Making room for women maestros

Making room for women maestros

Kemal Küçük - Milliyet
Making room for women maestros

"A woman’s place is in the kitchen, not in the orchestra.” That statement, from none other than legendary orchestra conductor Herbert von Karajan, lays bare just how sexist the world of male-dominated classical music is toward women conductors. Indeed, when women musicians started conducting orchestras, they found themselves harshly targeted by many famous conductors – even though women were already prominent in the orchestra.

Just three years ago, the words of two famous conductors, the Finn Jorma Panula and the Russian Vasily Petrenko, were particularly hurtful. One said that it was useless for women to conduct orchestras, and the other stressed that women had no place in the profession because they could not offer the audience anything but erotic entertainment.

What about the comment of one of today’s popular critics? When young American conductor Karina Canellakis won the Georg Solti International Orchestra Conducting Award in 2016, music critic Norman Lebrecht wrote an ill-intentioned article: “Her success comes from the billions of dollars of the classical music industry, which is supported by international public opinion, which we know is only interested in the new and photogenic.”

When this is the case, there are only 21 women conductors among 586 male chefs in France, a country with one of the highest number of women conductors. And what about Turkey? Our first women conductors took the stage 25 years ago. And in the last 20 years, we have seen only three women conductors on our stages: the Özdil sisters (İnci and Sıdıka), who were the chief conductor and deputy conductor for many years after the establishment of the Antalya State Symphonic Orchestra, as well as the violin pedagogue Mehpare Karamenderes.

But in recent years, our two young women conductors have started to make their name along with others abroad. Nil Venditti, 22, who won the Claudio Abbado Prize in the field of conducting in Italy three years ago, has won the praise of famous maestros.
Venditti, born to a Turkish mother and an Italian father, was introduced to Turkey by Fazıl Say. Venditti is actually a cello player who graduated from Peruccia Conservatory 10 years ago and first worked for l’Aquila for three years with the maestro Marcello Bufalini. She is presently conducting a postgraduate degree under Johannes Schlaefli in Zurich.

A young maestro in the US

Another Turkish women orchestra conductor is on the fast track to prove herself in the United States. Nisan Ak, 28, was born in Istanbul and received musical training as a composer and conductor in Turkey.

Ak is the musical director of the Oratorio Society in Richmond, Virginia, and the Bruch Chamber Orchestra in Columbia, South Carolina. As well as being a permanent conductor, she is also an assistant conductor of the Aiken Symphony Orchestra and Columbia Chamber Orchestra, and is about to finish her doctorate in conducting at the University of South Carolina. After studying at the Avni Akyol Fine Arts High School, she graduated from Bilgi University Composing Department.

“I like organizing, risk management and [envisioning the future]. Orchestra conducting is one of the few jobs we can do in the music industry,” she said. “But I started by chance. When I was at the undergraduate level, I was working in one of the piano rooms. My friends were rehearsing their own compositions. They knocked on my window and said, ‘Would you hit four for us?’ I said ‘yes.’ Then I conducted the concert. At the concert, teachers from Mimar Sinan University said to the head of my department, ‘This girl is talented; let her be our guest student.’ That’s how I started the maestro adventure.”