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U.S. Orchestras Gradually Diversify but Are Slow to Hire Black Musicians

Since the nationwide protests over social injustice in 2020, orchestras have accelerated efforts to promote inclusivity. They have programmed more works by women and people of color, trying to broaden their appeal beyond a canon of music traditionally dominated by white, male composers. And they have hired more staff members from underrepresented groups (people of color now make up about 23 percent of orchestra staff, up from about 15 percent a decade earlier, the report found).

Arts leaders have focused in recent years on building the pipeline of talent at conservatories, expanding access to youth orchestra programs and providing financial assistance, coaching and other resources to musicians of color taking part in auditions through a program called the National Alliance for Audition Support, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. (Players typically must pay their own way to travel to auditions, where hundreds of applicants sometimes compete for one position.) There are signs that some of those efforts are beginning to bear fruit: Since 2018, about 150 Black and Latino musicians have won auditions at American orchestras with the help of the alliance.

Afa Dworkin, the president and artistic director of the Sphinx Organization, which helps manage the audition-support program, in collaboration with the league and the New World Symphony in Miami, said that the report had made clear that the industry needed to redouble efforts to support minority musicians and to eliminate bias in hiring.

“There’s really not a shortage of talent,” she said. “There are ranks and ranks of Black and Hispanic musicians who certainly are ready to perform as part of major American orchestras. And we’re not engaging nearly enough of them yet.”

The conducting field grew more diverse, including among music directors and assistant conductors. People of color now make up 32 percent of those positions, up from 16 percent a decade earlier. Jonathon Heyward will become the first Black music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra this fall, and was recently named the next music director of Lincoln Center’s summer orchestra. The star maestro Gustavo Dudamel, who was born in Venezuela, will become the first Hispanic leader of the New York Philharmonic when he takes over as music and artistic director in 2026.

Women also made gains on the podium: About 24 percent of conductors are now women, the report said, nearly double the share in 2013-14. Still, they continue to be severely underrepresented in music director posts at top-tier orchestras; among the 25 largest ensembles, there is only one woman, Nathalie Stutzmann, who leads the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

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