buffalo Philharmonic.

Mark Elder, the Hallé's music director, said Ms Strusinska would be warmly welcomed. "[She] is the fourth young musician to win the Hallé's coveted position of assistant conductor," he said. "Her two-year tenure will offer her every chance of developing further her considerable talent."

Born in Stalowa Wola, south-east Poland, Ms Strusinska studied at the Frederic Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw, and received a diploma in orchestral conducting in June 2005 after a performance with the National Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsaw. In 2006, she became a junior fellow in conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music.

Ms Strusinska has studied conducting alongside acclaimed musicians including Antoni Wit, Gabriel Chmura and Mark Stringer and has worked with the National Polish Radio Orchestra, the National Philharmonic in Warsaw, Musicales and the Symphony Orchestra of Katowice Music Academy, as well as a host of British orchestras.

She is president of Warsaw Stage Society and, since 1997, has been conductor and artistic director of the Polish choir, Jeunesses Musicales. In 2000, she recorded a CD with them which was nominated for a Fryderyk Award, Poland's most prestigious music award. She has also won the Grand Prix in St Petersburg with the choir, Tutti Cantamus.

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