Académie Published on 12/04/2023
Women conductors' Master class - 2021 Académie du Festival d'Aix-en-Provence
© Vincent Beaume

Following the success of the first edition of the Mentorship for Women Conductors in 2021, the Académie du Festival d’Aix is once again extending an invitation in 2023 to mid-career women conductors who wish to develop and enrich their experience in opera. Adami has supported this program since its inception. Paul Briottet, Académie Deputy Director, and Anne Bouvier, Chair of Adami’s Board of Directors, discuss their commitment to supporting women conductors.

Adami has supported the Festival d’Aix for several years now; but recently, when renewing your support, you’ve decided to target the Mentorship for Women Conductors, a new residency of the Académie du Festival d'Aix launched in 2021. Why this change?

For a long time, Adami provided financial support to festivals. Today, things have changed, primarily for economic reasons. Ultimately, this has forced us to rethink our actions for these organisations and give new meaning to our support. Adami’s actions go beyond just financial support; and since we reformed our artistic actions, our goal has been primarily to promote our performing artists.

This restructuring has had positive consequences, since artists are now at the heart of your projects.

Anne Bouvier: That's exactly it. Adami is now focusing on the core of its missions — in other words, distributing rights and helping artists throughout their careers.

Paul Briottet: Performing artists are at the core of your missions. If they’re singers or instrumentalists, they’re represented by the Talents Adami Classique project. But what about women conductors?

A.B: Conductors are also performing artists. Before the Mentorship for Women Conductors at the Académie du Festival d’Aix, Adami hadn’t supported this profession for several years. So, Adami's support fulfils the need to represent this profession and its artists.

In addition, Adami and the Festival share the same values: the Festival with its two AFNOR labels, for Diversity and for Equality in the Workplace, for example, and Adami with its charter of values. For the past three or four years, Adami has been working on these specific issues; and obviously, we’re all concerned about the visibility of women — especially when we see that, globally, they only make up 12% of all conductors. Above all, by supporting the Académie’s Mentorship for Women Conductors, we’ve been able to meet the artists and better understand their needs and expectations, which allows us to assist them better in their careers.

P.B.: Indeed, the Mentorship for Women Conductors residency addresses a major issue in a sector where — in various ways — the representation of men and women is unbalanced. Beyond this mentorship, it’s actually the issue of women’s place in the opera and classical music sectors that unites Adami and the Festival d'Aix.

Seven years ago, the Académie, along with British stage director Katie Mitchell, designed and created a programme for Women Opera Makers, a residency that focuses on the main four artistic roles that make up the creative team of an opera: music creation, music direction, libretto writing, and stage direction.

This programme was created in response to the problem of inequality in the sector. It’s made it possible for tools to be developed for artists and for the institutions that host them, in order to implement a systematic strategy that promotes the programming of women artists in opera. In the first edition of this programme, we already had trouble recruiting women conductors, unlike for the three other professions. The low number of applications from women conductors has been an issue each year, demonstrating the specific problem of gender equality in this profession. The Mentorship for Women Conductors was created as a direct response to this observation and is its defining feature.

A.B.: We’ve also faced this issue of diversity in our Talents Adami Cinéma project. So we went to schools to talk about the topic and raise awareness of the project. It's the same thing for women conductors: to get a position as a conductor, you must already be familiar with this type of training programme. Educational and training institutions need to start getting that information out there.

P.B.: Many programmes now exist that advocate for women conductors: academies, competitions, springboard programmes... All of these, including the Mentorship of the Académie du Festival d’Aix, go through a selection process. However, once the artists have been selected, the Académie’s Mentorship programme differs from the others because it doesn’t try to place the conductors in competition with each other. Adami is the same way with its Talents Classique programme: we aim to provide individual support, and we steer away from the system of competition that dominates the sector, the common preconception that to make a name for yourself, you must win awards.

A.B.: Yes, it's important to show that artists can share knowledge and discuss ideas without being in competition. We all agree that going through the selection phase is necessary. But once that phase is over, it's good to transition into a more supportive and sharing atmosphere. In fact, Adami has recently established mentoring grants that apply to all sectors, not just to classical musical, in order to help artists broaden their areas of expertise and improve, through the guidance of experienced artists.

— What exactly is the Mentorship for Women Conductors?

A.B.: I would define this mentorship as a programme that provides support to two women conductors over an 18-month period, during which they have the opportunity to attend master classes, enjoy personal face time with conductors — like Thomas Hengelbrock of the Balthasar Neumann orchestra this year — make connections, improve their skills, and gain visibility on an international level.

P.B.: Exactly. What sets this programme apart is that it’s tailored to each participant. The decision to support only two women conductors this year [as opposed to three in 2021] is driven by the desire to focus on the individual. This allows us to listen better and be more responsive to the needs of each conductor. It’s the very essence of individualized career mentoring.

For 2023, I wanted to take the media exposure and promotion of these conductors to the next level, by using the main tool that the Festival has to offer: its appeal. This is why the two participating conductors have been programmed in July as part of the Festival d’Aix concert series. It’s the most prominent means of media exposure we have to offer. Today, the Festival provides them with a tremendous platform, an opportunity that is seldom seen at this stage of their career at a festival of this calibre.

The other thing that sets it apart, which was mentioned earlier, is the absence of any form of competition. By selecting two artists at an equivalent stage of their careers, but each with her own technical strengths, career path and personality, I wanted to create a space for direct dialogue between them. Lucie Legay and Anna Castro Grinstein will share the conducting of the same concert. We, along with the artistic direction of the Balthasar Neumann orchestra, agreed that the programme for this concert should be designed by them — they’ll have to respect certain constraints, but above all, they each need to highlight the repertoire they’ve chosen to defend, yet remain dramatically aware of the programme as a whole. While still highlighting their own artistic identities, they’ll be presenting an authentic Festival evening, taking turns with the baton and fostering a climate of sisterhood and non-competition.

A.B.: It’s wonderful that there’s this concert this year and that they can structure the programme in this way. I hope it’ll open up prospects in other areas, because this way of acting and thinking is very new in our type of field.

P.B.: Yes, absolutely. The Académie strives to break down this way of operating and thinking by trying to support the artists better. The collective spirit, even if it’s just two people, is vital to the message we want to convey.

As you said, and rightly so: the Mentorship for Women Conductors programme is a long-term initiative. It begins with the selection of the artists; and then, at an initial meeting with all of the stakeholders of the residency present, we answer the participants’ questions about the programming and try to understand their expectations. So at that moment, a space for dialogue is opened between the two of them and between them and the Académie, and it continues into the summer. It’s all done through a sharing of skills: the Académie’s advice and approach to active listening are tailored to their sensibilities and personalities.

Coming back to the media exposure — which makes this mentorship programme unique — what importance does Adami attach to this event?

A.B.: After asking the artists about their needs, it became clear that we had to set up workshops to support the artists and various structures in order to optimise their online visibility. We also arranged for financial support to help create digital content. The Mentorship for Women Conductors programme therefore recognizes the need to improve media exposure and international outreach, just as we do.

P.B.: Indeed, the Festival and Adami complement each other rather well in this regard. Aix is a major international market for opera. This creates opportunities for the two women, who need to develop their international reputations, meet new people and build their networks.

The workshops and financial support that Adami has implemented complement the Festival's contribution in terms of networking opportunities, media exposure and artistic advice. Having Adami as one of our partners in this program is important because it reinforces our support, it makes Adami’s direct support all the more valuable, and thus strengthen the skills they may need to develop their career in opera.

A.B.: And Adami backs us up in our ongoing support, to help the women develop their own personal projects and their online communication, not to mention by providing financial aid. We’re also preparing these conductors for the future: the Académie d’Aix is a bit like an incubator for the artists of tomorrow, isn’t it?

P.B.: Exactly. This summer, we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Académie, which was created at the initiative of Stéphane Lissner and under the impetus of Pierre Boulez in order to make Aix a space for new generations of artists. Aix has always seen itself as a place where artists’ careers can begin to flourish and their reputations begin to spread. The creation of the Académie twenty-five years ago was driven by a desire to maintain this momentum and incorporate it into a specific programme. For several years, the Académie was seen as a showcase for young talent. This notion of ‘showcasing talent’ has slowly evolved over time, and any idea of competition it may have once held has been completely deconstructed.

Today, the Académie welcomes many established artists, but who come from a great diversity of professions and backgrounds. It strives to be increasingly more open, and to complement other academies and springboard programmes that already exist in their field.

A.B.: Your audiences are truly curious. That’s what’s so beautiful. It’s wonderful when you can help people discover new artists. Being able to work at two levels at the same time — through both tradition and innovation — is marvellous.

P.B.: The meeting of tradition and innovation, made possible thanks to this curiosity that resides within the audience itself — and within those of us on the programming side as well — perfectly embodies the spirit of the Festival. The Festival is an event to which we devote ourselves day and night: we wake up early, go to bed late, and see many things during the day. We have a hunger to see things we would never have gone to see otherwise. And it’s also why the Académie is so relevant and has its rightful place.

What lies ahead for the Académie over the next 25 years?

P.B.: For the artists at the Académie who come from different disciplines, we want to develop the opportunities for them to meet and discuss. This can be achieved by extending the lengths of residencies, for example, and organizing more collective work or research sessions. I’d also like for opera makers to have more visibility in July. The Women Opera Makers workshops, launched in 2021 and held during the Festival’s Professional Days, are one way to do this, but we plan to explore other avenues as well.

Increasing opportunities and places to meet and discuss is also a way of fostering cohesion within the same generation of artists [ages 25 to 40]. It's about creating an intergenerational network, which already exists, but doing it in a more creative way.

A.B.: Adami is also working on various crossovers, on the connections between different aesthetics. We’re the only performance rights organisation to manage such a diversity of aesthetics. This is a strength we need to take more advantage of: to create interdisciplinary connections, crossovers, and networks of mutual assistance. We need to put collective interactions back at the heart of music, which is a space for dialogue and no longer just for competition and prestige.

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