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Women are increasingly taking centre stage in philharmonic orchestras

Few women have had such a long career in the traditionally male-dominated world of orchestras, but some of them are now reaching coveted positions, such as the violinist Vineta Sareika-Völkner

Published: Feb 21, 2023 03:19:33 PM IST
Updated: Feb 21, 2023 03:26:13 PM IST

Women are increasingly taking centre stage in philharmonic orchestras A file photo of conductor Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum . Image: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

Orchestras have long been a man's world. Although women are still a minority among instrumentalists, some of them are managing to reach coveted positions, such as the violinist Vineta Sareika-Völkner.

The Berlin Philharmonic announced on February 17 that it has appointed Latvian Vineta Sareika-Völkner as concertmaster of its orchestra. This is the first time that a woman has held such a position in the prestigious German orchestra. This appointment comes less than a year after Vineta Sareika-Völkner joined the Berlin Philharmonic. She will take up her position as concertmaster in April.

Born in Jūrmala, Latvia, Vineta Sareika-Völkner began playing the violin at the age of five. She studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris and at the Queen Elizabeth Music Chapel in Belgium, before beginning her solo career. She was previously concertmaster of the Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra between 2011 and 2013, under the direction of Edo de Waart and Philippe Herreweghe. In recent years, she has been invited to perform as a soloist with renowned orchestras such as the Belgian National Orchestra, London's Philharmonia Orchestra and the Sinfonia Varsovia.

Few women have had such a long career in the traditionally male-dominated world of orchestras. The Berlin Philharmonic only began to open up to women instrumentalists in 1982. It was not until 1997 that the Vienna Philharmonic followed suit. Since then, progress has been made. In 2008, Albena Danailova from Bulgaria became concertmaster of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Some internationally renowned orchestras, such as the New York Philharmonic, have even made parity their top priority. As a result, the oldest symphony orchestra in the US now has more women than men (45 versus 44). This is unheard of since its creation in 1842!

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Women instrumentalists are particularly well represented in the violin section of the New York Philharmonic, while the percussion section is still all male, reports the New York Times. While the presidency of the "Phil" is held by Deborah Borda, few women hold leadership positions, including that of artistic and musical director. That position has been held since 2018 by Jaap van Zweden, although the Dutch conductor will step down as director of the New York Philharmonic after the 2023-24 season. He will be replaced by Venezuelan star maestro Gustavo Dudamel—not a woman, as many in the field had hoped.

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