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As Josephine Korda is set to lead an Opera North orchestra next month in Leeds, she discusses why preconceptions about female conductors are still held by musicians and audiences

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By the time Josephine Korda’s primary school peers were fumbling their way through Three Blind Mice on the recorder, she was already proficient on piano and trumpet.

“I was really inspired by listening to jazzers like Louis Armstrong and Chet Baker,” she says of her seven-year-old self. “But soon I fell in love with playing classical trumpet and playing in orchestras.”

Growing up in a family of keen amateur musicians, Korda was surrounded by classical music. By 17 she had become principal trumpet of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra and found responsibility in leading the section through orchestral masterpieces.

“This was a really exciting opportunity. I loved collaborating with other musicians and at the same time being able to add my own sound into the orchestral soundscape. It was also at this age that I conducted the opera Die Fledermaus, and found that this is what I wanted to do with my life.”

Now 26, London-born Korda has an impressive list of conducting studies, achievements and awards behind her that have taken her across Europe, and she is well on her way to her ambition to conduct world-class orchestras and opera companies. Next month she will conduct the brass and percussion of the Opera North Youth Orchestra, as a prelude to the Orchestra and Youth Chorus’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, at the Great Hall of Leeds University.

The concert is the culmination of her female conductor traineeship for Opera North – a coveted intensive nine-week scheme at the Leeds-based company.

“I’m really looking forward to working with these talented young musicians,” she says. “I joined Opera North in December, and have been part of the rehearsal process of its three operas this season. I’ve had the fantastic opportunity of conducting the Orchestra of Opera North in masterclasses, and have received coaching every week with the in-house and guest conductors. More recently I’ve been conducting cover rehearsals of the operas, working with the repetiteurs and cover-cast singers.”

Korda has completed the course alongside her master’s studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, having done her undergraduate degree at Oxford, where she created the Occasional Orchestra and commissioned new works from choreographer Charlotte Edmonds to enhance its symphonic repertoire with performance art. She has also studied at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris and the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Switzerland.

“The strong sense of community that I have found in the cultural scene in the North of England compares really favourably with the other musical epicentres that I have lived and studied in,” says Korda.

“The cities of the North are home to some world-class orchestras including Opera North, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the BBC Philharmonic, and these ensembles perform outstanding concerts not only in their local areas but also do impressive touring work.

“In my experience the North of England has also created a very accessible scene for classical music in particular, and these world-class artists and companies also provide many opportunities for young artists… Culturally speaking, the North makes a huge contribution to the country as a whole.”

The annual Opera North traineeship is the company’s attempt to address the gender imbalance in classical music – on the podium in particular. Although Korda feels there are many opportunities for young female conductors gender imbalance among conductors of world-class orchestras is still very much an issue.

“The myth of the female conductor remains among audience members and professional musicians alike,” she says. “I find it is still something the audience can be transfixed by – the image of a woman on the podium.”

But schemes and competitions are doing a lot to address the disparity, and the idea of the female conductor is gradually becoming the norm, she says.

In opera, Korda was assistant conductor at the Opera de Massy in Paris in 2020-21 and musical director for Fréderique Lombart’s Féminin-Masculin.

“Feminin-Masculin is a production that takes scenes and arias from various operas, and incorporates them with Frédérique Lombart’s script to explore LGBTQ rights, and provide a history of gender and sexuality through the use of art for school audiences around Paris,” Korda explains.

“These scenes generally incorporated trouser-roles [the operatic term for a male role written to be performed by a woman], comic scenarios between men and women, and relationships between blurred genders.

“Many of the wonderful operas in the canon were written by male composers, male librettists and are often derived from novels written by male writers. And yet most of these operas feature a heroine who is the focal point of the storyline.

“These female characters are naturally a man’s vision of what it is to be a woman, subject to the male gaze, so it’s important that we counterbalance this with a female presence in modern-day creative teams. And we need to continue to commission new opera that reflects the values and predicaments of our own time.”

Korda is also a composer and founded the Paris Sinfonia, with whom she conducts concerts featuring contemporary music. Promoting the music of living composers is a passion.

“It is vital for our industry to perform contemporary music alongside traditional masterpieces as much as we can, so that we develop new sounds that can be explored and enjoyed by future audiences.”

Korda will conduct the brass and percussion of the Opera North Youth Orchestra as a prelude to the Orchestra and Youth Chorus’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, at the Great Hall, Leeds University on 5 March (

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