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Conductors  
 
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Unable to reconcile them with his desire to be heterosexual, he remained committed to Montaleagre for most of his life, even as he pursued relationships with men. He remained conflicted over his homosexuality throughout his life.

If Bernstein's response to his sexuality was different from his one-time mentor Copland, so, too, was his conducting career. Known for his dramatic presence in front of the orchestra, he was undeniably the most successful American conductor of the twentieth century, despite the belief of critics that his style was overly extravagant.

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Bernstein's accomplishments were many. In succeeding Mitropoulos as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958, he became the first American-born conductor to lead one of the premier orchestras of the United States. Scholars credit him, along with other American composers and conductors, including Copland, with transforming classical music by creating a distinctly American idiom within a musical tradition that had been up to that time largely dominated by Europeans.

After assuming his role at the New York Philharmonic, he also used his position as conductor to create innovative musical programs that emphasized the conductor's role as teacher. His mission, as he put it, was primarily educational. His televised series of Young People's Concerts was a landmark in bringing music appreciation to the masses. The recipient of numerous national music awards, he also recorded prodigiously and reached a level of popularity and cultural visibility unprecedented for an American conductor.

Thomas Schippers (1930-1977) also had a distinguished career before his untimely death at the age of 47. Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, he reportedly began studying piano at the age of four. At age 20, he made his Broadway debut conducting Gian Carlo Menotti's opera The Consul. At 21, he became the youngest conductor to appear at the New York City Opera, and at age 25 he became the second youngest conductor to debut at the Metropolitan Opera.

In 1958, Schippers conducted the open air concerts at the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds, founded by his mentor Menotti. He also conducted the ill-fated premiere of Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra (1966), written to celebrate the opening of the Metropolitan Opera's new home in Lincoln Center. In 1970, he became conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, a position he held until his death in 1977 of lung cancer.

Talented, stylish, youthful, and handsome, Schippers attracted admirers of both sexes. Although he married in 1965, he reportedly maintained a long relationship with Menotti.

The Overlooked History of Lesbian Conducting

Even though the history of conducting is almost entirely a history of a male-dominated profession, there is also a history of lesbian conducting. In medieval and early modern Europe, convents were central sites of music making for women. In these same-sex institutions, women were responsible for all aspects of music, and from this rich history, scholars have identified female musical directors who were likely involved in sexual relationships with other women.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Madalena Casulana (ca 1540-ca 1590), Francesca Caccini (1587-1641?), and Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704) are examples of women who composed and probably conducted works that invite lesbian interpretation and suggest the sexual interests of their composers.

The most prominent lesbian composer-conductor in Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944). Best known for her compositions, especially in opera, she also conducted occasionally. Most of the critical work thus far on Smyth that considers her lesbianism relates it to her compositions rather than to her conducting. In addition to living openly as a lesbian, she was also actively involved in the British suffrage movement and served a short sentence in prison for her radicalism.

Dutch Jewish lesbian Frieda Belinfante (1905-1995) was another pioneer. In Amsterdam, just prior to World War II, she became the first woman to conduct her own orchestra. Belinfante began her musical career as a cellist, but the onset of the war postponed her career.

Active in the Dutch resistance and in helping other Jews escape the Netherlands, she was forced to flee after she participated in the attack on the Amsterdam population registry in 1943. After the war, she emigrated to the United States and settled in Orange County, California, where she founded and conducted the Orange County Philharmonic Orchestra.

Openly Gay Conductors

In the last twenty-five years, a few openly gay and lesbian conductors have been able to crack open the conducting closet and use their authority and experience to bolster the gay community and transform the heterosexism of the world of classical music.

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