Is the BBC serious about women conductors? Xian Zhang has just been appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
Gender should not be an issue at all, since no-one conducts with their anatomy,. As long as the person conducting does the job well, all else is irrelevant.
No-one good, anyway, would fall back on gender to get ahead. Xian Zhang is good and, to her credit, stayed out of the silly media circus surrounding women conductors. Ultimately that circus is a hypocritical scam. Understanding what makes a conductor good involves a bit of musical nous and taste. So it's much easier for the media to fall back on gender stereotypes. Ultimately that harms the cause. This media circus creates tokenism, which ultimately harms the cause of women in the industry. There are good women conductors around who don't deserve to be ignored because they aren't media darlings. In any case conducting means not a thing to millions of ordinary women all over the world who suffer poverty, abuse, and hardship every day of their lives. The media focus on women conductors is a white middle class male-oriented construct, which ignores wider issues. It's shameful that some women are drawn into a debate which is actually anti-women.
Xian Zhang has built a solid career throughout Europe, and is Chief Conductor at the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi (Laverdi). Despite its name and home town, it's not, strictly speaking, an opera orchestra. Founded in 1993, its repertoire is broad and wide ranging. She's been working with BBC NOW for several years: they're an orchestra which has improved considerably since the appointment of Thomas Søndergård. She's been a part of this revitalization, which is why she's got the job.
Is the BBC really serious about women conductors though ? Getting Marin Alsop to conduct the Last Night of the Proms the first time was a good idea, helped a lot by Joyce DiDonato's visionary commitment. But to do the same thing a second time ? Like a stale joke, it falls flat on repeat. There are good women conductors around who could do the job with style - Susanna Mälkki, for example - but they're not going to get the chance while BBC management thinks in media clichés. Thank goodness that BBC NOW can recognize quality when they hear it.