National Concert Hall Female Conductor Programme 

In association with the National Symphony Orchestra and funded by Grant Thornton

The Finale of the National Concert Hall Female Conductor Programme was recently held in the NCH on 31 January 2022. This programme was something that we at IAYO felt was brilliant and wonderfully encouraging to the orchestra community and network. We wanted to, with thanks to the National Concert Hall, National Symphony Orchestra and Grant Thornton, bring you some more information on the programme, its finale performance and some feedback from a participant.

Pictured are nine of the twelve participants of the National Concert Hall and Grant Thornton Female Conductor Programme – Siobhan O’Donnell, Emily Cox, Mary Walsh, Dara Pender, Celine Leong, Margaret Bridge, Siofra Ni Dhubhghaill, Muireann Ni Dhubhghaill and Aine Gell. Photo: Mark Stedman

Supported by Grant Thornton, the NCH Female Conductor Programme was devised in 2017 to address gender inequality on the conducting podium, one of the most enduring glass ceilings for women in the world of classical music. The overall aim of the programme is to take steps in redressing this imbalance in orchestral conducting through this innovative programme designed to coach, mentor, encourage and promote talented women musicians at the outset of their conducting careers.

During this iteration of the programme, Artistic Director Alice Farnham had guided the participants through the last 20 months in a series of masterclasses and tutorials, both in-person and online, enabling the promising conductors to develop and hone their skills despite a crushing pandemic. There were also contributions from American conductor Marin Alsop, David Brophy and Éimear Noone covering topics such as leadership, conducting technique, interpretation, practice, and the power of music to effect social change.

The participants also benefited from an extensive programme of leadership and professional development workshops delivered by programme partner Grant Thornton.

The finale performance explored Haydn’s Symphony 104 and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings with the National Symphony Orchestra, raising the curtain on the workings of conductors and orchestras in preparing for a performance.

Participant conducting at the Finale of the NCH Female Conductor Programme. Photo by Mark Stedman.

We recognised many of the names who were taking part in the programme as they had previously taken part in IAYO activities. We reached out to one such participant, Meadhbh Campbell to find out about her experience and whether her youth orchestra participation had played a part in her choice to apply to take part.

“As a child studying the cello in the Cork School of Music, playing in orchestras was the highlight of my week and an integral part of my musical development. When I joined the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland and began to play under so many respected conductors, it dawned on me that where I might best like to be was up on the podium. I also received fantastic training in NYOI which has given me a better insight into the players’ view of the conductor.

The NCH Female Conductor Programme has been an immensely valuable experience for me, not only in developing my technical skills as a conductor but in my development as a musician. I have gained a wonderful group of friends and colleagues, and fantastic training from our tutors. The seminars and workshops led by Grant Thornton have helped with my personal and professional development and have been a great support in navigating the world of freelance work for musicians.

Though the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted our schedule, we were fortunate to be able to continue online and with the support of Grant Thornton the programme was extended. Holding our sessions online also enabled us to access international workshops and seminars, including one with Marin Alsop. I look back very fondly on my time in the conducting programme as well as the steps that brought me to it. I’m sure the programme will continue to grow from strength to strength and I look forward to maintaining the strong connections I’ve made far into the future.”

We would like to thank the NCH, National Symphony Orchestra and funders Grant Thornton for running such a great programme. We also want to thank the NCH for supplying us with much of the information featured in this article.

You can find out more about the NCH Female Conductor Programme and meet more of the participants at