Rachael Worby knew from a very young age that it was her life’s ambition to become a conductor. At 8 years old, she attended a Young People’s Concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein and was inspired to see the world differently. Up until that point, she had only seen conductors as men who were older and had an “unreachable” performance style. Not only was Leonard Bernstein Jewish, like her, but he was also friendly and interactive.
Worby notes that, “Of course, there was no precedent for a female conductor at the time. After beginning my graduate work in musicology, I summoned the right mix of audacity and optimism to write a letter (in French, mind you!) directly to the storied French composer, pianist and conductor Jacques-Louis Monod.” She sent 10 other letters that all received no’s simply because she was a woman. Monod would eventually agree to tutor her but still, “Monod would end every lesson by gruffly insisting that this was all a waste of time because ‘women cannot be conductors.’”
Worby became a pioneering member of the first wave of women on the conductor’s podium to achieve national and international renown. Worby has held multiple posts throughout her classical music career, working first for the Spokane Symphony as a Conducting Assistant for two years. From 1984-1987 she served as an Assistant Conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and for twelve years as Music Director of Carnegie Hall’s Young People’s Concerts, stepping into the former post of her idol Bernstein. Worby served as Music Director and Conductor of Wheeling Symphony Orchestra (WSO) for seventeen years (1986-2003), building it from a small orchestra into a regional powerhouse. Founder of the American Music Festival held in Bucharest and Cluj, Romania, she led the Pasadena Pops from 2000-2010. With both the WSO and the Pasadena Pops, Worby expanded the orchestras’ performance seasons as well as their national and local profiles.
Rachael’s career at a glance
2 years as the Assistant Conductor for the LA Philharmonic
12 years as Music Director and Conductor of the Young People's Concerts at Carnegie Hall in the 1990s
4 years on the National Council on the Arts as an appointee of President Bill Clinton
17 years as Music Director and Conductor of Wheeling Symphony Orchestra in West Virginia
10 years as Music Director of the Pasadena Pops
10 years as the founder and Artistic Director of MUSE/IQUE
Worby’s success in the professional sphere only deepened her ambition to make the world of live music more inclusive. In 2011 she founded MUSE/IQUE, a performing arts nonprofit formed with the goal of bringing live music experiences to all, regardless of their sex, gender, age, race, ethnicity, or social status. By partnering with over 19 local nonprofits, MUSE/IQUE gives Worby the platform to create lasting, meaningful relationships with people in the community that have often been overlooked. Inspired by her idol Leonard Bernstein, she joyfully interacts with her audience members throughout her shows to make each performance an inclusive learning experience. Worby is staunch in her belief that music belongs to the community.
“I have always felt that music should be, that it must be, the purview of every human being. Not just for those who can afford it or for those who might be predisposed toward attending, but really an arm of the community at large,” she says. “To think that you can make music selectively only prolongs the misunderstanding that so many in this country have about those who have and those who have not. This is about social change and justice and live music for all as a basic human right.”