WoCo (Women Conductors programme)
In a recent count, only two professional orchestras in the UK were led by women conductors, and nearly 90% of conductors in the UK were men. Those are some pretty uneven numbers. WoCo (Women Conductors Programme) is working to make them right.
Thanks to WoCo, established in 2014 by conductor Alice Farnham, more than 500 women conductors have had the chance to grow their skills, experience, and connections – putting them on the path to better opportunities.
In 2021, a new partnership between The Glasshouse, Royal Northern Sinfonia and the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) brought the next big female conducting talents from the UK and Ireland to the North East.
Starting with a two-day pilot at The Glasshouse, a cohort of seven brilliant women, Constança Simas, Charlotte Corderoy, Lada Valesova, Helen Harrison, Hannah von Wiehler, Rita Castro Blanco and Tess Jackson, stepped up to the podium for WoCo.
Over several two-day courses in our building between January 2022 and June 2023, they spent time working with the orchestra and getting a ton of feedback from the players. Coaching came from Alice, along with guidance in getting professional work. We’re proud to be playing a part in that.
For 2024/25, we say hello to five new conductors ready to make their mark on WoCo.
Josephine Korda, Michal Oren, Oi Ching Chan, Peggy Wu and Sinéad Hayes join the original group of Constança Simas, Charlotte Corderoy, Lada Valesova and Tess Jackson. As the programme grows, it’s still grounded in quality rehearsal time with Royal Northern Sinfonia and mentoring from Alice.
Meet the Conductors 2022/23
“I started conducting in the Bachelor of Orchestral Conducting in Lisbon in 2013, and I was amazed at the infinite possibilities to interpret orchestral music.
“It’s important that I create new ways of reaching diverse audiences, so while studying at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, I tried to produce shows that connected with everyone.
“In 2021, I conducted the Southbank Sinfonia and the Welsh National Opera orchestra. I was a part of the Young Women Opera Makers residency of the Festival Aix-en-Provence and a fellow of the Georgia Symphony Orchestra programme in Atlanta until July 2022.”
“My journey began as an undergraduate Organ Scholar. A love of people and a desire to understand how music fits into their lives drew me to conducting.
“At university, I won the Conducting Scholarship of Schola Cantorum, the university’s premier chamber choir. I was appointed Principal Conductor of the Oxford University Philharmonia and the Musical Director of the Oxford Contemporary Opera Society.
“After graduating, I spent a year working at Charterhouse School, as I’m especially passionate about working with young people. Recently, the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence invited me to participate in the Young Women Opera Makers residency.”
Hannah von Wiehler
“I was studying violin performance at Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Conservatory when a wrist injury forced me to step away from the violin in 2011.
“I chose to study languages and literature at Georgetown University. Through a bizarre turn of events, I became a personal assistant to one of the world’s greatest conductors, Valery Gergiev.
“I realised my injury was an opportunity: I needed to be a conductor. I moved to the UK to pursue a doctorate at Oxford while learning to conduct. Within 18 months of picking up a baton, I had a contract with a professional orchestra. I also founded an orchestra, which I continue to steer.”
“As a comprehensive school student brought up in Lancashire, music opened up life-changing possibilities.
“After reading Music at Cambridge University, where I conducted the College orchestra, I pursued a career in the corporate sector but didn’t feel true to myself.
“I accepted the role of Music Director of Young Sinfonia (Royal Northern Sinfonia’s youth orchestra) in 2022, and alongside guest conducting engagements, I am the Music Director for Blackpool Symphony Orchestra, Preston Opera and Lytham Choral Society.”
“I got bitten by the conducting bug after years of being a pianist, chamber music player, vocal coach, music director and educator. When the moment of ignition arrived, I set out to bring together my skills and experience to date and to channel them into conducting.
“Opera Holland Park [OHP] gave me my first assistantship in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta. I also debuted conducting in Le Nozze di Figaro with OHP Young Artists and the City of London Sinfonia.
“I’ve assisted in the production of Tosca at the Royal Opera House, with more opera-conducting engagements coming in the future.”
Rita Castro Blanco
There’s still so much I want to achieve, learn and share with other musicians on my journey to become a conductor.
“After completing my conservatoire studies as a violinist, I switched to the baton and completed a Bachelor’s degree in Orchestral Conducting at Academia Nacional Superior de Orquestra. I obtained a Master of Music in Performance degree from the Royal Northern College of Music.
“Recently, I have been developing my interest in opera and contemporary music, leading me to participating in the Women Conductor’s Mentorship at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and the Conducting Fellowship at the Lucerne Festival.”
“My musical journey started as a violinist and pianist, but I picked up a baton at school and quickly realised that that is where my passion lies.
“During my undergraduate degree at Cambridge University, I was Principal Conductor of the Cambridge University Sinfonia and the Cambridge Graduate Orchestra.
“To help bring opera to new audiences, I was Musical Director for the Cambridge University Opera Society’s [CUOS] production of The Last Hotel by Donnacha Dennehy: a contemporary multimedia opera and the first by a living professional composer to be staged by CUOS in 45 years.”
More from Helen Harrison
“Many women with a passion for music may never have considered becoming a conductor. If I can open up that idea for some of those women through my own work on the podium, I’ll be very happy.”