The iconic scene of a woman bringing a chair in the middle of a concert to watch and learn the conducting of an orchestra by a famous male conductor, and then being expelled from the place, showed me how bravely this woman tried to pursue her dream. This scene could be from a movie today, but it happened almost 100 years ago, in 1926, in New York, and the woman portrayed was Antonia Brico in her biographical film “The Conductor” (2018), which I highly recommend.
Antonia Brico was one of the world’s first female conductors, and throughout her career, she faced significant discrimination and obstacles because of her gender. Born in the Netherlands in 1902, she immigrated to California with her foster parents in 1908, where she showed an early talent for music and began studying piano at an early age.
A Remarkable Contribution
One of her greatest contributions to the fight for gender equality was the founding of the Women’s Symphony Orchestra in New York in 1934 to demonstrate that women could play in any category. The orchestra’s success attracted the support of Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady of the United States at the time.
She conducted several prestigious orchestras in the United States and Europe, but despite all her efforts and recognition by other means, she was never the principal conductor of any of them, one of the greatest disappointments of her life.
Breaking the Baton
Decades after Brico’s breakthrough in gender equality, women are still underrepresented in conducting and composing roles and often face barriers and discrimination in their careers.
In recent years, organizations and initiatives have been established to support and promote female conductors, such as the Women’s Philharmonic. Women still make up less than 10% of conductors worldwide. One such renowned conductor is Marin Alsop, who in 2013 became the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms in the United Kingdom. It was after attending one of the famous Leonard Bernstein concerts, Young People’s Concerts, with her father, that she began to develop her interest in conducting. Alsop has spoken about the challenges she has faced as a female conductor, including the need to prove herself more than her male counterparts. In 2021 her story was told in a documentary also called “The Conductor” (2021).
The legacies of Antonia Brico and Marin Alsop, along with other pioneering women in classical music, serve as a source of inspiration and motivation for those who seek to break down barriers and promote greater diversity and inclusion in the music industry.
Through their talent, dedication, and perseverance, non-male conductors are changing the face of classical music and paving the way for future generations of anyone following their dreams.
So, if you want to make a difference in the music or audio industry, remember to get your chair and find your place in the crowd so you can be heard.