Kim Noltemy, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s first female President and CEO, has been working in the classical music industry for over 20 years. During her career, she noticed a shift in the composition of orchestras, with women making up roughly half of the musicians on the stage. However, she rarely saw a woman conducting the orchestra or noted a woman’s name being listed as a composer.
As a part of DSO’s new strategic plan, Noltemy and Sanjiv Yajnik, Dallas Symphony Association Board of Governors Chairman, aim to change that with the orchestra’s “Women in Classical Music” initiative.
“My view is that there is not the infrastructure to allow success in the same way that exists for men,” Noltemy said. “We’re looking at a sustained effort to make changes to the industry in that regard.”
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The initiative includes a ten-year program to commission at least ten new works by female composers, the appointment of a female Principal Guest Conductor, the formation of a composer-in-residence position, the establishment of an annual Women in Classical Music symposium in 2019 and the creation of a Career Advancement Award. With the ambition to have many elements of the initiative in place for the 2019-2020 season, the program is designed to help women in the classical music field advance in their careers much as women in other fields have progressed.
“In most industries, we’re seeing more examples of women climbing the corporate ladder, and becoming executives, CEOs and board members. But in the music world, even though the number of women in orchestras is increasing, we’ve yet to see the same trend where women are advancing to positions like conductor, composer and administrator. It’s time that this happen in the world of music,” Yajnik said.
The Principal Guest Conductor is a 2-year position, allowing several women conductors to gain valuable experience on the podium. “Once you have a titled position in a major orchestra, that helps open your career up for a lot more possibilities. If we commit to that over a long period of time, say 10 years, then that’s 4 or 5 women who now have a chance to more easily get a job,” Noltemy said.
Seeing a woman on the podium will impact the youngest members of the DSO’s audiences. “If a young female attends a concert where a woman is on the podium, she is given the opportunity to see a role model, and a career in conducting as something to aspire to. Similarly, seeing a female’s name on a piece of music shows her that composition could be her calling and helps her imagine what success could look like,” Yajnik said.
Noltemy and Yajnik are aware of the Dallas Opera’s Hart Institute for Women Conductors and hope to collaborate with the opera company. The Women in Classical Music symposium might offer an opportunity for a partnership. Noltemy envisions the symposium as a 3-4-day event with keynote speakers and panel discussions examining a variety of topics specifically relating to women. She hopes the discussions are not limited to the problems within the classical music industry.
“It could be focused on the great success stories of the women who have managed in this more paternalistic field to excel dramatically. How did they do that? Did they have the mentor, or did they do it on their own? I think that’s all really important and just having the dialogue is an empowerment thing in of itself,” Noltemy said.
“I anticipate additional conversations on unconscious bias and mentorship opportunities will be necessary if we want to change the face of classical music and make the field more representative of the world in which we live,” Yajnik said.
Noltemy understands the power of a mentorship, having risen through the ranks at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. “I was very fortunate at the BSO because everyone was fantastic to me. The managing director there was always a mentor to me and helped me learn more and have more responsibility. The board was always supportive,” Noltemy said.
The DSO recently announced the appointment of Fabio Luisi as the orchestra’s music director. Yajnik is confident Luisi will be an asset as the orchestra implements its entire strategic plan in addition to the women’s initiative, including extending the orchestra’s community engagement and elevating the concert experience. “Fabio Luisi comes with a reputation on the world stage, and he has already shown that the concerts in Dallas will be unmissable. I was personally inspired by his passion and ingenuity at his guest performance earlier this year,” Yajnik said. “An orchestra creates the soul of a city, and Fabio can help nurture the DSO as a key part of the cultural fabric of our community.”