Israeli conductor Bar Avni wins women’s international competition in Paris

32-year-old beats out 197 competitors from 47 countries to earn the title of ‘La Maestra 2024’

Israeli conductor Bar Avni poses during a photo session at the Philharmonie in Paris on March 18, 2024. (Stephane De Sakutin/AFP)
Israeli conductor Bar Avni poses during a photo session at the Philharmonie in Paris on March 18, 2024. (Stephane De Sakutin/AFP)

PARIS — Israeli orchestral conductor Bar Avni, 34, ended an international women’s conductor contest on a victorious note in the French capital on Sunday, beating out 197 candidates from 47 countries to earn the prestigious title of “La Maestra 2024.”

The contest was inaugurated in 2019 by the Philharmonie de Paris and the Paris Mozart Orchestra. It is open to all ages, and 14 women conductors were selected from across the world to be formal contestants at the final stages, screened live on Arte TV.

According to the Violin Channel website, Avni’s first place came with a €20,000 ($21,700) prize. The website states that Avni “also received the competition’s French Concert halls and Orchestras Prize, the ARTE Prize, the €2,500 Paris Mozart Orchestra Prize, and the ECHO Prize, which was awarded by representatives of the European Concert Hall Organization (ECHO).”

Only about six percent of leading orchestras in Europe had a woman as chief conductor in 2020, while in the United States, less than 10 percent were led by a woman.

The competition, designed to give women conductors a showcase, also gave prizes to the two other finalists — Liubov Nosova, 30, from Russia, and Katarina Morin, 29, from Germany.

Avni’s musical trajectory began in Israel at the age of 8, when she took up the drums. She progressed as a general percussionist, then advanced to conducting in Germany and Israel.

In the competition, she directed the youthful Paris Mozart Orchestra in the last movement of Brahms’s 4th Symphony. According to observers, she conducted with charm, power and determination. Her expressive gesturing won particular plaudits.

At the awards ceremony, Avni credited the competition with building a community of female conductors. “It has been a great privilege to spend this week with all of you [fellow finalists], these amazing conductors from all around the world,” Avni said, as recorded by the Violin Channel website.

“To be together, to grow together, to eat together, to inspire each other with our varying backgrounds and nationalities and despite all the incredibly sad things that are going on in our [crazy] world right now. For me, people are the most important inspiration and the music that we make together grows out of this inspiration, and you all have been truly inspiring for me,” she said.

On the Slipped Disc website, classical music expert Norman Lebrecht says a judge at the competition told him that Avni “is a genuine talent who got real results out of the Paris orchestra.”

“She needs to take things slowly and not clasp the first agent who steps out of the woods,” advises Lebrecht.

The jury was presided over by the French first female musical director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Nathalie Stutzmann, and included conductors Leonard Slatkin from the US and Ukrainian Kyrill Karabits, among others.

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