During a photo call, posing alongside guests, Clémence Guerrand and Frédéric Chaslin took a moment to speak with us about the mission of MAWOMA and of their own commitment. Live comments.
First, Clémence Guerrand, Founding President of MAWOMA, and Frédéric Chaslin, President of the Jury, stated in unison: “Music knows no gender.”
Both of them recognize that, even if the profession of orchestra conductor is not a male monopoly, women are still too often excluded from it, since they represent barely 4% of conductors on the international scene. “The myth of the great Maestro is still imprinted in people’s minds”, says pianist Clémence Guerrand. So much so, in fact, that women hesitate to enter international competitions, even though they’re open to both sexes, “since they believe they have no chance of winning”, adds Frédéric Chaslin, pianist and conductor.
When anyone points to the authority and physical strength that are supposedly required in leading an orchestra, Frédéric Chaslin dismisses that myth with a wave of the hand. “I have observed certain female orchestra conductors who failed to convince me, precisely because they overplayed the authority role. No one has ever doubted the abilities of a Nadia Boulanger (the famous conductor from the early twentieth century), who exerted such musical power that she dominated everyone. It’s a question of self-confidence.”
Cultivating that belief in oneself is a key objective of this first Itinerant Competition reserved exclusively to women orchestra conductors.
Does the Competition aim, then, to achieve parity? “Setting up quotas to increase the percentage of women heading orchestra would be senseless”, adds Clémence Guerrand. “The only valid criteria are ability and quality. It’s a matter of levelling the playing field.” The levelling also requires a world dynamic in order to encourage female models on all continents, capable of encouraging aspiring conductors.
Leading an orchestra also means having the art and the manner to manipulate group psychology. To generate the delicate chemistry between the leader’s posture and the orchestra, depending on the mood of the particular day. “A conductor must know how to overcome possible resistance by the group and to encourage, ever so gently, their desire to follow you. This psychological component is huge. I think it’s a critical part of the prejudice that has reigned for some time, which claims that no orchestra could agree to take orders from a woman”, Frédéric Chaslin notes.
Such is the relevance of this ground-breaking competition known as MAWOMA: to demolish this constraint, this fear. Obviously, women are no strangers to psychology.