Women and Conducting Symposium Asks Pioneers How to Lead the Way to the Podium
Photo by Tato Baeza
Berklee is strongly committed to promoting, enhancing, and supporting gender equality and diversity, and since its 2012 foundation, Berklee’s international campus in Valencia, Spain has been working towards achieving equality in terms of visibility and leadership positions between men and women in all fields of the music industry.
Data shows evidence that society as a whole is still a few steps away from normalizing women’s presence in the music industry, with a stubborn gender gap that becomes more apparent in the classical world. In Spain, for example, the Asociación Española de Orquestas Sinfónicas comprises 29 associated orchestras, of which only one—the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Región de Murcia—is lead by a female conductor. In the United Kingdom, the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) represents a total of 61 orchestras with more than 100 leading conductors; among them, only four are women. After being the first female conductor of the Last Night of the Proms in history in 2013, Marin Alsop encountered statements from fellow directors who thought that “women on the podium are a ‘distraction’.”
Why this situation persists in the 21st century is a wonder to many and the question that was addressed on February 16 at the symposium entitled Women and Conducting. Organised by Berklee’s campus in Valencia, its aim was to shed light on and raise awareness of this issue, and to discuss strategies and initiatives that can contribute to the elimination of the glass ceilings that exist for leadership positions in contemporary music spheres, from classical music to music direction, orchestration, and film scoring.
The idea for this kind of event originated with a conversation between globally renowned tenor, conductor, and arts administrator Plácido Domingo—who was awarded an honorary doctor of music degree by Berklee in 2014—and Alice Farnham, cofounder and artistic director of Women Conductors program at the Royal Philharmonic Society. The initiative later was realized thanks to María Martínez Iturriaga, executive director of Berklee’s Valencia campus, with the collaboration of CulturArts, Bankia, the Conselleria d’Igualtat i Polítiques Inclusives, and the Federación de Sociedades Musicales de la Comunidad Valenciana. The event mobilised female conductors and women in leadership positions like Grammy Award–winning composer Nan Schwartz; founder and chair of Inspiring Girls International Miriam González; Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía’s production director, Luana Chailly; conductor Yi-Chen Lin; film and television composer and Berklee faculty member Vanessa Garde; as well as Domingo and Farnham themselves became speakers in a symposium lead by Liz Teutsch, director of academic technology and associate professor at Berklee's campus in Valencia.
Alongside students from Berklee and other universities in Valencia, the event attracted government representatives and heads of key cultural institutions to the two-hour session. Everyone left with five takeaways that were thoroughly discussed during the panel: the importance of giving more visibility to female role models who help inspire future generations of conductors; the urgency of putting an end to stereotypes and labels; the need to review and redefine the notion of success; the necessity of normalizing the situation of women taking on leadership positions, both in the private and the professional spheres; and the role of supportive networks in the path to building a career.
In the past, Berklee’s Valencia campus has suported other initiatives such as the Women Empower Symposium and collaborated with the UN’s HeForShe initiative, and is now in the process of hosting an event that will see the class of 2017 discuss and compile an action plan to put all the outcomes from the Women and Conducting symposium into practice. As Iturriaga said, “At Berklee, we believe that education is key to improving the current status of things, and we strive to create an environment marked by diversity as a booster for creativity and innovation.” Thanks to this philosophy, today 41 percent of the campus’s graduate and undergraduate students are women, and the campus’s more than 200 students come from over 30 different countries. Berklee is looking forward in the ongoing fight for diversity and equality.