The Long Journey Of Women To The Podium

Listening to one of my favourite radio programmes the other day – BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters – I was delighted to learn more about a fascinating history of Mrs. Sylvia Caduff, the world’s first maestra. So many achievements, so many milestones… it is a shame her name is not spoken and revered everywhere when we comes to great conductors!

Who would say she had to hide behind a window of a room where Mr. Herbert von Karajan was giving a masterclass to young conductors at Lucern Festival one day, only to approach him by the end of it and… secure a test! Her very first time conducting, no formal specific study at all prior to that occasion – apart from conducting via… the radio at home.

Later on, Mrs. Caduff had some specific study, and was Leonard Bernstein’s assistant at the New York Philharmonic. She became one of the first women to conduct the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. And that was back in the 1960s, when it was unlikely for a woman to conduct a top orchestra.

Last week I’ve been to Barbican Centre in London for a concert with the London Symphony Orchestra, which was originally set to count on the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev and the Dutch violin soloist Janine Jansen.

Unexpectedly, both called in sick and were then respectively replaced by the Finish conductor and cellist Susanna Mälkki and the German Christian Tetzlaff.

I can’t deny I was particularly enchanted by the brilliant performance of Mrs. Mälkii – it was no doubt one of the best interpretations of (Strauss’) Also sprach Zarathustra I have heard live. And that was at such short notice. Very well done!

I believe the journey of professional women was never easy regardless of the area and position, but I believe it might have always been particularly harder for maestras. It all started with Mrs. Caduff back in the day, and as the American Marin Alsop says ‘without her (Mrs. Caduff) what I do today would not be possible’. Bravo!