For June 2016’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Ruth Reinhardt. A graduate of Juilliard’s Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting Program, Ruth was recently named Assistant Conductor with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and is the current Conducting Fellow with the Seattle Symphony for the 2015-2016 season. Ruth began her musical education at the age of six studying the violin in her hometown of Saarbrücken, Germany. In 2004, she began taking private conducting lessons which brought her to the Zurich University of the Arts, Leipzig University of the Arts, Tanglewood Music Center, and the Juilliard School.
You began your musical education studying violin, and you also have instrumental training in oboe and piano. What made you decide to focus on conducting rather than instrumental performance?
Actually it was entirely by coincidence. I loved performing (chamber music and in orchestras), but I always wanted to know more than just my own part. I composed too, so I wanted to understand why certain places sounded so incredible and how a composer could communicate all these feelings. Also it always troubled me when I was young and playing in my quartet, that we would all have many ideas and even though they were all valid, they didn’t fit together and didn’t create one coherent concept.
Somehow I never made the conclusion that maybe conducting might the thing I’m looking for. Then once I caught a bad cold during an orchestra project and couldn’t play oboe for a day, so the conductor asked (more as a joke) if instead I wanted to conduct. I did and suddenly the world opened up that I’d been looking for.
You have done a considerable amount of community engagement work including acting as a teaching fellow for Juilliard’s Music Advancement Program (MAP) as well as composing and conducting children’s operas in Germany and Switzerland. What do you like most about working as a teaching artist to children? What is the greatest challenge?
I believe that for all of us there was this one moment in our early life when we started being obsessed about music, somehow feeling how “big” it is and is what it can give us. For me this was when I got to be as a 9-year old on stage, performing in Verdi’s Otello in the children’s choir.
So, I somehow want to give this spark to as many young people as possible. I don’t think they have to become musicians but I would love if they got a glimpse of how great our art form is.
While earning your Master of Music degree in Conducting at the Juilliard School, you studied with the world renowned conductor and New York Philharmonic music director, Alan Gilbert. What was that experience like? What is the most important lesson you learned from Mr. Gilbert when you were under his tutelage?
It was really wonderful studying with Alan Gilbert – he’s just the best! He always challenged us a lot, in different ways, from the amount of repertoire to throwing many things at us, but somehow he always gave me the feeling he knew I could do it, that I just had to find the right button. His incredibly subtle rhythmic awareness and how to find a connection to the sound of an orchestra with our hands. That’s really the Holy Grail of conducting; how to change the sound of an orchestra just with out hands alone.
Can you describe your experience as the conducting fellow with the Seattle Symphony?
My experience in Seattle was very great, though it does rain a lot! The orchestra is a ideal mix of being very very good and exceedingly musical and at the same time very open minded and easy to work with. They were very supportive, which isn’t always the case with orchestras and young conductors. In general in the whole organisation there is a very positive atmosphere, so I absolutely loved my time there.
As you are aware, there is a disproportionate number of male conductors to female conductors. A list compiled by Bachtrack.com at the end of 2014, stated that of the world’s top 150 conductors, only five were women. Why do you think this is?
Firstly I think that now there are many young female conductors but as it takes at least thirty years for a conductor to “ripen/mature”, we’ll only see them in “top conductors statistics” in some decades.
More importantly though, I believe that there are so few top female conductors because there were (and in some places still are) so many “gate keepers”, who made it very hard for women to get through. Those could mean being accepted into programs, being shortlisted for auditions etc. Unfortunately even at Juilliard there wasn’t always such a supportive environment for women conductors – Marin Alsop told me she was never accepted on the conducting programme here, despite auditioning a number of times and having the backing of Bernstein…
In a controversial 2013 interview with the French radio station, France Musique, the director of the Paris Conservatory, Bruno Mantovani, stated that the lack of top female conductors was due to the profession being too demanding for women. To quote, Mantovani said “the profession of a conductor is a profession that is particularly physically testing, sometimes women are discouraged by the very physical aspect – conducting, taking a plane, taking another plane, conducting again. It is quite challenging.” How would you respond to this comment or others like it?
In a time where women work as astronauts, in the army and in the fire service this statement is so ridiculous that it doesn’t even deserve to be answered. I think this statement reveals more about Mantovani than about his subject.
What advice would you give to young women interested in pursuing a career as a conductor?
If you HAVE to do it, then just do it! I would give the same advice I give to any young conductor regardless of gender: there are tons of reasons people will give you why you can’t be a conductor, from that you have the wrong family background to your physique. But if you want to be a conductor badly enough, and are willing to take the risk of not having a super successful career, then you do it. But if you can imagine doing something else with your life then you might be better off with that.
This interview series is called Eye on Culture, so let’s discuss culture. You were born and raised in Germany and prior to coming to NYC, you studied/worked in Switzerland and the Czech Republic. Did you experience any “culture shock” when you moved to New York after living/working in three different countries? If so, in what ways?
To be honest, I can’t really remember since when I got to New York I was immediately so busy that there wasn’t much room to think of anything else! I would say though that it took time to get used to the pace of the city, with everything happening so fast and the city never being at rest. It is hard to allow oneself some rest if the surrounding never stops.
After acclimating to New York life, did you experience culture shock again when you moved to Seattle? If so, what surprised you most about the culture of the northwest United States compared to the northeast?
Luckily I didn’t feel a culture shock at all when going to Seattle, but I was surprised by how calm and laid back it felt after NYC.
When you are not focused on your career, what do you like to do for fun? Do you have any hobbies outside of music?
I really love mountain sports, hiking, skiing, and I love to travel and get to know different places and cultures. But mostly I love having some time with my partner, James (also a conductor!), being at home in Berlin, cooking nice meals and playing pool.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?
Hard question! Ten years ago I could have exactly told you where I want to be in five, ten, twenty years, but now I realised that despite one has a plan, life takes you always down another route (usually a good one!), so I don’t have so clear plans anymore. I’m lucky that I get to make music with some wonderful people – I hope to be doing that for many decades yet!