A female conductor?
PEOPLE AND RELATIONSHIPSFEMINISM FILMS , MUSIC, DRAMA AND ART
On Friday night we had a rare treat. Ever since the Covid crisis began, we have been wary of attending concerts or visiting cinemas. But last Friday saw us resume our seats in 'The Corum', Montpellier's magnificent modern concert hall to hear a performance of Beethoven's violin concerto. The soloist was to be the Serbian virtuoso Nemanja Radulovic , whom we had already seen in Montpellier six years ago. On that occasion his performance, as well has his unconventional dress, had been spectacular. The conductor this evening was to be Yi- Chen Lin, who up until then was completely unknown to us. Little did we realise, we were about to receive a very pleasant surprise.
We have become very familiar with the National Orchestre de Montpellier Occitanie over the years, and as its members took up their places, it was fun to spot familiar faces, although inevitably some were missing and new members appointed. Everybody clapped as our much respected first violinist Dorota Anderszewska entered, and the orchestra completed their tuning. The concert was to open with Beethoven's Egmont Overture, and a sudden hush fell over the auditorium. As the conductor entered from the wings everyone clapped enthusiastically. But I was totally taken aback. Who was this? Yi-Chen Lin was not at all how I expected our conductor to be. Dressed as per usual in a smart black trouser suit, this conductor was a young lady with long straight black hair.
As a committed feminist, I must hang my head in shame . Why was I surprised that our conductor was a woman? But then perhaps my subconscious bias was not ill founded. After all, out of hundreds of conductors in Britain with titled roles, only five are female. I imagine that the situation world wide is pretty similar.
But never mind the gender . What about the conducting? Well , I always reckon that you can tell when a conductor is respected by the members of an orchestra, and that was certainly the case here. Also I very much liked her style. Apparently some people believe that conducting should be carried out with a certain amount of testosterone, but I prefer sensitivity , whatever the gender of the person carrying the baton.
And so the debate about female conductors will rage on , particularly while the film Tár and its star Cate Blanchett are receiving accolades.
But in some places progress is definitely being made in the gender unbalanced world of orchestral music. We have long remarked how many female musicians there are in the National Montpellier Orchestra. The first violins are almost exclusively female, whereas in the overall orchestra that night I counted 35 males and 29 females. Not bad !
Moreover our long standing director of music is Valérie Chevalier.
Every year Montpellier hosts artists in residence, and about four years ago we were honoured with the presence of Nathalie Stutzman , and her small ensemble 'Orfeo.' An amazing contralto and talented conductor, she has now become the first female director of The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra , second ever female conductor of a major American orchestra.
And what about Radulowic?
I defy anyone not to be moved by Beethoven's violin concerto, and Radulovic's performance was nigh perfect. He makes an impressive figure as he sways about and swings his long hair to the music. In the quietest moments his playing was utterly sublime.
As he took his second 'bis'( or encore, )he was joined by Yi- Chen Li. Borrowing a violin from the orchestra, the pair performed an exquisite duet. Which all goes to prove , gender has no bearing on talent. It should purely be the music that counts.