File under: Things that have Never Happened
I have a habit, when an idea for a blog entry occurs to me, to send an e-mail to myself with the idea. For months now, I’ve had an e-mail sitting in my in box which says simply, “conductor gender gap.”
I’ve always been interested in finding ways that two of my favorite topics, classical music and feminism, intersect, and with a dearth of woman on the podiums of the world’s orchestras, this was an obvious source of blogging inspiration. But I could never quite figure out how to approach it.
Enter Vasily Petrenko.
The young and hot (in more than one sense of the word) music director of the Oslo Philharmonic has enraged level-headed classical music fans after some pretty backward remarks he made in an interview with a Norwegian newspaper. Norman Lebrecht’s blog* has the following translation:
I believe that when women have families it is difficult to be as dedicated as is required in this business. Another side is that orchestra musicians respond better to men at the podium. They have less sexual energy and can better focus on the music. A sweet girl on the podium makes them think about other things, says Petrenko.
When one is angry it is advisable to count to ten. 1. . . 2 . . .3 . . . 4 . . . oh fuck it.
Let’s break this down.
I believe that when women have families it is difficult to be as dedicated as is required in this business.
Any woman who has ever tried to advance in any professional field has probably encountered this sentiment at some point. “Women dont work good cuz women make babies.” This is Feminism 101. In the 21st century, society still believes that when a man and a woman start a family, it must be the woman who sacrifices her professional career to care for children. This is the “Having it All” debate. There’s not much point in discussing this first part of Petrenko’s statement because feminists have been discussing it for fifty years. So let’s move on.
Orchestra musicians respond better to men at the podium. They have less sexual energy and can better focus on the music. A sweet girl on the podium makes them think about other things, says Petrenko.
First of all, does the phrase “sweet girl” give anyone else the willies? I’m interested to know if it sounds just as creepy in the original Norwegian. (I’m looking at you, Aksel!)
Now, what this remark says to me is that Petrenko is incapable of seeing a woman as anything more than a sex object. It makes me wonder how he is able to concentrate on conducting when there might be a “sweet girl” caressing her cello in the front row of his orchestra?
Petrenko has since apologized, claming that his comments were misconstrued, and he has the utmost respect for the likes of Marin Alsop, but if you ask me, his attitude points to a glaring problem in classical music.
Think for a moment. How many famous conductors can you name off the top of your head in ten seconds: James Levine, Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, Daniel Barenboim, Esa Pekka-Salonen. Oh look! They’re all men.
How many famous women conductors can you name? Marin Alsop. Wikipedia lists only 65 women in its catalogue of women conductors.
This season, Jane Glover will make her conducting debut with the Metropolitan Opera, leading the orchestra in (the most misogynistic opera ever written) Mozart’s The Magic Flute. She will be only the third woman ever to lead the Met’s orchestra. That’s three women since 1880. Hooray for feminism!
It would seem that this is a glass ceiling that has only begun to crack, and the likes of Vasily Petrenko are working to keep it in tact.
*A blogger who finds sexism abhorrent, unless, of course, it’s used to smear a musician he doesn’t like.