Australian conductor Sarah Penicka-Smith has been selected for this year’s Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Women Conductors at The Dallas Opera. Penicka-Smith is one of six professionals chosen for the elite residency, a program designed to further the careers of distinctively talented female conductors, from a total of 51 women conductors and professional musicians from 19 countries.

Penicka-Smith is also the fourth Australian selected for the program, which is now in its fourth year, with Carolyn Watson chosen last year (she was an observer the year before) and Jessica Gethin and Jennifer Condon taking part in the inaugural program in 2015. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Assistant Conductor, New Zealander Tianyi Lu took part in the program in 2016.

Sarah Penicka-Smith, Dallas OperaSarah Penicka-Smith. Photo © Penny Ryan

“Frankly, it’s a huge privilege to be going to Dallas,” Penicka-Smith told Limelight. “This is the first time I’ve applied for an international program so I wasn’t really expecting that 4am phone call! The achievements of both the previous and current participants are remarkable. I’m grateful to be included, and especially so that the panel clearly took the time to watch all the footage we submitted to determine who they wanted for this year’s program.”

Penicka-Smith is Director of Music at St Andrew’s College, The University of Sydney, conducts the Macquarie Singers, is Artistic Director of Opera Prometheus and Founding Director of the Pacific Pride Choir. She was the Music Director of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir from 2005 to 2017.

Her goals for the residency are straightforward. “I really have only one brief, whatever I do,” she said. “I just want to become a better conductor. Podium time in an intensive setting, with peer and mentor feedback, and professional musicians, is the fastest way I’ve found to learn, so the Hart Institute is perfect in that regard.”

Dallas Opera’s unique program, which will run in October and November this year, includes conducting opportunities with The Dallas Opera Orchestra, master classes with Dallas Opera Music Director Emmanuel Villaume, Italian maestro Carlo Montanaro, and Dallas Opera’s Principal Guest Conductor, Nicole Paiement. The participants will also take part in intensive working sessions with prominent leaders in classical music and opera, which will include advice on selecting the right artist manager, best practices in working with executive recruiters, opera management and fundraising.

Dallas Opera launched the Hart Institute in 2015, seeking to address a long-standing gender imbalance on the podium. “This proven program – by recognising the contributions of exceptionally talented women in classical music – helps focus vision for conductors, music directors and administrators by showcasing their rich array of skills. Because recognition and vision lead directly to opportunity,” said Ian Derrer, The Dallas Opera’s Kern Wildenthal General Director and CEO.

“I believe conducting is about adding your voice to the voice of the composer, and the voices of the musicians, so it’s always important to ask the question: who has access to this platform, and whose voices are being heard?” Penicka-Smith said. “It’s no secret men have dominated the podium, and look at the diversity of voice and interpretation we already have from that state of affairs. Imagine what rich musical experiences we could all have if the perspective from the podium could represent the full gamut of humanity. The Hart Institute for Women Conductors is a big step in this direction – but we’ve got a lot more to go.”