Lourdes Perez Sierra is an expert arts administrator based in Madrid, Spain. I have attended numerous concerts which she has organized, sometimes paying for a ticket and at other times as a guest and I have seen at first hand how she has been able to combine imaginative programming with top class performers in outstanding venues: in other words, a perfect storm of musical experience. Lourdes is the founder of Arts for Leadership and other initiatives aimed at promoting high quality development of talent in Spain and beyond.
In her recent blog post Lourdes takes the role of the orchestra conductor as a case study with regard to leadership. She explores different conducting styles, from the most authoritarian Karajan technique to a more democratic, egalitarian style of leadership.
I enjoyed this post and I hoped to get around to asking her to explore the role of women as conductors in a future blog post. Before I got to that I saw a new film about a woman conductor. At the moment I am living in the Netherlands so I got first chance to see De Dirigent , The Conductor, a film produced with Dutch finance and expertise, about the fascinating true story of Antonia Brico.
Brico was born in Rotterdam, NL in 1902 and was separated from her parents and taken to New York as a child. Thanks to her determination and strength of character, together with financial help from a friend, she was able to study conducting in Berlin and return to the USA, where she worked as a conductor and where she remained until her passing in 1989.
Brico´s story is inspiring and in many ways a positive view of progress towards recognition of gender equality.
There is a disappointing note at the end of the film, crediting Gramophone magazine statistics which show zero women conductors among the greats. First there is a quote from 2006 and then another, I believe from 2017, showing no women among the great conductors.
On the one hand, it´s ok for the producers to make a point that women have not been given a fair chance on the podium of the world´s leading orchestras. On the other hand, it is a disservice to the achievements of those women who have achieved recognition at the very highest levels of musical accomplishment.
If you look at the long and distinguished career of Marin Alsop ,for example, from her early days as assistant to Leonard Bernstein to her current engagements with the world´s leading orchestras, or the huge achievements of Mirga Grazinyte Tyla, Principal Conductor of the City of Bermingham Symphony Orchestra, it is clear that the suffering of Antonia Brico has not been in vain.
Recently I wrote a letter of recommendation for a student who left my school and moved to Germany. I wrote that she was the most exceptional student I have met in 40 years of teaching and that she reminded me of the young Simon Rattle who I knew as a young musician in Liverpool. Before she left, I encouraged her to pursue a career as a conductor. Was I doing her a disservice by comparing her to a (male) Simon Rattle? I am convinced the answer is no: I am comparing her to the highest standard that I have in my living memory.
At the beginning of this post I introduced you to Lourdes Perez Sierra: I mention her as an expert arts administrator, not as man or woman, simply as an expert. I hope that the sad and difficult experience of Antonia Brico will at least serve this current generation of young musicians, male, female and non-gender, as an inspiration to achieve your highest level of achievement, not as gender based, but as a person, a living, breathing, musical human being.