The world of orchestra conducting is still a mostly male-dominated field. In the United States, around 9% of major orchestras are directed by women. In Europe, it's less than 6%.
Founders of La Maestra, a Paris-based organization, set out to change that by promoting the talent of budding female conductors in their very first competition, held in mid-September. Out of more than 200 applicants, 12 female conductors from across four continents competed for three top prizes, including cash, mentoring and a series of concerts conducting orchestras in France and abroad.
"People say, 'Is it really necessary to have these opportunities for women? It seems discriminatory toward men,' " says Marin Alsop, a competition judge who leads both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. "All I can say is that men have had hundreds of years to open the door to women and they chose not to. This isn't really about competing. It's about creating community and a support system for these women to grow and become great artists in their own right."
Gladysmarli Vadel, a 25-year-old conductor from Venezuela who has played the violin since age 4, advanced to the semi-finals. Traveling to the competition marked her first time leaving the country and her first time on a plane.
"I love the violin in the orchestra—I adore it," Vadel says. "But when I played, I felt an emptiness. Something was missing, until one day I was joking around with friends, telling them, 'I'm going to imitate the conductor, and you will be my orchestra.' I was just joking around back then, but who would have known that it would become my inspiration to become a conductor today?"