INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY SPECIAL: REMARKABLE WOMEN IN MUSIC- First Violinist Eleanor Mancini of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra


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Women in music are inspiring with their creativity, power and ability to make amazing music. Whether it be Janis Joplin with her raspy vocals, Kate Miller- Heidke’s ability to move audiences with her haunting vocals or Madonna’s brave stereotype smashing, women in music are amazing. 

So today we are celebrating amazing women in music on International Women’s Day by putting a spotlight on amazing women in music, and today we highlight the incredible career of First Violinist of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Eleanor Mancini. 

In 1979, Eleanor Mancini arrived in Australia, carrying just one suitcase and her violin case.

Born in Odessa, a multicultural city in the Ukraine located near the Black Sea, Eleanor had studied for 12 years at the famous Stolyarsky School, which had produced many great musicians, including renowned violinists David Oistrakh and Valeriy Klimov. Following this intense training, Eleanor went on to study at Moscow Academy of Music.

Within two weeks of arriving in Melbourne, Eleanor auditioned for the MSO and was offered a position in the violin section.

We’ve all done it – looked at a performer on The Voice and marveled how such a small girl has such a big voice or how a burly old bloke has a sweet sultry one. We’re in on the surprise but the judges … until they hit that red button and spin around … have no idea who owns that voice.

Unique in entertainment but standard practice in Australia’s symphony orchestras, blind auditioning has meant that over half of our professional musicians are women and many are migrants as well.

Eleanor Mancini was one of the first women to benefit from blind auditions. She emigrated from Soviet-era Ukraine and in 1980 joined the orchestra despite only having “20 words of English”. Nearly four decades later she’s still a top player in the first violins and has judged blind audition almost every year.

“There is never any discrimination of any kind,” Ms Mancini said, “we don’t go near the dressing rooms and players are told not to speak, so that we won’t hear their voices or accents, and they’re told not to wear heels, so we have no idea who is behind the screen.”

When Eleanor auditioned in 1979 it was via tape recorded at the ABC studios but live auditions and screens have been in place since the early 1980s.

“The MSO embraces women and puts women in management,” Ms Mancini said referring to the fact that the Managing Director, more than half the management staff and permanent players, are all women in the MSO. “The new assistant conductor is also a woman, and of Chinese heritage,” she added.

“When I joined there were a lot less women but I did meet Bertha Jorgensen before she died and the orchestra was very proud of that history,” She said.

The MSO is the oldest professional orchestra in Australia and was formed in 1906. Bertha Jorgensen became the concert master in 1923 and led the orchestra for 50 years. She was the first female leader of a professional Australian orchestra and the longest-serving concert master of a professional orchestra world-wide.

Ms Mancini studied at the prestigious Stoliarsky School before earning her degree at the Moscow Conservatorium. She has toured internationally with the orchestra and her playing has featured on countless albums as well as on movie soundtracks. She has toured with Elton John, Kiss, Ben Folds, Burt Bacharach, DJ Jeff Mills and been featured on the Wiggles last DVD.

She has a steady stream of students and inspires many young women and future musicians including her granddaughter Sofia, and her daughter – me.

By Irena Bee

Photo credits: Eleanor Mancini c/o MSO

Eleanor walking to school in the Ukraine with fellow students

Eleanor, with fellow MSO players, Cindy Watkins and Michelle Ruffolo, were star performers at the MADWoman Charity Gala in 2016 for women and families.

Eleanor performs Make a Wish Foundation in Melbourne.

Our family, Eleanor Mancini, her mother Mila Khmelnitsky, me and Irena’s  kids Sofia and Isaac.

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