“Music only speaks one language…”
A hundred years ago, a woman interested in classical music performance but were expected to choose instruments like the guitar, the lute, the harp, or a keyboard instrument that emitted soft, delicate, sounds and allowed them to appear attractive and graceful while playing.
That was then.
Today, women are breaking through gender barriers proving they are strong enough to perform not only as superb instrumentalists, but conductors of symphony orchestra.
Jeri Lynne Johnson, the 2006 Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship (TCCF), recently passed the baton to her successor, Rei Hotoda, during an exclusive reception in Philadelphia at the Penthouse at the Residences at Two Liberty Place.
Radnor Trust chairman Jerry Johnson, and his wife Rae, were visibly beaming during their daughter’s welcoming comments to the nearly 100 area community leaders and noted members of the financial and classical music world who had gathered to celebrate the younger Johnson’s burgeoning career as a conductor. Johnson was composed until she mentioned her husband, Ian, with whom she shares a bi-coastal relationship.
“I am overwhelmed by the generosity and the support I’ve received,” said Johnson. “Because it is a difficult road to become a conductor, as you all well know.”
TCCF was founded Maestra Marin Alsop in 2002 to assist young women who want to pursue careers as conductors of major symphony orchestras. As a winner of the fellowship, Johnson worked with Alsop in coaching sessions, rehearsals and performance sessions with symphony orchestra worldwide. In her last act as a TCCF, Johnson introduced Alsop along with the program’s financial sponsor Tomio Taki.
“This fellowship is about enabling young women who have the talent,” said Alsop, the first woman conductor of a British and major American orchestras.
“This is something that is dear to my heart because one of the issue with women, whether it’s in conducting or any kind of leadership, is it shouldn’t be about gender,” continued Alsop. “It should be about having access and opportunity and that should be open to every single person regardless of gender or anything. My goal through this fellowship is to create opportunities because to be a conductor you can’t actually try it until you try it.”
Taki, a longtime fashion apparel executive, pledged to continue to nurture the aspirations of women conductors. “Everybody think that a woman conductor is a novelty item, and I say ‘No, this shouldn’t be a novelty thing,’” intoned Taki. “Man, woman, the color of people or language doesn’t make no difference. Music only speaks one language.”
The stylish reception also marked the debut presentation of newly opened residences on the top 20 floors of Two Liberty Place, one of Philadelphia’s best known sky scrapers.
“What’s interesting tonight is the fine arts meets the fine art of a wonderful, spectacular, one-of-a-kind building,” said the project’s developer Arthur Falcone.
Alsop, recently appointed musical director of the Baltimore Symphony, had arrived in Philadelphia mere hours after a mid-day performance in Pittsburgh. Hotoda, however, was unable to attend the reception because she was performing in her duties as the newly appointed Assistant Conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and sent her regards via satellite.
Johnson began conducting while working toward a Master of Music degree in late Romantic/ early Modern music theory and history at the University of Chicago. In February 2002, Johnson made her debut in The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Johnson is currently creating and conducting new artistic collaborative projects with composers, artists, inventors and musicians for Philadelphia based “Arts in Motion”.
Philadelphians will have a chance to witness history in the making when Johnson joins Alsop during an upcoming January 2007 performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra.