11 of today’s best women conductors

15 May 2019, 12:01 | Updated: 16 May 2019, 20:24

Best women conductors
Best women conductors. Picture: Getty

Some of today’s greatest orchestral leaders are dynamic, inspiring and innovative women. And in 2019, it’s time to celebrate them...

  1. Ariane Matiakh

    The only female conductor to make the list for the main stage in 2019-20 at The Royal Opera House, London, French conductor Arian Matiakh is certainly making waves in the classical music world and is well known for her versatility and precision. Ariane will be conducting some of the performances of a revival of Richard Jones’ La Bohème in January and February next year, and her repertoire also covers ballet, a variety of symphonic works, contemporary compositions and baroque music. 

    Puccini Madama Butterfly -Ariane Matiakh

  2. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

    The 32-year-old Lithuanian maestro has taken concert halls around the world by storm with her incredible energy and passion. On top of her full-time position as Music Director of Classic FM's Orchestra in the Midlands, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Gražinytė-Tyla is also Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In February 2019 it was announced that she has signed to Deutsche Grammophon, making her the first female conductor to sign an exclusive long-term contract with the legendary label. We're looking forward to hearing the recordings, Mirga!

    Here she is with the LA Phil, conducting some storming Bizet:

  3. Laurence Equilbey

    French conductor Laurence Equilbey is widely respected for her work in choral music, having founded and conducted the major a cappella choir, accentus (fun fact: Equilbey also invented the e-tuner, an electronic device for tuning third and quarter tones). Plus, she’s a champion for brilliant works by women composers. Here she is, conducting Louise Farrenc’s symphonic masterpiece – her Symphony No. 3.

    Find out more about the greatest women composers!

  4. Alondra de la Parra

    The Mexican conductor and Music Director of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra once said she believes "the old school of the conductor on one side, and players on the other, is little by little dying". Alonda de la Parra is fronting a new generation of conductors: she engages with the audience and the community, and successfully treats both the orchestra and the audience as equals. Here she is conducting some playful Prokofiev with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.

    Alondra de la Parra conducts PROKOFIEV Classical Symphony IV movement

  5. Marin Alsop

    Throughout her illustrious career, Marin Alsop has been an inspiration to conductors all over the world regardless of gender. Alsop made history in 2007 as the first woman to be appointed music director of a major American orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony. She famously told The Guardian she was “honoured to be the first”, but “shocked that we can be in this year, in this century, and there can still be ‘firsts’ for women”.

  6. Alice Farnham

    The leading British conductor has some impressive credits in opera and ballet, having led the Welsh National Opera, English National Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and more. Farnham is also the founder and Artistic Director of Women Conductors, a brilliant new initiative which supports and provides workshops for aspiring women conductors.

    NCH Female Conductor Programme | Supported by Grant Thornton

  7. Susanna Mälkki

    The Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra has been praised for her ‘power and precision’ onstage. Behind the scenes, she’s grounded, sharp and funny. Asked whether applauding between movements is acceptable, the Finnish maestro replied, “I think there are other much more serious problems in this world.” Here she is at Walt Disney Concert Hall with the LA Phil, of which she is Principal Guest Conductor.

    Susanna Mälkki on Conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall

  8. Simone Young

    After stepping down from her positions as Artistic Director of the Hamburg State Opera and Music Director of the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra a few years ago, Australian maestro Simone Young has gone freelance, and will appear as a guest conductor at the state operas in Munich, Berlin, Vienna and Dresden. Young is recognised on an international level as a Wagner and Strauss specialist (no easy feat). Here she is with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, taking on the explosive 'Götterdämmerung' (lit. 'The farewell to life').

    Wagner Under The Sails - Götterdämmerung

  9. Xian Zhang

    Chinese-American conductor Xian Zhang was first introduced to music when she played with her mother on a piano built by her father. After studying at Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music, she made her first conducting appearance aged 19 with the China National Opera Orchestra in The Marriage of Figaro. Hailed for her ‘dynamism and agility’, Zhang is now the Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

    Beethoven Symphony No.7 - NJO Symphony Orchestra

  10. JoAnn Falletta

    JoAnn Falletta is an American conductor with extraordinary musicality, acclaimed by The New York Times as "one of the finest conductors of her generation". Orchestra Now musician Federico Ramos said of working with Falletta: "We only played 10 bars and she immediately asked: 'second horns, more, trombones, less, strings, more'. It was unbelievable. It was like she was controlling a mixer."

    The Tempest - John Knowles Paine (JoAnn Falletta/Ulster Orchestra)

  11. Barbara Hannigan

    Barbara, Barbara. What can we say, she's one of a kind. As well as having conducted The Berlin Philharmonic, Münchner Philharmoniker and the Gothenburg Symphony, the Canadian maestro is an astonishingly talented soprano, with a penchant for contemporary opera. Her performance of Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre is quite possibly one of the most brilliantly bonkers things you’ll ever see:

    El misterio de la macabra - Barbara Hannigan y la Sinfónica de Londres