The Female Conductor Programme

I could never have imagined the multitude of ways in which this programme would benefit me. All in all, it has been an unforgettable experience which has equipped me with skills and knowledge that I will use for the rest of my life.

– Maebh Martin, programme participant.

The Programme

To address inequality on the podium, the National Concert Hall ran an initiative to encourage women to pick up the baton. The position of conductor is one of the most enduring and unyielding glass ceilings for women in the world of classical music. In 2018, out of the top 100 international conductors, only five were women; in 2015, across US orchestras, just one in five conductors were female, and in the 22 highest-budget orchestras, 21 conductors were male, and just one was female.

The National Concert Hall launched the Female Conductor Programme to address and highlight this imbalance, and encourage women in classical music to take up the baton and become orchestral conductors

Working with the generous support of Grant Thornton, and with Alice Farnham on board as artistic director, 12 novice conductors spent ten months developing their skills and rehearsing with orchestras. The programme was designed to coach, mentor, encourage and promote talented female conductors who are at the outset of their careers.

The first programme culminated in a finale public masterclass with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, in June 2018, presided over by Head of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music, Sian Edwards.

In the summer of 2019 interviews were held and 12 women were selected to participate in the second iteration of the programme which started I October 2019. The programme was due to run until September 2020, but due to Covid-19 restrictions, the programme is still ongoing with sessions online until it is safe for the group to meet in person again.

Alice Farnham, conductor

Alice Farnham is former music director of the Welsh National Youth Opera, and has conducted at the Royal Opera House, Teatru Manoel Valetta, Singapore Lyric Opera, and with many major ballet companies, including the Royal Ballet Covent Garden and English National Ballet. She is co-founder and artistic director of Women Conductors with the Royal Philharmonic Society, a ground-breaking programme to encourage women into conducting.

Why are the National Concert Hall and Grant Thornton running this programme?

Autumn 2013 marked the first occasion, in its 122 year history, that a female conductor took to the podium on the Last Night of the Proms. The subsequent media coverage and reaction highlighted the scarcity of female conductors.

The position of orchestra conductor remains the most enduring and unyielding glass ceilings for women in the world of classical music. While much progress has been made over the last 20 years in terms of female participation as orchestral musicians, the lack of female orchestral conductors is an undeniable indicator that there is a great deal more to be done in this area to encourage women to consider this leadership position.

At the last count by the Royal Philharmonic Society, only 22 of the 371 conductors represented by British agents were female – about 5.5%. In 2018, The music website Bachtrack did a statistical analysis of classical music, which included five women in the list of the top 100 busiest conductors. JoAnn Falletta was highest placed in the list, at 19, followed by Marin Alsop (39), Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (44), Karina Canellakis (80) and Susanna Mälkki (86).

Speaking on the launch of the NCH Female Conductor Programme, Paul Jacobs, Partner, Forensics and Investigation Services, Grant Thornton said:

"The Grant Thornton Forensics Department are delighted to support the NCH and their new Female Conductor Programme. Diversity is a core initiative in Grant Thornton and as the Forensics Department are long-time supporters of the NCH, this new initiative really appealed to our firm values. It is important to us that the glass ceiling is broken across industry and the arts. This initiative is a real positive and progressive step forward for women in the arts."

The twelve participants for 2019/2022 Programme are: Áine Gell (choral music enthusiast, graduated with Degree in Music and Modern Irish from Trinity College Dublin and with Postgraduate Diploma in Music Pedagogy and Advanced Choral Conducting from the Kodály Institute of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music, Hungary); Amy Ryan (Graduate of Advanced Diploma in Choral Conducting and Master of Arts in Kodály Music Pedagogy from Kodály Institute of the Liszt Academy of Music, Hungary, professional choral conductor and instrumentalist); Margaret Bridge (Graduate of BA in Musicology and Theory from Trinity College Dublin, Master in Music in Vocal performance, Royal Irish Academy of Music and   Graduate of Diploma in Voice, New England Conservatory); Celine Leong (Graduate of Diploma in Music Pedagogy and BA in General Music Studies specialising in Advanced Choral Conducting at the Kodály Institute of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music, Hungary, Master in Creative Music Technologies from Maynooth University.); Dara Pender (French horn player, graduated with Bachelor of Music Education, TU Dublin);  Emily Cox (Graduate of Bachelor in Music Education from Trinity College Dublin and Royal Irish Academy of Music with a First-Class Honours and Gold Medal Award, Diploma in Piano Teaching); Muireann Ní Dhubhghaill (flautist and Graduate of Royal Northern College of Music Graduate with Masters of Music Performance); Siobhan O’Donnell (Choral conductor, composer and instrumentalist and Graduate of Degree in Music, CIT Cork School of Music), Siofra Ní Dhubhghaill (Graduate of Bachelor of Music (Pedagogy) at Technology University Dublin, graduate of Royal Irish Academy of Music and keen harpist); Mary Walsh ( MA in Performance (conducting) at Cork School of Music); Meadhbh Campbell (chamber musician,  graduate of Degree in Music, CIT Cork School of Music, CRCO Diploma in Organ, current student of Kodály Institute of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music, Hungary) and Tamasine Plowman (Double-bass player, Master in Classical String Performance from University of Limerick and BA from Royal Northern College of Music). 

Click here to purchase tickets for the Female Conductor Finale 2022.

View videos from the programmes here and our new series of Q&A videos with the current programme participants here.

If you have any queries about this programme, please do not hesitate to email us

Related Press Releases:
Female Conductor Programme Finale 2022 Press Release

NCH & Grant Thornton win Best Large Sponsorship for Female Conductor Programme at Allianz Business to Arts Awards 2019
New Participants Announced for National Concert Hall Award-Winning Female Conductor Programme for 2019/2020
Inaugural NCH Female Conductor Programme celebrates much-anticipated finale with RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra

Behind the Music Interviews:
Emily Cox
Dara Pender
Alice Farnham

With thanks to: