The Los Angeles Philharmonic has picked the first woman ever to conduct a series of subscription concerts at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
British-born Sian Edwards, 30, who has conducted operatic performances at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne, is scheduled to appear at the Music Center the week of Nov. 25, 1991. No contract has been signed, and the program is yet to be determined, according to a spokesman for the London-based artists management, Ingpen & Williams, and to Philharmonic officials.
Similarly, the New York management of conductor Marin Alsop acknowledges that an offer to conduct the Philharmonic for a week of subscription concerts in 1991/92 has been extended to the 33-year-old music director of the Eugene (Ore.) Symphony and director-designate of the Long Island Philharmonic. No dates have been firmed for Alsop’s appearance, according to Philharmonic executive vice president and managing director Ernest Fleischmann.
The Philharmonic’s moves to open its prestigious Music Center series to women conductors marks a profound change in the attitudes of the organization, which, like other major orchestras, has traditionally been led by men. Over the years, women have occasionally mounted the Philharmonic’s podium, but those moments have been the rare exceptions to the music world’s unwritten men-only rule.
Men still remain at the helms of all the top U.S. orchestras, but women are beginning to move through the nation’s orchestral ranks in increasing numbers.
“We hire conductors, male or female, because they are good and we believe they can contribute something,” Fleischmann said Wednesday. “I heard Sian conduct Prokofiev’s ‘The Gambler’ (with English National Opera) last week and it was sensational. She is one of the most naturally gifted young conductors I have come across in a long time. The fact that she is a woman is incidental.”
“I’m excited about coming to Los Angeles, but to be the first woman to conduct the Philharmonic (in subscription concerts) is a bit daunting,” Edwards said from her home in Manchester. “I had better do it properly, otherwise no other woman will be invited again.”
According to Philharmonic records, in 1925 the Englishwoman Ethel Leginska conducted (and played piano) the Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. In 1975 the late Judith Somogi and the late Antonia Brico led the Philharmonic in summer concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, as did Rachael Worby 10 years later. Worby also conducted youth concerts at the Music Center from 1985-87.
JoAnn Falletta, 36, music director of the Long Beach Symphony, said hiring Edwards for the subscription concerts indicates that “those at the highest level of the larger orchestras are finally recognizing that women conductors have a role in music making.
“The bigger orchestras are the last group to make this happen,” Falletta said. “That these orchestras are starting to look at women conductors is a tremendous step forward.”
Edwards, who plays the horn, studied conducting with Sir Charles Groves and Neeme Jarvibefore spending two years working with Ilya Musin at the Leningrad Conservatory. In 1984, she won the Leeds Conductors’ Competition.
Edwards made her operatic debut in 1986 with the Scottish Opera substituting for Simon Rattle in Kurt Weill’s “Mahagonny.” She went on to conduct Michael Tippett’s “The Knot Garden” at Covent Garden, and in the fall will lead the Glyndebourne Touring Company in Tippett’s “New Year.”
Men lead the top 21 U.S. orchestras (those with budgets in excess of $8 million), according to the American Symphony Orchestra League. Yet ASOL chief executive officer Catherine French said as women are moving up in the music world--last year four were appointed concertmasters in Minnesota, Atlanta, St. Louis and Detroit--an increasing number are also mounting the nation’s podia.
This is a far cry from the 1930s when pioneer Brico struggled to break into a strictly male domain (she died in 1989 at age 87); and even the late 1950s when Sarah Caldwell formed the Opera Company of Boston and Margaret Hillis founded the Chicago Symphony Chorus as one way of getting into the orchestral field.
French-born Catherine Comet, 45, music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony, budget $2.9 million, and named to head New York’s American Symphony, in 1989 became the first woman to conduct a full program with the Philadelphia Orchestra. This fall Comet will lead the Boston Symphony--where Nadia Boulanger was the first female conductor, in 1938. In January, Comet conducts the Chicago Symphony.
Iona Brown, music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, made a recent appearance with the San Francisco Symphony.
Other women are working their way up the ranks. Los Angeles-born Victoria Bond, 45, was Andre Previn’s assistant in Pittsburgh and since 1987 has been music director of the Roanoke Symphony in Virginia.
Kate Tamarkin, 34, became associate director of the Dallas Symphony in 1989, conducting about 50 concerts each year. Tamarkin also will lead the San Diego Symphony in a summer pops concert in June. In August she makes her second appearance with the Pacific Symphony at Irvine Meadows.
On the other hand, New York Philharmonic spokesman Neil Parker reported that no female conductors were on the orchestra’s future subscription rosters.
Alsop is scheduled to conduct the Boston Pops and New York Philharmonic this summer, and in December lead the Philadelphia Orchestra in a week of subscription concerts.
“This is a wonderful time to be a conductor,” mused Alsop. “Hopefully by the 21st Century we will have an American music director of a major orchestra who happens to be a woman.”