Women Conductors

In recent years, the world has increasingly asked why – in so many walks of life – men often get the majority of opportunities. This is particularly conspicuous in conducting where stark statistics show we are far from equality.

An insight into RPS Women Conductors, filmed at one of our 'Advance' level courses in April 2024

At our last count, only two British orchestras had a female principal conductor, and only five women conductors had titled roles amid the several hundred conductors on the staff of professional British orchestras. Furthermore, in 2023, only 52 of the 463 conductors represented by British agents were female. While that 11.2% is better than the 9% we recorded in 2020 and 5.5% in 2017, it is still a long way from equality.

People frequently cite this as being a ‘grass roots’ problem and that more needs doing to encourage women at early stages to take up conducting, stick with it, and develop the skills needed for the profession. At the Royal Philharmonic Society, we are proud to present the UK’s foremost initiative to help women do just that. It was the idea of pioneering conductor Alice Farnham in 2014 and, since 2016 we have been working with Alice and a range of organisations to create more opportunities giving more women the means and the confidence to conduct.

In our first years, we found means to present three different kinds of short course: 1) for those embarking on a career in music (as performers or educators) to pick up the baton and take to the conductor's podium for the very first time or after very limited experience so far, 2) for music professionals with a little experience in conducting keen to achieve greater proficiency at it, as a principal focus or as part of a varied musical career, and 3) for those already conducting to a moderate level for whom a particular focus - such as on conducting opera or ballet - might transform their scope.

Sadly, there are startlingly limited funds for initiatives of this kind which, compounded by the pandemic, has limited what courses we can run of late. If you're an individual, or part of a trust or company, who might have means to change that, you could help support the cause. Please do get in touch: we would love to offer more such opportunities with your help.

Nonetheless, with kind support from the North Music Trust, we have since 2022 been able to run a new high-level course with Royal Northern Sinfonia at The Glasshouse International Centre for Music in Gateshead, giving a cohort of outstanding individuals dedicated time to further their skills with a full professional orchestra, and residual support and guidance both from Alice and from the RPS team on attaining professional opportunities. In 2023-24 we also found means to run two more short courses for those not yet at the high level required for our Gateshead course, but who nonetheless conduct as part of their musical life, looking to evolve their acumen conducting instrumental ensembles as an integral element of their career. These opportunities were open to women, trans and non-binary conductors based in the UK and Ireland, who as yet are significantly underrepresented in the profession. We hope to run more such courses if we can find further funding and will share any details here on our website and on our social media.

Alongside our courses, we are ardently involved in advocacy, discourse and planning with colleagues sector-wide to ensure women are better represented on the podium and that the current imbalance is one day consigned forever to the past.

"RPS Women Conductors is doing something fantastic: a programme for women conductors led by the very gifted Alice Farnham. A chance to explore issues, musical and interpersonal, faced by the leader of an orchestra who happens to be a woman!" - Sir Antonio Pappano