From November 6–9, 2019, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra hosted its first annual Women in Classical Music Symposium. This conference brought together performers, entrepreneurs and administrators working in the arts and education for panel discussions and networking sessions, and included add-on options for film screenings, art tours and concerts.
To kick off the Symposium on Tuesday November 5, the DSO presented a concert with an all-woman orchestra, made up of Dallas Symphony Orchestra women and extra players, to promote arts education for girls and equal opportunity in the fields of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. Sponsored by Full STEAM Ahead, a group of women business executives and leaders in Dallas, the concert featured female soloists, composers, and conductors.
In welcoming guests to the symposium, DSO President and CEO Kim Noltemy stressed the Dallas Symphony’s commitment to advocating for women in classical music, in order that “women can truly realize their place in the orchestral world.” This commitment is shown in several of the DSO’s recent appointments, such as Principal Guest Conductor Gemma New, Assistant Conductor Katharina Wincor, and Composer-in-Residence Julia Wolfe. However, the nationwide statistics on women’s participation at the highest level of classical music leadership are rather disappointing. Jesse Rosen, President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras lamented that, for example, only 15% of U.S. conductors are women, as are only 10% of Music Directors. The Women in Classical Music Symposium was designed to start dialogue and provide artists and administrators with tools to rectify this type of inequality.
Topics at the panel discussions ranged from the inspirational to the practical, from “Lifting up the Next Generation of Women” to “Employability and Career Pathway Development for Musicians and Administrators.” While several of the talks featured Dallas Symphony Orchestra musicians and other local talent, panelists were also invited from across the country, including Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Jennifer Barlament and Boston Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Mark Volpe.
The importance of mentoring emerged as an overall theme of the week’s events. At the opening Keynote Presentation, soprano Dawn Upshaw was honored with the 2019 Award of Excellence, and she in turn chose the recipient of the Symposium’s Career Advancement Award, mezzo-soprano Lucy Dhegrae. Upshaw praised Dhegrae for her innovative programming and championing of new music. Dhegrae thanked Upshaw for her teaching and mentoring, and shared Upshaw’s advice to “stay in your skin” and have inner integrity. Perhaps this Symposium will encourage more women to express themselves through a classical music career, and encourage presenters to more fully appreciate their voices.
Note: the author is Associate Principal Oboe in the DSO.