Conductor Vasily Petrenko has caused a stir in the classical music world, telling a Norwegian newspaper that orchestras “react better when they have a man in front of them” and a woman wielding the baton could make for a sexual distraction.
“A cute girl on a podium means that musicians think about other things,” Petrenko, the principal conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic, told Aftenposten. He added that “when women have families, it becomes difficult to be as dedicated as is demanded in the business.”
Petrenko comments come as a woman, Marin Alsop, for the first time will conduct Britain’s Last Night of the Proms. Alsop is the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and principal conductor of the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra.
Conductor Cathrine Winnes, the music director of the Swedish ensemble Östgöta Blåsar-symfoniker, responded to his comment, telling the Guardian that “Petrenko is a fantastic conductor and great role model,” which make his comments “extra-unacceptable.”
Petrenko, 37, who is also the principal conductor of the National Youth Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, sought to clarify his comments with a post on the Oslo Philharmonic’s website.
“What I said was meant to be a description of the situation in Russia, my homeland,” he said, adding that he has the “utmost respect” for female conductors, including Alsop and the late Veronika Dudarova, who conducted the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra of Russia.
“I’d encourage any girl to study conducting,” he said.
Alsop, who has not responded to Petrenko, recently told the Telegraph about the sexism she encountered early in her career.
“One established conductor told me: ‘Women can conduct Mozart, but not Mahler,’” she said. “I would just laugh it off – humor was my best defense. Although I think if someone said that to me today, I’d take issue with it.”