Women In Music

Rebecca Johnson

Marin Alsop made her mark in history by being the first female to lead BBC’s Last Night of the Proms early this September, which celebrates British music throughout the times. The 118  year old event is regarded as very prestigious, taking place every year at the Royal Albert Hall, in London.

A graduate of both Yale and Juilliard, Alsop has an extensive resume, according to her website, she has been the Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since 2007, a professional violinist, Principal Conductor of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra in 2012, and a philanthropist to boot. She is also “the only conductor to receive the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, an award given to US residents in recognition of exceptional creative work.”

Along with her positive praise this past month, Alsop has also received attention by a fellow conductor Vasily Petrenko, who criticized Alsop for being a female conductor. Petrenko, a Russian maestro based in Oslo, received international acclaim shortly after making controversial remarks against Marin Alsop to the Norwegian paper Aftenposten.

The maestro was quoted saying, “a sweet girl on the podium can make one’s thoughts drift towards something else.” As well as, “when women have families it is difficult to be as dedicated as is required in this business.” And last but not least, ” (men) often have less sexual energy and can focus more on the music.”

Alsop has acquired much adulation in the music world, there is no question of her achievements, and Petrenko simply used Alsop’s sex to discredit her. The reason behind this could be from jealously, or, as Pretrenko believes, because he is a product of his own environment. Apparently in his homeland of Russia, gender roles are concrete and not something to be challenged; women are to abide by maternal roles that have been created by society (washing, cleaning and caring), and men work. That is final.

Whether or not this extreme view is completely true, the press didn’t seem impressed and Pretrenko became consumed by his words. The organization he works for is not only run by a woman, but his wife is one too, and she is a conductor as well. His female boss noted that she was not aware of this side of his personality and stated that his claims were “very narrow-minded.”

The downside to this story is that Pretrenko was let off easily, having only to revoke this initial statement and put out a public apology.  The upside to this story is that Alsop will go down in history as the first female to play at Proms, while Pretrenko might forever be known as the conductor who couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

This is one of those stories that should not be forgotten. The fact that it got so much press coverage is a good thing. People like Pretrenko do exist, but this is not the 1950’s; discriminating against women is on it’s way out and equality is increasing everyday. Whether or not his claims were fueled by jealously, or his “environment” at this point are inconsequential, the focus will forever remain on Alsop–a successful conductor who, in Pretrenko’s misfortune, became magnified by the fact that she is a woman. A woman that others should aspire to be, leading the way for other women who wish to shine in this profession. Hopefully with time, stories like this won’t make press, because they won’t exist. There will be equality, and we will never hear again of a job “women can’t do.”



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