When the Boston Symphony Orchestra's selection committee heard 29-year-old Elizabeth Rowe audition, it didn't know her gender: As Geoff Edgers writes in a lengthy piece for the Washington Post, the orchestra's blind auditions dictate that a screen obscures the musician's identity. She landed her "dream job" as principal flutist in one of the country's premier orchestras, something Edgers describes as "the classical musical equivalent of cracking the Yankees’ starting rotation." But while her gender didn't matter at the very start, she argues it did in a big way later, so much so that she's suing the BSO. At the crux of the gender discrimination suit she filed in July is her salary versus that of the BSO's principal oboist, John Ferrillo. Upon Rowe's hiring, she asked to be paid what Ferrillo was, and was denied.
She maintains that for the last 14 years, she has continually made that same request. Where things stand now: She earns $250,149 a year, to Ferrillo's $314,600, a difference of about $65,000. The BSO's response, per a court filing, is that "the flute and the oboe are not comparable." It told the Post that top oboists have more negotiating power because there are fewer of them, and that the instrument is "second only to the concertmaster (first chair violin) in its leadership role." For his part, Ferrillo describes Rowe as "every bit my match in skills, if not more so," and doesn't buy the claim that the oboe is superior. "Ever looked at a flute part? They’ve got to play a million notes. The technical standards are astounding." Read the full piece, which digs into the pay discrepancies across America's orchestras and discusses the case's potential implications, here. (Read more Longform stories.)