Male conductors still think they are gods

A casual remark has signalled the sexism rife in classical music


Even allowing for loose translation, Vasily Petrenko's description of a woman conducting as "some cute girl on the podium" managed to upset the maximum number of people in the fewest syllables. It was a veritable Puccini aria – all over in a trice but resounding long after, like a gong.

Clang! Female conductors, including Marin Alsop, the first woman to preside over The Last Night of the Proms, last night, must have thought they had woken up in the 18th century to a little Mozartian night music – a time before Nadia Boulanger (b 1887) or Jane Glover, let alone Alsop or Xian Zhang, whose Thursday night Prom ended with a Rossini William Tell Overture of spine-tingling virility.

Clang! As conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Petrenko faces some of the most brilliant young musicians in the country, tomorrow's soloists and principals, more than half of them young women who, mysteriously, manage to play on in his presence.

Clang! His interview with a Norwegian magazine came to light just after he had conducted, two nights running at the Proms last week, the Oslo Phil, about 40 per cent of whose players are female, and which is led by a woman.

The priapic tendencies of certain male conductors is well known, and is encouraged by their godlike practice of dropping in and out of orchestras and countries all over the world. Far from sharing the work around, what feels like a handful of men, largely, have the top music jobs sewn up. So, Valery Gergiev is general director and artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, and principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. Vladimir Jurowski holds positions with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, a major Russian orchestra and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, has just left Glyndebourne, and guests in concert halls and at opera houses worldwide.

Petrenko and Jurowski are dishy and charismatic, and while some question the sexy marketing of young female soloists, a parallel beauty pageant is taking place on the podium. When public funding is squeezed and business sponsorship is vital to the arts, there is money in exoticism and, offstage, there is vital schmoozing to be done.

So while Petrenko belittles his female colleagues, players, and, indeed, his audiences, he knows in his heart that when he is wheeled out to potential backers as the face of, say, his Liverpool Philharmonic, it does no harm at all to be a hunk with a broken accent.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Application Support Analyst (SQL, CRM, CMS)

£25000 - £29000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Application Suppor...

SEN Teacher - Cerebral Palsy

£75 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education are looki...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Nursery Nurse - Melton Mowbray

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education are current...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: Ed Miliband on low pay; Alan Johnson on Betjeman; Tom Freeman on editing

John Rentoul
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments