Four Female Conductors Take the Stage at the LA Phil

The LA Phil unveiled its 2017-18 season last week and among the many highlights is the fact that the orchestra has engaged four different women to conduct six different concerts. That may not seem like a lot over the course of an 8-month concert season, but it is considerably more than any other major orchestra in the United States (that has announced their 2017-18 season so far).

In fact, more women will conduct the LA Phil next season than the symphonies of Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Nashville, Oregon, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic combined.

So, who are these women who will take the podium at Walt Disney Concert Hall?

Susanna Mälkki

Photo by Simon Fowler

Susanna Mälkki, 47, was born in Helsinki and studied cello and conducting at the Sibelius Academy. She was the principal cellist of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in Sweden for several years before leaving the orchestra to focus on conducting. From 2006-2013, Mälkki was the music director of the Paris-based new music group Ensemble InterContemporain. She was the first woman to hold that post. She is also the first woman to be the Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, where she is currently in the middle of her first season. Last fall, Mälkki conducted a performance of Kaija Saariaho’s opera L’Amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera, becoming only the fourth woman to conduct a production in the 133-year history of the Met Opera. Next season is Mälkki’s first as principal guest conductor of the LA Phil, so we’ll be seeing a lot more of her artistry here in the coming years. She’s the first woman to hold that post as well and she’ll conduct three performances here next season.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

Photo by Frans Jansen

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, 30, was born in Vilnius, Lithuania and studied choral conducting beginning when she was 11. She has held various conducting positions in several different European opera houses: Heidelberg, Germany; Bern, Switzerland, and she is currently in what she has said will her final season as the music director at the Salzburg Landestheater. In 2012, Gražinytė-Tyla was a Dudamel Conducting Fellow at the LA Phil and subsequently was named the orchestra’s assistant conductor. Two years later, she was promoted to associate conductor. This season marks Gražinytė-Tyla’s first as music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Great Britain. She is the first woman to hold that post and last fall, as she kicked off her tenure with the orchestra, she conducted the CBSO at the BBC Proms. This season, she’ll join the LA Phil to conduct Mahler.

Emmanuelle Haïm

Photo by Marianne Rosenstiehl

Emmanuelle Haïm, 54, was born in Paris and studied organ and harpsichord at the Conservatoire de Paris. She began her performing career as a continuo player in the period-instrument ensemble Les Arts Florissants. In 2000, she left that ensemble to form her own early music group, Le Concert d’Astrée, which she still conducts and tours with today. Haïm is a frequent conductor at the Glyndbourne Festival Opera and she was the first woman to conduct at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Her U.S. orchestral conducting debut came in 2011 with the LA Phil. She’ll conduct a Baroque programwith the LA Phil this November.

Xian Zhang

Photo by Harrison Parrott

Xian Zhang, 43, was born in Dandong, China, and started her musical studies with her mother, playing a piano that had been built by her father. She began conducting at age 16 and when she was 19, Zhang conducted a production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the China National Opera. She was conductor-in-residence for the China Opera House in Beijing and the conductor of the Jinfan Symphony Orchestra before moving to the United States in 1998. Similar to Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla with the LA Phil, Xian Zhang has held the positions of assistant and associate conductor with the New York Philharmonic. She was the music director of the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra for a couple of years, the first woman to lead the Staatskapelle Dresden, and in 2009 was named music director of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi. That appointment makes Zhang the first woman to be music director of any orchestra in the entire country of Italy. As principal guest conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, she is also the first woman to hold a post with any of the BBC orchestras. Currently, Xian Zhang is in her first season as the music director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. This December, she leads the LA Phil in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1 and more.

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