Conducting’s glass podium: Female music directors are still rare, but the Northwest has nurtured some

Melinda Bargreen for the Seattle Times

When the Seattle Symphony presents its annual “Messiah” Dec. 15-17, there will be a woman on the podium. You might not think this fact is worthy of a “Hallelujah,” until you consider that Ruth Reinhardt will be the first woman in the orchestra’s history to conduct this annual and beloved holiday fixture.

This is a milestone worth considering. The mere fact that female conductors are a comparative rarity around the world, at a point in history when women instrumentalists are commonplace — female orchestra musicians make up 36 percent of the Seattle Symphony — is an indication of the glacial rate of progress for women in ascending the podium.

In the meantime, what’s it like on the podium for female maestros? We’ve asked four conductors with Northwest connections about their careers and hopes for the future.


Sarah Ioannides 

This busy 45-year-old conductor has divided her time among directorships of Symphony Tacoma and the Spartanburg (North Carolina) Philharmonic, plus the family’s East Coast base (her husband, trombonist Scott Hartman, teaches at Yale University). With a 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old twins, and regular guest-conducting trips to Europe, life has been hectic.

Now, as Ioannides (“ee-an-ee-dees”) ends her Spartanburg tenure, she is “really focusing on my work here in Tacoma. I want to get to know the community as an insider, and to work on collaborative projects that you could never do as a guest conductor,” she said.

Ioannides observes that there is “the opportunity now for women to make a lot of progress — even though we still make up only about 7 or 8 percent of orchestral-music directors. There needs to be more. And are we just token females, or are we given the same opportunities and the same pay?”


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