Orchestra Iowa has appointed a new principal violinist, Dawn Gingrich, and it's international news. British author Norman Lebrecht mentioned it on his widely read blog Slipped Disc with the headline "Iowa Gets a Woman Concertmaster." But Brian Hughes of the Quad City Wind Ensemble and Tri-State Wind Symphony notes that the headline could be misread. A reader might take it to suggest an unprecedented development, yet three Iowa orchestras already have a woman concertmaster (principal violinist).
The concertmaster is sometimes described as "first among equals" in an orchestra and second in command only to the conductor. Mr. Lebrecht is right that appointments of women as concertmasters (see his useful list) are newsworthy because the majority are men. As I documented last year, top American orchestras now have gender parity in their violin sections but not in the position of concertmaster. I argued that a likely reason is seniority: these sections reached balance only in recent decades, but concertmasters tend to have years of experience and to stay put for decades. If seniority is the reason, we can expect parity to emerge as veteran concertmasters retire and their replacements come from what is now a balanced pool. Perhaps the appointment of Ms. Gingrich illustrates that trend, then, and if so, Mr. Lebrecht is right that it's worth celebrating. But Dr. Hughes is also right when he says that it's far from new in Iowa.
If anything, it's normal here. If I'm counting correctly, Orchestra Iowa is the fourth of our major orchestras to appoint a woman as concertmaster. In alphabetical order, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra's concertmaster is Caroline Curtis, the Quad City Symphony's is Naha Greenholtz, and the wcfsymphony's is Anita Tucker. So Ms. Gingrich is part of a distinguished club.
We're looking forward to her joining. Orchestra Iowa's music director Timothy Hankewich says in the announcement, “Ms. Gingrich has the experience, skill set and personality to make a great concertmaster for our musicians and an outstanding representative to the community" - and her CV is indeed impressive, as is her playing on her first CD, which she recorded with her dad, Daniel Gingrich, a principal horn player in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (sample or buy it here). Ms. Gingrich's arrival is more evidence that Iowa a great state for classical music, and that our orchestras lean forward. Welcome and congratulations!