Rosemary Thomson conducting on a podium

Announcing Women in Musical Leadership

National conducting fellowship for women musicians

A coalition of Canadian companies led by Tapestry Opera and Pacific Opera Victoria, with lead orchestral partner, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, are championing the next generation of conductors and addressing an historic gender imbalance in classical music

In the face of one of the worst professional gender imbalances in the country, Canada’s leading producer of contemporary opera Tapestry Opera is launching an innovative multi-year opportunity titled Women in Musical Leadership, a full-time professional conducting fellowship to advance six talented women and non-binary music directors and conductors and richly expand the talent pool of musical leadership in Canada. 

Tapestry Opera, known for innovative partnerships and next-generation practices, will lead and coordinate this paid three-year fellowship, in partnership with industry innovator Pacific Opera Victoria and lead orchestral partner Toronto Symphony Orchestra, as well as numerous other opera and music organizations.

The program has been created to not only help collectively develop our next generation of musical leadership, but also to address the fact that there is only 1 female music director currently in the top 12 Canadian opera companies1, the number of women music directors or assistant conductors in the top 12 Canadian symphony orchestras who were born and trained in Canada is only 12 and in the 2018 / 2019 season only 6.2% of conductors in the largest six Canadian opera companies were women3.

Tapestry Opera Artistic and General Director Michael Hidetoshi Mori, frustrated by an immovable status quo, said: 

“The most common reason that opera companies and professional orchestras cite for not hiring women is that there is a lack of qualified candidates. This program was designed to change that perception, partnering with multiple organizations across the country for a national impact. In my 30-year career in classical music, it has always been evident that our greatest talent is evenly split across gender lines – it remains on us to make opportunities for this talent to grow, mature and be seen and recognized in leadership roles.

The Women in Musical Leadership fellowship will deliver three years of practical conducting experience and training, while developing a professional network that spans Canada. I’m delighted to partner with our friends Pacific Opera Victoria and lead orchestral partner the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in launching this program which celebrates the artistic achievement of female artists.”

Starting remotely in February 2021, with placements from July 2021 through and lasting until June 2024, musicians looking to commit their careers to conducting will be engaged by Tapestry Opera, Pacific Opera Victoria and over a dozen participating organizations across Canada, including lead orchestral partner Toronto Symphony Orchestra whose new Music Director Gustavo Gimeno will provide ongoing mentorship. 

In addition, each participant will partner for conducting and career mentorship with a senior female conductor, who will help guide them through their assigned three full years of conducting opportunities, with increasing responsibilities as the fellowship progresses. 

Canadian conductor Rosemary Thomson (Okanagan Symphony and Opera Kelowna) will be joining the program as a Career Mentor:

“I remember asking a friend twenty five years ago if she thought that my university would consider taking a woman into the conducting program. Thankfully, times have changed since then, but seeing a woman on the podium is still rare enough to be considered a novelty. This fellowship will help to change that perception and show that conducting is not exclusively a male profession. I am thrilled to be involved in this transformative program that directly addresses the gender imbalance at the leadership level in classical music. I love everything about conducting and I can’t wait to share what I have learned with the next generation of conductors.”

JoAnn Falletta (Buffalo Philharmonic) will be joining Rosemary as a Career Mentor for the first year of participants.

The Women in Musical Leadership program is supported by the Azrieli Foundation.

1 – Judith Yan, Music Director and Resident Conductor at Opera on the Avalon

2 – Naomi Woo, Assistant Conductor at Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra,  born and trained in Canada

3 – Judith Yan was the only female of 16 conductors. The largest 6 Canadian opera companies  include Calgary Opera Association, Canadian Opera Company, Edmonton Opera, Opera de Montreal, Pacific Opera Victoria and  Vancouver Opera