Members of the horn section of the Curtis Symphony Orchestra. Photo from Overtones, Curtis Institute of Music.

In the summer issue of Overtones, the Curtis Institute of Music’s alumni magazine, Heidi Waleson writes, “In November 2022 … for the first time ever, the New York Philharmonic’s roster had more female than male players—45 to 44. It was a significant statistic, given the fact that U.S. symphony orchestras were entirely or predominantly male through most of the 20th century. However, while overall membership in U.S. orchestras now approaches 50-50 for male and female players, that number conceals disparities … Principal chairs are disproportionately held by men…. Female concertmasters are rare….  These statistics are surprising given the fact that orchestra hiring is thought to be entirely merit-based. Certainly, the widespread adoption of screened auditions in the 1970s in the U.S. corresponded with a considerable jump in the number of women hired overall: According to a 2023 report from the League of American Orchestras, women went from representing 38 percent of musicians in U.S. orchestras in 1978 to 47 percent in 2022…. So why are there still so few women in principal jobs? Part of the equation is the vagaries of the so-called ‘blind’ audition. ‘A lot of orchestras, perhaps most, have screens in auditions, but a lot do not keep the screen up all the way until the offer is made,’ explains Caen Thomason-Redus, vice president of inclusion and learning at the League of American Orchestras…. ‘When we have empirical information, we will see that there is more subjectivity than is acknowledged.’ ” The article quotes women musicians at U.S. orchestras, among them Katherine Needleman, principal oboe of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Rebecca Cherian, former co-principal trombone at the Pittsburgh Symphony, as well as women who are researching the topic.