Rosemary Thomson conducting on a podium

Women in Musical Leadership

Redefining leadership in classical music: a three-year conducting program designed to nurture the next generation of women and non-binary conductors

Women in Musical Leadership (WML) is a three-year program designed to collectively develop the next generation of female and non-binary conductors and music directors in Canada.

Led by Tapestry Opera with lead orchestral partner Toronto Symphony Orchestra and lead partner Pacific Opera Victoria, the program addresses a historic gender inequity on the podium by providing female and non-binary conductors active mentorship with leading conductors in the field, deep and varied experience with professional companies, and a robust artistic network.

WML provides conductors the opportunity to assist, observe, conduct, and build experience within a range of organizations in symphonic, chamber, operatic, and contemporary repertoire – giving conductors the professional experience and training that will enable them to take the podium anywhere in the world.

Juliane Gallant Women in Musical Leadership

“This fellowship has given me the opportunity to work alongside and learn from so many companies across Canada. The experiences here have shown me new ways to explore my craft and completely transformed the trajectory of my career.”

Juliane Gallant, WML Year 1 Conductor
(Juliane Gallant leading rehearsals for Tapestry Opera’s 2021 world premiere of Gould’s Wall. Photo by Dahlia Katz.)


Less than 3% of music director positions in Canadian orchestras are occupied by Canadian women

Conductors and music directors occupy a rarefied position in the classical music world. These individuals provide musical leadership within an organization, oversee its artistic vision, act as an ambassador within the community, and help to create the musical culture of a place. There is power and artistic prestige associated with these roles, and for this reason, it’s relevant to note that currently Canadian female conductors occupy less than 3% of music director positions in major Canadian orchestras with budgets over 5 million dollars*.

In these orchestras there are 37 titled roles for conductors. Out of those 37 positions, only three are occupied by female conductors (8.1%). Of those three conductors, only one is Canadian (2.7%).

Only 14.8% of titled music director positions in Canadian orchestras are women
Only 15% of titled music director positions in Canadian opera companies are women

Representation is not everything, but it matters

In Canadian orchestras with budgets above 1 million dollars**, there are currently 61 titled positions for conductors and music directors. Of those 61, only 9 of them are occupied by female conductors (14.8%). Of those 9, only 4 of them are Canadian (7%). In the opera sector, within the 7 professional opera companies in Canada which have titled music director and conductor roles ✢, only 2 out of 13 positions are occupied by women (15%).

Why Tapestry? 

Named by the Globe and Mail in 2019 as “Canada’s most reliable risk-takers”, Tapestry Opera positions itself as one of the most versatile and forward-thinking opera companies in the industry. Our values aim to foster innovative practices and bring positive and long-lasting impact to the sector by developing the generation of classical musical leaders in Canada.

Rosemary Thomson conducting on a podium

“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.”

Canadian conductor Rosemary Thomson (Artistic Director, Opera Kelowna)
Photo by Glenna Turnbull

*In Canadian orchestras with budgets over 5 million dollars. Roles including Music Director, Assistant Conductor, Associate/Resident Conductor, and roles such as MD Emeritus, Artist Partner (OM), Principal Guest Conductor, Artist-In-Residence and Community Ambassador, Principal Pops Conductor, Principal Education Conductor & Community Ambassador. Correct as of Jan 2022.
**As deemed by Orchestras Canada. Correct as of Jan 2022.
✢Including Music Director, Resident Conductor, Associate Conductor, Assistant Music Director, and Music Director Emeritus. Correct as of Jan 2022.

Our program and partners

The Women in Musical Leadership program creates opportunities and enriches the talent pool through a unique infrastructure that provides conductors the necessary time, connections, support, and experience they need to establish themselves fully in the profession. 

The program is for 6 conductors in cohorts of 2, beginning a year apart. We’ve partnered with symphonies, orchestras, chamber ensembles, music festivals, and opera companies across Canada to create practical opportunities for conductors to assist, observe, conduct, and build professional experience.

WML Year 2 Program Partners

Lead partnerPacific Opera Victoria
Lead orchestral partnerToronto Symphony Orchestra
Participating organisations to dateAssociation for Opera in Canada
Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra
Edmonton Opera
Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra
Kingston Symphony
Manitoba Opera 
Opera McGill
Opera Kelowna
New Music Concerts
Regina Symphony Orchestra
Shaw Festival
Symphony Nova Scotia
Toronto Summer Music
Vancouver Opera
Victoria Symphony
Jennifer Tung Women in Musical Leadership

“WML provides the opportunity to work with some of the finest arts organizations in the country. My time with Vancouver Opera and the Toronto Symphony this year has been amazing and invaluable to my development as a conductor. There is truly no other program like it in Canada!”

Jennifer Tung, WML Year 1 Conductor
(Jennifer Tung leading rehearsals for Vancouver Opera’s 2021 Orfeo and Euridice. Photo by Tim Matheson.)

Our People

Year 1 Cohort

Year 2 Cohort

Career Mentors

Conducting Advisors

Program Manager
Jennifer Szeto

Support Women in Musical Leadership

Women in Musical Leadership’s broader mission is to help change the longstanding gender imbalance in music direction and conducting in opera and classical music in Canada. Find out more about how you can support the program as an organization or an individual.

Applications and more information

Year 2 applications are now closed. Applications for Year 3 are expected to open in January 2023.

Women in Musical Leadership is for self-identified female and non-binary conductors who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada. Generally, applicants will have completed advanced studies (or equivalent experience) in a primary instrument, has some previous conducting experience and demonstrates readiness for professional opportunities and training. If you have any questions about the Women in Musical Leadership program, including application eligibility, contact Women in Musical Leadership Program Manager Jennifer Szeto

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Women in Musical Leadership is a project led by Tapestry Opera, in partnership with Pacific Opera Victoria and Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

The numbers (correct January 2021

  • 1Number of female-identifying music directors currently in the top 10 Canadian opera companies.1
  • 3 Number of female-identifying resident assistant conductors currently in the top 12 Canadian symphony orchestras and the top 12 Canadian opera companies.2
  • 4 Number of active female-identifying professional conductors working in Canadian opera in the 2018/2019 season.3
  • 1Number of female-identifying music directors currently in the top 12 Canadian Symphony orchestras.4
  • 1 Number of female-identifying music directors or assistant conductors in the top 12 Canadian Symphony orchestras who were born and trained in Canada.5
  • 2 Number of active female-identifying professional conductors working in Canadian opera in the 2018/2019 season hired by Tapestry Opera.