Posted on September 20, 2021

Buffalo Philharmonic: No White or Asian Conductors Need Apply

David Thomas, National Review, September 19, 2021


{snip} Wracked with guilt over racial exclusion in classical music in the distant past, many are adopting the strategy of redressing old racism with new racism. {snip}

One such example has been the attack on the “blind audition” process. In blind auditions, orchestras evaluate prospective players by listening to them behind a screen, allowing the judges to select musicians without respect to race, gender, or other nonmusical characteristics. Recently, this audition innovation — which was widely credited with reducing gender bias in orchestra hiring — has come under attack at some of the nation’s top orchestras, on the grounds that it has resulted in the hiring of too few non-Asian musicians of color.

Equally dangerous — and less discussed — is mounting discrimination in the employment of artistic leaders. This is occurring not just during candidate selection but as early as the job-posting phase. It is evident in most conducting postings, particularly for assistant-conductor positions (i.e., the first leg up the ladder for young conductors), which now contain some variation of the phrase: “Members of underrepresented groups in classical music, particularly members of [racial group x, y, z], are encouraged to apply.”

Orchestras for which such language is not exclusionary enough have turned to the use of “fellowships” — preprofessional apprenticeship or mentorship opportunities earmarked for certain racial or gender groups, particularly women or minorities. By describing these opportunities as “fellowships,” not jobs, they are able to circumvent antidiscrimination laws. But orchestras are now extending this strategy to include traditional jobs, as well.

Perhaps the most egregious example yet comes in the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s (BPO) recently announced posting for a “Conductor Diversity Fellow,” a position whose responsibilities — if one reads the job description carefully — are virtually identical to those of an assistant conductor in peer orchestras, but for one key difference: that the posting explicitly solicits applications only from those who “self-identify as members of historically underrepresented groups in American orchestras, including but not limited to African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander descent.”

Two major races are conspicuously left off that list of “underrepresented groups,” and the subtext is clear: No whites or Asians need apply.

{snip} It also might be the first to clearly contravene federal equal-employment-opportunity rules, which state that no job posting can discourage an applicant to apply because of his or her race. But without any apparent backlash forthcoming from orchestra members, board members, or audiences, this is unlikely to be the last.