Not that I can see the future of course. Otherwise my career would be much less stressful and rather more successful …
The most recent number of the Musicians Union magazine contains a photo of the CBSO in action, being conducted by a woman. This is not significant; what is, far more significant than it should be though still a sign of progress, is that the female conductor is not the reason the photo is there, and in fact no one in the image is credited. I would be the first to agree that representation of women among conductors is still poor. Controversially perhaps, I think it is actually worse than gender equality among working composers (regarding commissions or getting performances of new works); there is a whole different situation involved in selection (or not) of works by dead female composers for performance and recording. It is certainly not controversial to state the situation gets worse the higher up the conducting profession you look.
All of which said, I spent Wednesday evening renewing my acquaintance with Harmony Sinfonia, after a concert clashing with an existing Kindred Spirit Duo gig meaning a term I didn’t go. This was a one-off evening, allowing Maria Marchant to do some symphonic conducting with an orchestra but without the pressure of getting to a concert performance. We then did something similar, with Beethoven 5 instead of Brahms 4, with our assistant conductor Sophie Carville! The significance being not just two rising conductors who are both women, but that both are being coached / taught (and were being coached in this session) by our musical director Lindsey Ryan; therefore an evening of not just women learning conducting but women teaching it too.
On Thursday I was at Rugby School (yes, that one, with the game), playing for a concert of concerto movements, arias and other solo features by particularly able pupils with orchestral accompaniment. I hadn’t bothered to research the school before leaving (I have higher priorities for preparation, even when I haven’t been booked for a much more high-stakes job at short notice, of which more in another post), and so arrived not even knowing whether it had at some point ‘gone mixed’.
All the kids performed excellently, even if they were clearly a little awkward being onstage in a concert hall (yes, of course Rugby has one of its own) as soloists with an orchestra of adults and conducted by one of their teachers, and showed it in different ways! Particular credit I think to the three virtuoso pianists who took a movement each of the second Rachmaninov, second Shostakovitch and Grieg concerti without showing any signs of struggle with the demands of them; and to a tuba soloist displaying great technical control without a need to ‘compensate’ performatively for the fact of playing that instrument in particular.
To return to my point, though: of 8 soloists featured, 7 were girls. Assuming that for any leading public school pupil money is hardly an object to music lessons, and that competition for their time and effort with academic work is universal (any posh school you’ve heard of will be substantially academically selective, even if the current wave of right-wingers suggests Eton could perhaps do with revising the way their exams work), it speaks volumes for the desires and commitment in action among that particular body of teenagers that the genders were that skewed. Not that stereotypes are dead – the girls numbered a cellist, a singer, two flautists and three pianists; the boy played tuba. (In, by the way, the first movement of the Gregson concerto, which deserves to be better known if only as a companion piece to the Vaughan Williams one in demonstrating tuba does not have to be a comedy instrument when given any limelight at all!)
This, coupled with the realisation I was the only male of 6 violas, intrigued me sufficiently to (eventually!) do some head-counting on the orchestra, composed of a handful of school staff but largely freelance players like myself.
(going on the orchestra list, which had a few tbcs still on it:)
Total number of players: 46
Although, interestingly, principal 1st and 2nd violins and cello were all male, despite the overall string ratio being 8:21.
And a male conductor.
(But, yes, read those string numbers again. As a male professional classical string player, or a male pro violist, I am quite definitely a minority; on Saturday, with a fully professional orchestra, I was (after one late dropout and replacement) again the sole male violist, though admittedly in a section of only 4.)
Of course, the correct answer to the subject line, based on these observations, is (depending on what slang seems familiar to you) ‘minted’ or ‘loaded’ (‘rich’ and ‘wealthy’ have the wrong number of letters). 8 public school pupils, and a conductor who can afford to pay an orchestra, even an amateur one (Harmony did come away with extra money in their coffers; Heaven knows they need it!), to further her professional development. Maybe at some point that will actually seem more significant than the numbers of each gender involved in any part of the musical profession.