Profiles

 

Sunday, 10 February 2008—Sacremento Bee
By Edward Ortiz — eortiz@sacbee.com
TICKET page 29

When She Holds the Baton
Sacramento Philharmonic Hosts Guest Conductor Laura Jackson

PROFILE


The rise of the woman conductor has brought about a sea change in the way music is made in the orchestral world.

Communication and collaboration between conductor and musician are the new paradigm. Long gone is the image of the conductor as an intimidating autocrat. The classical music world will never be the same.

One of the better liked and most respected conductors on the concert circuit is Laura Jackson. The 40-year-old Roanoke, Va., native is a rising star among young conductors, and will guest-conduct the Sacramento Philharmonic next Sunday at the Mondavi Center.
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"I think that, at this point, being a woman has been more of an asset than it has been a struggle," Jackson said. "What I have found is that people are willing to throw away the negative stereotypes that come with the age-old image of what maestros used to be – these sort of insensitive, tyrannical and uncompromising, abusive people."

When Jackson appears at the Mondavi Center, she joins a distinguished line of women conductors who have graced the area's concert stages.

First came Nan Washburn, who conducted the Camellia Symphony in the early 1990s. Two years later, JoAnn Falletta guest-conducted the Sacramento Symphony (and was once a candidate to lead it). And Marin Alsop, the first woman to lead a major U.S. orchestra, has also guest-conducted in Sacramento.

Although many audiences have seen these and other female conductors, a woman on the podium is still a novelty for some, Jackson said.

"I go into many communities to find that I am the first woman to conduct there," she said. "And even now the most common question that I am asked is, 'What will you wear?' "

For Sunday's concert, Jackson will conduct a varied program that includes Hector Berlioz's monumental "Symphonie Fantastique" as well as the world premiere of Daron Hagen's Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra and "Masquerade," with violinist Jamie Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson performing.

For Robinson, being conducted by a woman has been a rewarding musical experience.

"I have been impressed that women conductors possess what I call the 'daring' gene," said Robinson. "Women conductors are brave enough to try new repertoire, blaze new paths and strive for their own individual way of creating a satisfying musical life.

"The female conductors I've performed with have been very competent and extremely inspiring musicians," she said. "Perhaps, because they are women, they're used to having to be a notch above the competition in order to succeed."

Although it is easy to forget, it wasn't long ago that women conductors, or women musicians, were few and far between. The New York Philharmonic did not accept women musicians until 1966, and the Vienna Philharmonic did not grant permanent status to its sole female musician until last year.

Along with blind auditions and other symptoms of changing times, orchestras have started staffing their chairs with women. And the expectations of conductors have changed along with that.

"There has been a movement away from top-down, authoritarian leadership," said Jesse Rosen, president of the League of American Orchestras, the national advocacy and research organization for U.S. orchestras.

"There's been a move away from that to a more collaborative and more participatory kind of structure, a structure where the leader is now more of a facilitator and nurturer."

Rosen said that of the 2,300 orchestras that the league tracks, 20 percent are led by women. That number is twice what it was 20 years ago, he said.

Jackson just finished a three-year stint as assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, where she served under one of the most sought-after conductors, Robert Spano.

Now she is in search mode for an orchestra to lead. Her reputation in Atlanta for music-making and community outreach has put her on the short list for several conducting jobs nationwide, including being a finalist for a conducting position with the Berkeley Symphony.

 

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