In the past, a conductor's job was largely wielding a baton from on high. These days, the role demands a more collaborative, nurturing approach. Orchestras expect their conductors to work as partners with the musicians and the community rather than be aloof artistic dictators.
If today's up-and-coming female conductors are able to ignore gender issues, it's partly thanks to their forebears.
"Without these amazing women, I know history for my generation would have been very different," says Carneiro. "I feel a deep sense of gratitude towards pioneers like Marin and JoAnn who have made it possible for my generation to have full access to all the opportunities we have. I have never felt I won or lost an audition or competition because of the fact that I am a woman. It was always based on musical reasons. This is a very profound gift and a privilege when we think of our recent history."
Yet the podium still remains largely male territory. Women head up only 11.9% of the country's symphonies, according to the latest data from the orchestra league. While female conductors are now more regularly ascending to music director positions at small and midsize orchestras, only two women in this country -- Falletta and Alsop -- run big-league institutions.
Conductor training programs continue to be dominated by male students. Tanglewood's three conducting fellowships all went to men this year. The Los Angeles Philharmonic's new conducting program offered four fellowships, all of them to male conductors; of the 26 conducting students enrolled on the Juilliard School's prestigious program since 1990, only four have been women.
And some people's minds change slowly. "A while ago, I auditioned for a music director position and was one of two finalists," recalls Sarah Ioannides, music director of the El Paso and Spartanburg, S.C., symphonies. "I didn't get the job. Later, I found out from a board member that the executive director didn't want a woman on the podium for its 50th-anniversary season."
Still, it may not be too long before the world's most august classical music institutions hire female music directors.
"I think we'll see a woman at the top within a decade," says Alsop, who hopes that there will be enough professional female conductors working in the world some day to open the Taki Concordia fellowship up to male applicants. "Then again, I might have said the same thing 25 years ago and would have been proved wrong. Hope springs eternal for me."