The Conductor Paving the Way For Young Virtuosoi

If you can't see it, you can't be it.

The 'driving force' behind women in music. 

The National Concert Hall’s most ambitious and diverse programme to date celebrating innovation, excellence and collaboration has kicked off with quite an impressive repertoire. 

Ranging from Grammy® award-winning mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato to Ye Vagabonds, those in charge of compiling the line-up ensured only the best of the best were to perform. 

Among those is English conductor Alice Farnham, a former Oxford organ scholar and organ fellow at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York.

She studied conducting at the St Petersburg State Conservatory with Ilya Musin and Leonid Korchmar and went on to become one of the most sought after conductors of our time.

To date, her ballet engagements include Swan Lake, Beauty and the Beast and Serenade (Birmingham Royal Ballet), The Nutcracker, Alice in Wonderland and Giselle (Danish Royal Ballet and Slovenia National Theatre) among many others. 

What's remarkable is that Farnham, as a young instrumentalist, found her path by total accident. 

"I was studying as an organist and had to conduct as part of my job at university. I didn't want to do it originally but I ended up enjoying it more than anything else! It really felt more me than anything I'd studied before."

It is due to this very unsuspecting nature, that she now encourages young musicians to explore every aspect of musicality. 

Passionate about training the next generation, Alice is co-founder and Artistic Director of Women Conductors with the Royal Philharmonic Society – a ground-breaking program to encourage women into conducting. She is also Artistic Director of the National Concert Hall Female Conductor Programme.

The 10-month programme, supported by Grant Thornton, is “designed to coach, mentor, encourage and promote talented female conductors at the outset of their careers”.

Through this, she will guide six participants through the new programme, which will culminate in a final concert with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra.

"What I wanted to do with these courses is just to alert talented female musicians that they could become conductors. It just doesn’t enter many women's minds that conducting is an option for them. The biggest block is a lack of role models.

"One of the problems is that when a woman does get a good position, everyone talks about it a lot, which makes people think: "Oh there are loads of women out there". But the reality is, women are still very much a minority."

Farnham is a former Music Director of the Welsh National Youth Opera. She is also a guest teacher at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and is Music Director of Cumbria Youth Orchestra.

Her career boasts a number of large-scale community productions including touring Hans Krasa’s Brundibar for Mahogany Opera, David Bedford’s Titanic at the Sands Carlisle, Richard Barnard's A Perfect World for Welsh National Opera, and Martin Reed’s Round-about-Basingstoke at the Anvil Basingstoke.

However, London-based Alice's career highlights range much closer to home.

"One of the best ones for me was conducting at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. I rarely get to work at home but when I do it's really special. Also, when I returned to the Mariinsky Theatre St Petersburg – where I trained – to perform professionally. That was really great."

For Alice, it's the perpetual upskilling of conducting that she finds most alluring, referencing the "constant development over time" as something that keeps her thriving. 

"I think it's the fact that [conducting] is a continual challenge every day – that it requires so many different skills to be used simultaneously. You have to be a really good musician, a great communicator and boast musical maturity all in one."

With a musical resumé that most would kill for, what else could one of classical music's busiest women possibly be working towards? Her Canadian debut, naturally. 

"Next for me is a lot of work in Cardiff and finally some work in Guildhall (The Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London) - closer to home, thankfully. Then I'll be playing in Canada for the first time in 2020, something I'm really looking forward to."

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