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BBC Report of Sexist Dissent at Marin Alsop's Last Night Proms is Wrong...Right?

By James Inverne j.inverne@classicalite.com on Jan 27, 2014 02:09 PM EST

There's an odd comment in a BBC report on the South Bank Center new season launch. Referring to the comments of SBC boss Jude Kelly that the classical music business is still weighted against women--in many ways a fair comment and one that has been widely reported--the Beeb suggested that there were dissenting voices from Marin Alsop's selection to conduct the Last Night of the Proms in 2013.

"Alsop was singled out in Ms. Kelly's speech," says the BBC report, "after several prominent men queried her appointment as the first female conductor of the Last Night of the Proms last year."

It then cites controversial statements about female conductors uttered by Vasily Petrenko (who later claimed that his statement referred to the regrettable situation in his native Russia and pointed out that his own wife is a choral conductor) and the Paris Conservatoire head Bruno Mantavani.

But these comments were general and not specifically related to the Alsop gig. If there were nay-sayers against Alsop's selection, they must have stayed very quiet. At the time and indeed now, there seemed to be nothing but praise and general delight, even a special digital issue of Gramophone marking the occasion.

While one admires and applauds any drive for equality in music, indeed in any industry, one should be precise about where inequality lurks. In the case of Alsop, for instance, a conductor at the top of the business for at least a decade, who might these dissenters have been?

Orchestral players? That seems somewhat unlikely in London, where Jane Glover has been an admired force on the podium for longer than Alsop, and where Alsop herself has been a regular guest of the London Symphony and London Philharmonic orchestras.

Orchestral managers? True, there are few equivalents in the U.K. to powerful U.S. industry figures such as Deborah Borda at the Los Angeles Phil and, now, Deborah Rutter at Kennedy Center. But the U.K. orchestra managers seem a pretty modern and enlightened lot (not least those who gave Alsop the job).

So, audiences? Not judging from the ecstatic reaction Alsop got on that triumphant Last Night. It's important to get inequality in music right. Too important to get the reporting wrong. And if it's not wrong, let's have the details.

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TagsLast Night of the Proms, Marin Alsop, BBC, Royal Albert Hall, South Bank Centre

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