Frieda Belinfante – but I was a girl

This us the story of Frieda Belinfante (1904-1995), a remarkable woman who was the first female conductor to have her own symphony orchestra in Holland and later in Orange County, United States. Controversial, because of her homosexuality she shows a remarkably strong and positive will in everything she does.

portrait of Frieda Belinfante
Born in a family of musicians in Amsterdam, she joins the resistance during WW II and flees to Switzerland. After the war she moves to the U.S. where she proceeds with her musical career in the Hollywood studios and forms her own symphony orchestra with only Hollywood musicians. The story of her life is told by herself, her older sister Renee, old students and friends, and illustrated by the places where she lived, archive material of her orchestra and some of her most beautiful music.

Dutch cellist, conductor, and anti-Nazi resistance fighter. Born into a musical family, she began studying the cello at the age of 10. She debuted professionally at age 17, and worked as a director of various ensembles. In 1931 she was briefly married, although she explained to her husband that she was a lesbian. She had relationships with women throughout her life, keeping them private, but caring little about public opinion. In 1937, she was invited to manage the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, making her the first woman in Europe to conduct a professional orchestra. She continued to enjoy success in her career, appearing regularly on Dutch radio and conducting around Europe, but her work was cut short when Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands. Along with her friend, gay artist , she joined the resistance movement early on, creating forged documents for Dutch Jews.


Belinfante, herself, was half Jewish. In 1943, to prevent the Nazis from checking forged documents against public records, she aided her friends in the bombing of the registration office in Amsterdam. The plan successfully destroyed 800,000 identity cards of Jews and non-Jews alike. Sadly, members of the resistance group, including  Arondeus, were arrested and executed shortly afterwards. For the next three months, Belinfante disguised herself as a man to evade discovery. She eventually escaped to Switzerland by crossing the alps on foot, only returning to the Netherlands after the war. In 1947, she came to the United States, where she resumed her musical career in California, forming and conducting the Orange County Philharmonic Society to great acclaim. But preferences for a male conductor and rumors about her lesbianism contributed to her dismissal from the orchestra in 1962. Fifteen years later, Orange County would acknowledge her contributions by declaring a ‘Frieda Belinfante Day.’

Also, check the movie :


…But I Was a Girl: The Story of Frieda Belinfante (1999)


Sources :


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