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Women in Musical Leadership program aims to bring change to Victoria’s classical scene

Passing the baton: Pacific Opera mentors a new generation of musical leadership through program
Naomi Woo is one of two new conductors to join Pacific Opera this year through Women in Musical Leadership program. (image supplied Pacific Opera)

Statistics published by Toronto’s Tapestry Opera show that women still find it difficult to find representation within the Canadian classical music scene.

Consider that, in Canadian orchestras with budgets above $1 Million, there are currently 61 titled positions for conductors and music directors. Only nine, or 14.8 per cent of those positions are held by women, and only four of those are Canadian.

Within Canada’s professional opera companies, only two of the 13, or 15 per cent, of the titled music director and conductor roles are occupied by women. It’s a situation that has prompted Tapestry Opera to join with Pacific Opera Victoria and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to lead a program aimed at changing the imbalance and set the stage for a new generation of musical leadership.

The program, Women in Musical Leadership is aimed at expanding the musical leadership talent pool by championing and fostering female Canadian classical musical talent.

Maria Fuller has opportunities to assist with several orchestras over the course of the Women in Musical Leadership program. (Emily Smith)

The result has been the addition of two amazing women to Pacific Opera’s roster.

The first of the talented additions is Naomi Woo.

She joined Pacific Opera this spring as assistant conductor on Cosi fan tutte, but has already attracted attention on the Canadian musical scene. In 2019 she was named by the CBC as one of the “Top 30 Classical Musicians under 30”. She was the assistant conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the first-ever music director of Sistema Winnipeg.

“Being a conductor is often very solitary—that’s why it’s so special to have opportunities for camaraderie and mentorship,” said Woo.

“At Pacific Opera Victoria, I was lucky to work alongside three fabulous conductor colleagues: Timothy Vernon, Joey Pietraroia, and Kimberley-Ann Bartczak. They are all so generous with their musical ideas and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to learn from them.”

The second, and equally as impressive, of Pacific Opera’s additions is Maria Fuller.

She began to conduct professionally in 2019 and has since been awarded the David Effron Conducting Fellowship in NY, represented North America in the inaugural La Maestra International Competition for Women Conductors in Paris, worked as the resident conductor and chorus master in Thunder Bay, and conducted Carmen with Saskatoon Opera.

“I feel a strong sense of gratitude and blessing for the opportunity to assist, cover, and perform with the incredible 25 orchestras and opera companies that have joined Women in Musical Leadership program so far,” said Fuller.

She jokes that being a fellow with the program is to be an assistant ‘on steroids’, because instead of assisting for one orchestra for two to three years, participants are given the opportunity to assist several orchestras in a single month.

“There is so much to learn and observe at this pace - so many people to meet, and so many great conversations to have,” Fuller said.

Women in Musical Leadership will provide the conductors with a full three years of opportunities as conductors and hopes to set the stage for a continuing line of female musicians in Canada.

About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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