Perspectives on Gender in Conducting

Many assume gender equality has been reached. From the lack of female conductors both at professional and student level, and with the evidence that there are equally talented female conductors, it is obvious that gender balance is still an issue in the conducting world (2021). 

Halldis Rønning is a Norwegian conductor, composer and improviser specialising in modern music and art collaborations. She has on behalf of ConductIT dived into the subject and generously shares her own thoughts and interviews with others on gender balance, mindful programming, the use of quotas and more.

Perspectives on Gender in Conducting


Halldis Rønning 

As a guest conductor, Halldis Rønning has appeared in all of the Norwegian orchestras, professional wind bands and the big contemporary music ensembles as well as being music director of several theatre productions and musical TV productions. She has also worked with major orchestras and ensembles abroad such as the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra and Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. From 2011 to 2013 she was assistant conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, a position never before appointed to a woman.

In this opinion essay, Halldis gives the reader insight into her perspectives on gender issues in conducting and suggests how we may create a positive change towards equality in the music industry.

The views and opinions expressed in this text are those of the authors.

This text was written in 2021.


“For a young artist, finding one’s identity and direction forward is an important process and in this process, role models play an important part. In my experience, there were almost only male role models, and this made me search deeply for certain aspects of the profession. From what to wear, to more substantial matters such as: how do I find a natural power, both physically and in presence in front of the orchestra. How does my natural body language correspond with the conducting technique I am learning?

These matters are important to all conductors regardless of gender. However, how we communicate through body language, words, and presence is also closely linked to our gender and personality. Role models play a significant role in education and recruitment, and since our profession has such a long patriarchal tradition, the increase in prominent female role models is essential on our path towards equality.”

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The Borealis Festival is a festival for experimental music based in Bergen, Norway. Borealis is committed to gender-balanced programming, and in 2017, the festival was awarded the first Gender Equality Prize from the Norwegian Society of Composers. Borealis 2018 featured a true 50% equal gender representation in both the composers and performing artists throughout the 28 scheduled events over the 5 days of the festival.

In this interview, Halldis Rønning and Peter Meanwell, artistic leader of the Borealis Festival, talk about why and how the festival made such a commitment and how it has worked for them. 

You can watch the interview here or go to the YouTube version of the video to be able to navigate using a content index.

The BIT20 Ensemble is a renowned contemporary music ensemble based in Bergen, Norway which aims for a 50-50 gender balance in all parts of their artistic production. The goal of full gender balance applies in all artistic planning. This means that conductors, soloists, hired actors and not least half of all music performed must be composed by women. At the same time, only 20 per cent of registered composers in Norway are women.

When announced in 2020, this commitment spiked discussion in the music community in Norway, as it was by some regarded as “a substitute motive for publicity”, or as “excessive and unnecessary use of quota.” Some still insinuate that quotas for women will mean a drop in quality.

In this interview, Halldis Rønning and Trond Madsen, the artistic leader of the BIT20 Ensemble, discuss the decision and how one may benefit from gender-balanced programming.

You can watch the interview here or go to the YouTube version of the video to be able to navigate using a content index.

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