"Women on the podium are not my cup of tea" said Mariss Jansons, and the media exploded in indignation. Of course sexism is wrong. But should we rush to judgement and launch lynch mobs ? My first reaction : check the facts. Classic FM fans flames for fun, which might be why many serious music people have no time for Classic FM.
The original interview was in the Telegraph, written to mark the Royal Philharmonic Society awarding the conductor its Gold Medal in recognition of 40 years in music. The article is utterly straightforward and wide ranging until the penultimate paragraph of a total of 14, in which Jansons is asked about "the biggest change in conducting, the rise of women conductors". Firstly that's not the "biggest change". Secondly this is what Jansons actually said: "Hmm, well…” Jansons pulls an embarrassed face, knowing he’s about to say something deeply politically incorrect. “Well, I don’t want to give offence, and I am not against it, that would be very wrong. I understand the world has changed, and there is now no profession that can be confined to this or that gender. It’s a question of what one is used to. I grew up in a different world, and for me seeing a woman on the podium… well, let’s just say it’s not my cup of tea.” (link here but it's behind a paywall)
Jansons is unwise but evil he is not. There are thousands of more devious and manipulative men in this world who are infinitely worse. In the grand scheme of things, poverty, exploitation and denial of basic human rights destroy the position of women in society. The weaker the men, the more it seems they need to put others down to get ahead. Sexism isn't smart : it's the language of losers with too much to hide.
Jansons has now issued a statement via his orchestra apologizing for the "undiplomatic, unnecessary and counterproductive for me to point out that I’m not yet accustomed to seeing women on the conducting platform. Every one of my female colleagues and every young woman wishing to become a conductor can be assured of my support, for we all work in pursuit of a common goal: to excite people for the art form we love so dearly – music.” Full link HERE.
Whatever the reasons for his original comments, what matters is what he does, not what he says. Much more shame sticks to those who'd exploit the situation for publicity and profit. Most women are busy enough, and good enough, not to need that. It's not gender that makes a good conductor, it's talent.
And prejudice happens all the time. In every walk of life a women has to be extremely good to get recognized at all. And the better and more talented a woman is, the more jealousy and resentment. Same applies to men, too. The universal troll syndrome where anyone good has to be put down because "we don't like experts". Unfortunately, Jansons’ comments appeal to the sort of men who resent change : the tip of a huge and toxic garbage heap. Tackle that underlying sexism, and no-one will be a "a cup of tea". It's not easy, so don't get sidelined. At least Jansons is musician enough to recognize excellence when he hears it. He's not entirely wrong, either, about pushing young conductors too fast too soon. There are some who are "marketing product", but many are genuine naturals whose flair and energy should be encouraged. Everyone on their own merits.