One thing all of the country’s top orchestras have in common is the absence of a female conductor.
This will soon change. When the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra announced its new music director, Nathalie Stutzmann, it was a French conductor and singer.
It will be only the second time in American orchestra history that a female conductor has taken the reins of a top-tier orchestra. She succeeds Marin Alsop, who stepped down in August after 14 years as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
It was Stutzmann’s hope that her appointment would serve as an example for other orchestras, and she wasn’t alone in her optimism.
There is no place in the world for women to rule, she said in an interview via video call. When we no longer have to be seen as a minority, but rather as musicians, conductors, and maestros,” he said.
Stutzmann, a celebrated contralto known for her performances of Mahler, Handel, and Bach, only began her conducting career in the last decade. She has made a name for herself in the music industry and was recently named the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal guest conductor. In addition, she is the music director and conductor in chief of the Kristiansand Symphoniker in Norway.
According to Stutzmann’s longtime mentor and conductor Simon Rattle, the Atlanta Symphony’s sound will be influenced by her background in singing.
In an interview, Rattle said, “What she will do is give them more colours and more daring and more shape.” The best way to describe her personality is “warm and explosive.”
Stutzmann, the daughter of opera singers who grew up in the Paris area, didn’t always see conducting, a field long dominated by men, as a viable career path. Because of her gender, she was discouraged from pursuing conducting when she was 15, while attending a French conservatory.
There was “no chance” for her to realise her dream of becoming a conductor, she said. In my mind, it was a complete and utter disaster. As a result, “It was extremely difficult and extremely frustrating.”
As a result of his dedication to singing, Stutzmann was able to win numerous competitions and engagements. When she was just 19 years old, she replaced the American soprano Jessye Norman in Paris and her career took off. A well-known contralto — a female singer with a low vocal range — she went on to perform all over the world and record over 80 albums.
The New York Times reported in 1995 that “the contralto is not heading the way of the California condor just yet. Nathalie Stutzmann, a lanky young Parisian with eyes as deep and dusky as her voice, has brought hope to the world.”
Even as her career as a singer took off, Stutzmann continued to study conducting on the side, paying close attention to the conductors she worked with. With Rattle and Seiji Ozawa as mentors, she went on to study with the legendary Finnish conductor and teacher Jorma Panula. Eventually.
Stutzmann was a huge fan of music. Despite this, she enjoyed conducting.
There is only one melody to choose from when you sing, she said. In conducting, you have a hundred lines at your disposal. There is an enormous amount of material to choose from. It was a revelation to discover the joy of making music with others. The experience was exactly what I had hoped for, and perhaps even better than what I had imagined.”
It is fitting that Stutzmann, the orchestra’s fifth music director in the orchestra’s 76-year history, will carry on Robert Spano’s work at the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
Spano’s 20-year tenure at the helm of the orchestra saw the orchestra’s profile rise and he was a staunch supporter of contemporary music. In 2012, the musicians agreed to be paid for fewer than 52 weeks a year, resulting in steep pay cuts for the musicians. There were also two lockouts.
When she begins her four-year contract in 2022-23, Stutzmann promised to continue the ensemble’s tradition of presenting contemporary music. However, she expressed a desire to include more French and Baroque pieces in the programme.
Baroque music, she said, isn’t played by symphony orchestras because they’re afraid to. It’s as important to play Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, and Ravel for a symphony orchestra because it’s difficult, it’s healthy, and it’s pure and imaginative, but to play this music for an orchestra is just as important.
Verdi and Tchaikovsky are among the composers she will perform in Atlanta this week as part of a three-concert series this week.
Additionally, Stutzmann said she hoped to bring the orchestra closer to the Atlanta community, for example, through projects that combine music and dance, such as hip-hop.
More than 80 people were considered in the Atlanta Symphony’s search for a new executive director, which began in January 2018, according to Jennifer Barlament. For her chemistry with the cast and knowledge of choral works, Stutzmann stood out after three guest appearances. (The orchestra’s acclaimed chorus dates back to the time when Robert Shaw was its conductor).
As Barlament put it, “it’s clear that musicians love working with her.”
The appointment of Stutzmann comes at a time when classical music is confronting its own history of racial and gender discrimination. In the next few years, about a third of the music directors in charge of the country’s 25 largest orchestras plan to leave their positions. Also, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and Buffalo Philharmonic have female music directors at the moment.
First female conductor Alsop praised Stutzmann’s selection and described her as a talented musician.
According to an interview with Alsop, “she’s worked very, very hard” on her conducting. However, “It’s clear that she’s spent a great deal of time, effort, as well as a great deal of money on her talent,” she says.
Another woman in a high-ranking position will be elected in the near future, according to Alsop.
As Alsop put it, “I really hope it starts a trend.” “It’s a good start. “Let’s go, everyone.”