Royal Philharmonic Society Expands Female Conducting Program

In partnership with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, the multi-year initiative aims to advance gender equality in conducting

(Photo credit: Sage Gateshead)

First established in 2014 by conductor Alice Farnham, the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) Women Conductors program has since provided educational and performance opportunities to over 500 female conductors.

The expanded program aims to bring together several conductors twice a year to work with the Royal Northern Sinfonia (RNS) and provides them year-round professional support and guidance from the RPS.

Last week, the partnership began with a two-day pilot from June 14-15 at Sage Gateshead, home of the RNS.

Four conductors — Olivia Clarke, Helen Harrison, Charlotte Corduroy, and Hannah Schneider — participated in the pilot. 

“What is so great about this is that Alice [Farnham] and RPS really take the time to get to know the participants beforehand as artists and really offered bespoke support,” Clarke told The Violin Channel. “We had enough time on the podium to establish a connection with the players, and either rehearse or run — whatever we thought was more beneficial… The atmosphere was positive throughout.”

The pilot event was divided into four working sessions with the RNS over two days, where Farnham provided coaching to participants. Additional "conversation" sessions were built into the schedule, a "rare opportunity which regular rehearsal schedules seldom afford," according to Chief Executive of the Royal Philharmonic Society James Murphy.

Clarke added that she appreciated participants’ ability to film sessions, the chance to “try new things in a safe space,” and the opportunity to have open conversations with orchestra players — which she hopes will “lead to more democratic rehearsal rooms that will help the industry eradicate ingrained behaviors that damage their diversity and creative potential.”

According to a Sage Gateshead press release, less than six percent of the 371 conductors represented by British agents are female.

Going forward, Murphy told The Violin Channel that the program plans to draw on "what the conductors and orchestra found fruitful in this pilot."

Later this fall, the RPS will take applications for additional opportunities beginning in January 2022, where the chosen cohort will then meet with the RNS for an intensive couple of days twice per year. Those interested should follow @RoyalPhilSoc for more information.