Classic FM Hall of Fame 2019 – Where are all the women?

The Classic FM Hall of Fame is the biggest poll of classical music tastes in the UK but is it really listeners’ choice?  Where are all the women and why?

. These are the top 20:

  1. Ralph Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending
  2. Sergei Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 2
  3. Edward Elgar – Enigma Variations
  4. Ralph Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
  5. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – 1812 Overture
  6. Ludwig van Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 5 (‘Emperor’)
  7. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake
  8. Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 9 (‘Choral’)
  9. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker
  10. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Clarinet Concerto
  11. Samuel Barber – Adagio for Strings
  12. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Requiem
  13. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – The Magic Flute
  14. Jean Sibelius – Finlandia
  15. Gregorio Allegri – Miserere
  16. Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 7
  17. Ludwig van Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata
  18. Edward Elgar – Cello Concerto
  19. George Frideric Handel – Messiah
  20. Edvard Grieg – Peer Gynt

See the full list here.

Let’s be honest were there any real surprises here?

Why are these the most popular pieces every year?

Are these pieces really the most popular or just the pieces that Classic FM plays the most?

There’s a constant rhetoric that only the best gets voted into these types of polls.

No-ones arguing that any of these 20 pieces are anything less than stunning. Of course they are but if that is all listeners are exposed to then why expect them to pick anything else?

There were only 10 new additions to the list and none of these were in the top 100. The highest ranked was 163 so the most popular 100 pieces of music have barely changed in at least 1 year, the top 100 were definitely all in the Hall of Fame last year, probably the year before.

The only piece written by a woman was Debbie Wiseman’s The Glorious Garden, which just made it in at No. 287.

There are so many arguments about the lack of women in classical music. Women didn’t write any classical music, women didn’t write good classical music, women didn’t write music that ‘measures up to the ‘greats’.

All of this is wrong. There’s research that demonstrates that women have always been composing classical music and tons of recordings that show they have and are doing an first class job of it.

But for all this new information how many times in 2018 did Classic FM play Florence Price’s Symphony 1 or Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers or Galina Ustvolskaya’s Piano Sonata No. 6? Or any of the other thousands (and there are thousands) of exquisite, earth shattering, beautiful pieces of music written by women?

Maybe we could decide for ourselves what measures up to the greats if we actually heard some of it.

Research conducted by Donne Women In Music last year revealed that music by women features in just 2% of concerts across the world. Full stats here.

If that’s the international average and Classic FM are similar then that’s 98% of all music played on the station written by men.

How can we judge music fairly if we are not exposed to it?

Answer – we cannot. We cannot make judgements on music we don’t hear.

Don’t Classic FM (and the BBC, LPO, Wigmore Hall etc) have a responsibility to educate their listeners?

Is it just about playing the same pieces that the audience expect to hear or can they do more?

Surely part of the reason to listen to a radio station is to be educated, be inspired, be exposed to more music than the audience would usually hear.

Radio airplay has always been one of the biggest factors in determining the pop music charts. People would turn on Radio 1, listen to a song by Kylie or Spice Girls or Oasis, love it and immediately go out and buy it. Even in today’s age of digital music, YouTube, Spotify and iTunes there is still an element of this. Radio plays a smaller but still significant role, as well as these other mediums in promoting new, unknown music to the public and creating an audience.

Why can’t it work with classical music? Why can’t we turn on to Classic FM Drive and hear music we wouldn’t hear otherwise?

If Classic FM make decisions about what audiences want to hear based on these biased polls then nothing will ever change, which it hasn’t.

Also it can’t just be about ‘what the audiences want to hear’. We don’t always know what we want to hear. I had no idea I wanted to hear Elizabeth Maconchy’s String Quartet No. 6 until I heard it and it changed my world.

We listen to radio and go to concerts because we assume the people running them know more than us. They work in music, spending all their time listening and researching interesting music, paying attention to what’s hot right now so we don’t have to. We listen to have our minds blown by fantastic music. If Classic FM and other organisations don’t programme music by women how can we be expected to vote for it on these polls?

Classic FM is a big influencer of taste.

I was chatting to a current Guildhall School of Music student a few months ago and he didn’t agree with playing more women composers because we’d be ‘neglecting the men.’

Bachtrack stats says in 2017 there were 17,741 concert performances. Of those performances around 3000 performances were of each of the top (most performed) composers – Mozart, Beethoven and Bach.  So allowing for overlap that’s somewhere between 3,000 and 9,000 performances. 3000 performances – that’s around 15% of all concerts featuring one of just 3 composers, the likely statistic is somewhere between 15% and 52%. Either end of the scale that is a huge amount of performances for just 3 composers, given how much awesome classical music there is, to focus just on those 3 is incredibly limiting.

Let’s be clear here, even if Beethoven was played half the amount that he is now it would still not come anywhere near neglect. And of course it wouldn’t make his work any less awesome or popular, His Piano Concerto No. 5 will always be brilliant and I’ll always love it, as will many other people.

Why can’t a balance exist between playing the old, familiar classics and awesome, unfamiliar music. A mix of what we want to hear and music that we don’t know but Classic FM think we will like.

There is a ton of phenomenal music out there from the whole history of classical music and the internet has made it easier than ever before to find it. There are vast numbers of recordings of music by women that are easy to find on iTunes, PrestoClasssical, Amazon and Spotify. So many resources available for Classic FM to use.

So what now? Will Classic FM continue to justify playing nothing but the same music year after year by using biased data like these polls?

Or can Classic FM exert their power as a major influencer of taste, creating more balanced programming and exposing the massive amount of awesome classical music written by women?

Will the Hall of Fame 2020 tell a different story?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A-Z of classical composers – gender equal edition

A few days ago John Suchet at the BBC tweeted about composers whose names begin with B. The names he mentioned were super obvious male composers – Beethoven, Brahms, Bach and Bizet. Naturally members of the community working for gender equality, myself included, had a rant at him and replied with the names of awesome female composers whose names also begin with B. Names we mentioned included Beach, Bacewicz, Boulanger, Bonis, Bosmans and lots more.

I decided to take this a few steps further and create a gender equal alphabet of classical composers.

This is the result, an A-Z of awesome classical composers. Every one of them has written lots of awesome music.

A is for Lera Auerbach and Albinoni

B is for Bach and Amy Beach

C is for Cecile Chaminade and Chopin

D is for Debussy and Alma Deutscher

E is for Rosalind Ellicott and Elgar

F is for Faure and Louise Farrenc

G is for Ruth Gipps and Glass

H is for Handel and Augusta Holmes

I is for Adina Izarra and Ives

J is for Jenkins and Betsy Jolas

K is for Larysa Kuzmenko and Khachaturian

L is for Liszt and Elisabeth Lutyens

M is for Marianna Martines and Mozart

N is for Nielson and Olga Neuwirth

O is for Morfydd Owen and Offenbach

P is for Puccini and Florence Price

Q is for Marie Quinalt and Quilter

R is for Rachmaninov and Priaulx Rainier

S is for Ethel Smyth and Saint Saens

T is for Tchaikovsky and Joan Tower

U is for Galina Ustvolskaya and Uematsu

V is for Vaughan Williams and Pauline Viardot

W is for Judith Weir and Wagner

X is for Xenakis and Qu Xixian

Y is for Chen Yi and Ysaye

Z is for Hans Zimmer and Gaziza Zhubanova

Playlist to follow shortly.

 

 

 

Gender equality is for life, not just International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is upon us again and like every year there are tons of events, concerts and festivals going on all over the world to celebrate it.

The IWD website says this for 2019:

The International Women’s Day 2019 campaign theme of #BalanceforBetter is a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world.

But what does IWD really mean?

Does it drive towards a more gender balanced world?

Or has the work been corrupted to create more inequality and more imbalance?

The IWD website states:

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

IWD is full of events promoting equality. One example is Women of the World festival at the Southbank. WOW brings together thousands of people for talks, workshops, concerts and many other events about women. WOW also showcases dozens of amazing organisations working to promote equality all year round. Last year they had demonstrations from a women’s wrestling group, networking events for women and a camp for girls to study rock music.

So, IWD is not just about celebrating the achievements of women, it’s encouraging people to work on equality all year round.

Now let’s examine IWD in the classical music industry. In 2018:

BBC Radio 3 scheduled an entire day of music by women composers.

ABC Classic FM in Australia played an entire 24 hours of women composers.

Cadogan Hall scheduled a concert entirely of female composers.

In 2019:

BBC Radio 3 and ABC are again playing an entire day of music by women composers.

BBC National Orchestra of Wales is playing a concert of female composers.

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

So says the IWD website. It’s no doubt that BBC, ABC, Cadogan Hall and others do a great job doing the first part, celebrating the cultural achievements of women.

But what about the second part? Accelerating gender parity?

Let’s have a look at the rest of the year.

On ABC Classic FM music by women composers makes up 6% of all music played. (up from 2% in 2015.)

The official BBC stats are not published but the world average for radio programming and concert programming is 2%. That’s 2% of concerts a year featuring a woman composer. The BBC Proms stats for 2018 compiled by Women in Music show women composers made up 15% (21/133) of the number of composers. This is not number of works composed by women or total amount of performance time, which would both be undoubtedly much smaller percentages.

For example Sarah Walker’s Sunday Morning show on BBC Radio 3 plays 1 woman composer a week, out of at least 10 composers in a 3 hour show. Being optimistic means that’s 10% of music every week composed by a woman. (The number is probably lower and doesn’t account for actual airtime.)

Cadogan Hall are putting on about 100 concerts this year, at my count 3 of these concerts feature a woman composer.

Clearly these organisations fall short on the second part and do almost nothing the rest of the year to accelerate gender parity.

IWD should be a jumping off point to encourage more work on gender parity throughout the year. It shouldn’t be an excuse to shove all the women composers in one day and then continue marginalising them the rest of the year. That’s not gender equality.

Forbes magazine said last year:

BBC Radio 3 will spend International Women’s Day righting wrongs.

Radio 3 is slated to celebrate female composers excluded from the narrative of musical history.

Bearing in mind that the BBC are one of the organisations doing the excluding.

For example, BBC Proms has performed Dame Elizabeth Maconchy’s music 13 times while her contemporary Benjamin Britten’s music has been performed 94 times at the Proms.

Righting wrongs would be performing Dame Elizabeth Maconchy at least as much as Benjamin Britten all year round. Not playing her music once a year. Dame Maconchy and all the other hundreds of female composers have been and are being marginalised every day for decades, centuries in some cases. One day of programming is not righting this wrong. It is a step, and a very small one in the right direction but these organisations need to programme more women composers consistently throughout the year.

Also at what point on IWD do the BBC programme Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No 3 or Amanda Maier’s Violin Sonata and not think ‘Wow, this is amazing, we should play this more often’?

It’s the same with Black History Month. In classical music composers such as W.G. Still, Florence Price and Adolphus Hailstork should be played all year round. These composers are marginalised due to to deep institutional prejudice that can only be changed through constant and consistent programming, not a token performance once a year.

(Plus just pointing out black people invented blues, jazz, rock and roll, soul, disco, gospel, RnB and hip hop. Yet somehow the inventor of rock and roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, is only ever mentioned during BHM. Funny that.)

IWD started with a noble and worthy purpose of highlighting the achievements of women and encouraging increased dialogue on equality all year round. IWD itself promotes equality every day of the year and does amazing work.

However, too many other organisations seem to use IWD as an opportunity to put these groups in their boxes, only programme them on this one day and call it progress whilst contributing further to the inequality in the classical music industry.

Then the next year rolls around again and we’re celebrating the same ‘underrated and excluded’ composers again, brushing over the fact that they’re still excluded because the powers that be didn’t play them in the whole year in between. They wouldn’t be marginalised if they were performed more often all year round. And so the vicious cycle continues.

This IWD let’s remember this and work on creating gender parity every day of the year

The Daffodil Perspective radio show is pleased to play equal numbers of women and men composers, with equal airtime, every single week.

What can you do?

 

 

 

 

 

What is ‘greatness’ in classical music?

Everyone’s got this image of all the ‘great’ composers. They’re all dead white men. British journalist Fiona Maddocks said in 2011:

“For all the many good, even excellent women composers, why has there not yet been a great one? Where is the possessed, wild eyed, crackpot female answer to Beethoven, who battled on through deafness, loneliness, financial worry and disease to create timeless masterpieces?”

What do we mean by greatness? And how do you define greatness?

Let’s have a look at one example: Dame Elizabeth Maconchy was denied the Mendelssohn scholarship by RCM director Sir Hugh Allen because she’d “only get married and never write another note.”

Maconchy tried to get her music published by musical powerhouse company Boosey & Hawkes but Boosey rejected it because:

‘they would not consider publishing orchestral music by a young lady, perhaps a few songs’

So, women are only allowed to write nice little songs and leave the symphonies to men? Maconchy went on to write several huge orchestral works including her symphony for double string orchestra.

 

Maconchy also wrote 13 of the most extraordinary string quartets in history. In total she wrote over 200 works over a 60 year career, became a CBE then a Dame. She also battled and triumphed against TB, a disease which had already claimed half her family.

These comments by Boosey are not unique, similar comments were made, and are still being made, to many female composers throughout history. Given so much rampant sexism and prejudice it’s a wonder any music by women exists at all.

Does greatness mean the courage to carry on and write music that you believe in despite what other people think? If so, surely Elizabeth Maconchy has to be one of the great composers?

Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) was the first woman ever to be appointed as Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatoire. She shared equal responsibility for the women’s piano divison with Henri Hertz. They did exactly the same job but because he was a man he got paid more, that is until Farrenc demanded equal pay.

Along with teaching Farrenc wrote 3 incredible symphonies and a bucketload of other incredible music including lots of piano music and chamber music.

Does greatness mean the courage to stand up and fight for your right to be treated the same as others for the same work? If so, surely Farrenc must also be a ‘great’ composer right?

Florence Price (1887-1953), in her own words, had ‘two handicaps, those of sex and race.’

Price was born in 1887 and grew up in suburban Arkansas during the harsh era of Jim Crow racist legislation, she saw incredible violence and racism, eventually moving to Chicago to escape. Despite being a prodigious talent and going to university at 14 it would be another 30 years before she was able to write her Symphony in E Minor and that was because she ‘had the good fortune to break her foot”. This was after becoming a single mother and sharing a tiny flat with her student Margaret Bonds. Her Symphony in E Minor was premiered in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Florence Price became the 1st African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. She went on to write 3 more symphonies, a piano concerto, a violin concerto, a piano sonata and lots more music during a 20 year career that took off in middle age.

Does greatness mean knowing all the unfair obstacles that you face, holding your ground and not giving up, even after decades? If so, then surely Florence Price must be a great composer?

Why do we only associate greatness with this overly Romantic notion of deaf, half insane composers struggling away in leaky attics?

Let’s look now at Dame Ethel Smyth. Her uptight military Dad wouldn’t let her her study music so she locked herself in her room and refused to eat or come out until he allowed her to study music at Leipzig Conservatory. 14 years old Smyth was already a legend.

Smyth did go on to study music and she became a phenomenal composer but then she was constantly the victim of impossible double standards.

“On the one hand, when she composed powerful, rhythmically vital music, it was said that her work lacked feminine charm; on the other, when she produced delicate, melodious compositions, she was accused of not measuring up to the artistic standards of her male colleagues.”

This is a constant rhetoric for women who compose music. Only write delicate, pretty little music even though you’ll be judged for not writing huge power music that men write.

Ethel Smyth carried on regardless, she wrote several operas and numerous orchestral music plus a brilliant Mass in D.

Dame Ethel Smyth was the first woman composer to be knighted as a Dame and up until 2016 she was the first and only woman composer to have an opera performed by the Met Opera in New York.

In addition to being a phenomenal composer Smyth was a strong advocate for women’s right. She joined the Women’s Suffrage movement and worked with them for two years. Smyth also had numerous affairs with women, was apparently obsessed with the married Emmeline Pankhurst and fell into unrequited love with Virginia Woolf. Smyth was a badass alright.

Marianna Martines (1744-1812) wasn’t allowed to be paid as a professional composer because of her gender but she became the first woman to be admitted to the Accademia Philharmica, the same prestigious institution Mozart to which the ‘great’ composer Mozart was also admitted.

The Czech composer Vitezslava Kapralova (1915-1940) was exiled in Paris for the last 2 years of her life because of the war.

Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was a brilliant composer and pedagogue who taught practically every major composer of the 20th century. She also became the 1st woman to conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

All these women, and hundreds more, wrote lots of brilliant music. They were respected, even adored by their male peers, they won recognition in the form of commissions and prizes, Smyth and Maconchy were knighted. Despite all the veneration these women received during their life every one of these composers was obliterated from the canon after their death.

A frequent sexist argument against women composers being more well known is that their music just isn’t good enough. Nothing is further from the truth. In so many cases it’s not merely good enough, it’s better by far.

But I don’t want to make this a battle of the sexes over who composes better, more meaningful music. It’s not a fight to show women write music as well as men. They just do.

The only reason Louise Farrenc, Ethel Smyth, Florence Price, Elizabeth Maconchy, Marianna Martines, Barbara Strozzi, Amy Beach, Vitezslava Kapralova and all the hundreds of other women composers are not as equally regarded as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Britten and Tchaikovsky etc is because of their gender.

The fact that Dame Elizabeth Maconchy is a woman is the only reason her music is performed about 1/100th the amount of her contemporary Britten.

Centuries of deep institutional level prejudice and sexism is what is keeping the music of these women from concert programmes. Women have been systematically, consistently and constantly marginalised.

Again I ask, what is greatness?

Is it accolades? Maconchy and Smyth are Dames, Elisabeth Lutyens a CBE.

Number of symphonies written? Louise Farrenc wrote 3, Emilie Mayer wrote 7, Gloria Coates wrote 16.

Is greatness obstacles hurdled? Firsts achieved?

Is greatness staring bankruptcy in the face while battling syphillis in an attic in Vienna?

Or is greatness the ability to create and keep creating stunning music in spite of many people telling you that you can’t?

All women who compose music are great.

Florence Price once asked Sergei Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra to judge her music not on the basis of her race or sex, but on musical merit alone. He never went on to programme any of her music, read into that what you will.

Let’s do what he seemingly couldn’t and judge women on the basis of musical merit alone.

Let us redefine what greatness means, rewrite history and create a more gender balanced future for the benefit of everyone.

 

 

 

What’s the point? A brief look at one of the problems faced to get women composers noticed.

Say you’re a world famous violinist. There’s a great violin piece you’ve heard by a historical woman composer. You think it’s brilliant and want to record it, it’ll be a world premiere recording or at least only once or twice so it’s totally groundbreaking.  You spend hours convincing a pianist to accompany you and spend even longer convincing the hopelessly conservative record label you’re signed with to release it.

It finally gets the go-ahead, you tell all your friends and get it released on all the major sites – Amazon, iTunes, PrestoClassical, everything.  You put out videos on YouTube, record the album, you’re really pleased with it and blag about it all over social media.

It gets released and you’re so pleased but then it comes to the gatekeepers, those people on the music websites with their hot-or-not lists of the “coolest” new releases. Yours has to be a sure thing right? It’s so new, so unique and interesting plus it’s on a major label and you’re super famous so everything you do should be noticed and adored right?

Wrong, the new release list doesn’t mention your recording, or anybody else’s recordings featuring women composers. They talk about yet more recordings of Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Bach and your brilliant, innovative labour of love is forgotten about quickly.

You think maybe I should have played it safe? Why bother playing the work of these amazing people at all if no-one will take notice, next time I’ll stick to the same, boring crap everybody’s heard a hundred times before. I’ll get the money and it won’t hurt if no-one picks it up.

You carry on with your career and the music of these women fades back into oblivion.

Sound familiar? We’re in the middle of this story right now. World famous violinist Tasmin Little OBE has just released a stunning new album of music by Clara Schumann, Dame Ethel Smyth and Amy Beach – 3 astonishing powerhouse badasses of the Romantic era. All three women venerated in their time. All three composers since obliterated from the white male dominated version of music history. All three composers hardly ever recorded or performed.

Little’s album was released last week on 1st February 2019 on major label Chandos records. Amongst the platforms it was released on was PrestoClassical. PrestoClassical’s new release round up didn’t even mention it. I’ll tell you what it did mention though – another recording of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, plus Schubert, Debussy, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky and recordings of a lot of other white male composers that are really well known.

Don’t take my word for it, see the link here.

So why is it that not even a world famous OBE musician on a major label playing women composers can make a dent on the stuffy, regressive release lists of these companies.

And why does it matter?

Well if a customer’s looking at the website and wondering what’s cool they’re not going to search through the whole 150 or so new releases this week. Part of the reason is just 150 is an overwhelming amount to scroll through, part of it is trust. The editorial teams behind PrestoClassical know more than the average listener about what’s coming out and what’s cool. If PrestoClassical give a nice short bite-sized list of 8 releases it’s much easier to digest.

This means if it’s not getting noticed by PrestoClassical editorial team it’s not get noticed by consumers, and if it’s not getting noticed by consumers it’s not getting bought.

If it doesn’t get bought the message clearly gets through to record labels and musicians that taking a chance doesn’t pay off, even if these composers are from the 19th century and playing music really similar to Brahms and Schumann et al, no-one wants to hear it so don’t spend money putting a release like this out there.

All this leads to women composers like Amy Beach not getting recorded again and we’ll go back to square one on the gender equality front in classical music.

This is why it’s so important for this not to happen. I grew up not knowing the names of these 3 women and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let another generation grow up without knowing the names of Clara Schumann, Amy Beach and Dame Ethel Smyth.

I love the album and I’m really excited to be playing the album on my show this week on Tuesday 12th February. 5pm on planetofsound.world plus it’ll be going out on Mixcloud later, more info to follow.

In the meantime here’s a sneak peek of this breathtaking album.

 

Please buy the album online from Presto, iTunes or Amazon or listen on Spotify. Mostly please tweet about it, Facebook link it and get people talking about this so the music doesn’t fade back into obscurity.

PrestoClassical are one of the worst culprits. This particular instance saw Tamsin Little’s album having major airtime on BBC and ClassicFM plus it featured on Spotify Classical New Releases Playlist.

Last week on Twitter I highlighted PrestoClassical’s failure to mention more releases of women composers on their January editor’s choice list. Out of 8 releases the only release of women composers was Florence Price’s new release by Naxos.

The CDs below were ones released in January that featured women composers.

Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 18.58.30

At the end of 2018 PrestoClassical published their list of 100 best releases of 2018. There was 1 woman composer release on the list.

This is a big music retailer. We need to hold them accountable for their influence on consumers and offer alternatives, there is a lot of music being created and while there are fewer releases of women composers there are actually quite a few releases coming out on a regular basis, both by major labels and smaller outfits too.

In the next few weeks there are several releases of women composers coming out. The ones below are available on PrestoClassical.

 

The Daffodil Perspective believes in positivity, there’s no point in just complaining, we like to show that there are positive alternatives that already exist to the white male dominated industry.

Change is possible and gender balance is not difficult to achieve.

 

 

 

 

10 awesome female film composers you need to know

There’s been a lot of talk about the nominated composers for the Golden Globe awards this year. None of them are women, and just like straight up classical music it’s not because there just aren’t any women working in film composition. There are amazing composers out there not getting the recognition they deserve because they are women.  Here is my list of a few brilliant female composers working right now and their phenomenal scores from the past few years.

  1. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society – Alexandra Harwood

How did this score not get nominated for a Golden Globe? Such a gorgeous score to a fantastic film starring Lily James. Harwood also wrote the score to The Escape, starring Gemma Arterton and Dominic Cooper.

2. Tag – Germaine Franco

So happy when I found out this film got scored by Germaine Franco, it’s about time she got a major film score with an all star cast. Germaine Franco she’s composed several independent films, shorts and documentaries and co-wrote most of the music to Pixar film Coco in 2017 plus she has been an orchestrator for years, working on tons of major films including Bolt, Book of Life and Ice Age Continental Drift,

3. Speech and Debate – Deborah Lurie

Not even seen this film and I want to listen to it just because of the end credit score. Deborah Lurie has scored some major films including Dear John starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried (love the score for this), Safe Haven with Josh Duhamel, One For The Money with Katherine Heigl and one of my favourite romantic comedies Sydney White.

4. Their Finest – Rachel Portman

The first woman ever to win an Oscar, for Emma in 1994. She also won an Oscar for her score to Chocolat. Rachel Portman also scored the brilliant 2013 film Belle about a mixed race aristocrat, one of my favourite films ever.

5. Edie – Debbie Wiseman

Any composer that writes such a delicious part for the clarinet is awesome in my book. I’ve actually loved Debbie Wiseman for years, I featured her as composer of the week on The Daffodil Perspective show a few weeks ago here. Debbie Wiseman OBE is a Grammy award nominated composer who has scored for both film and TV including Wolf Hall, Wilde, Father Brown, Tom and Viv and Lesbian Vampire Killers.

6. Poldark – Anne Dudley

Okay this is a television score but this was written by the amazing Anne Dudley and I love it. Dudley’s been scoring music for films and TV for years, Dudley won an Oscar for her score to The Full Monty, she also scored Jeeves and Wooster, Kavanagh QC, and produced the music to the film version of Les Miserables.

7. Song for Marion – Laura Rossi

Yes I know it was 7 years ago now but it’s one of my favourite films ever, I cried bucketloads it was so touching. A huge British all star cast – Gemma Arterton, Terence Stamp, Christopher Eccleston and the incomparable Vanessa Redgrave. Rossi also scored 2015 film The Eichmann Show starring Martin Freeman.

7. Manchester by the Sea – Lesley Barber

This 2016 Oscar winning film was scored by Canadian Lesley Barber. Amazingly haunting score.

8. Mary Shelley – Amelia Warner

The choral score on the opening track is out of this world, indeed the whole score is wonderfully ethereal. Mary Shelley was released in 2017 and featured Elle Fanning as Mary along with Maisie Williams and Tom Sturridge.

9. Mudbound – Tamar Kali

Score to the 2017 period drama starring Carey Mulligan, the film tackles racism and PTSD in post 2nd world war rural USA and was nominated for several Oscars and Golden Globe awards.

10. Sicario Day of the Soldado – Hildur Guonadottir

Sequel to the film Sicario starring John Brolin and Benicio del Toro. Amazing score by the Icelandic cellist.

These are just 10 great composers who happen to be female, there are lots more, it’s not a ranking or a top 10, just a few awesome composers you need to know.

Venus Unwrapped – the start of a brave new world for women or a quickly forgotten publicity stunt?

Kings Place is starting the series Venus Unwrapped this Thursday, a year long series celebrating women composers throughout history and across the world. The classical music world has been talking about it for ages.

But is it so groundbreaking?

Is it just a publicity stunt?

Will it change the way ensembles think about programming music?

Will it have an effect on the audience?

At first glance it seems very exciting, programming the works of amazing composers marginalised for centuries seems a brilliant idea, bringing their work to light and getting people to hear them. King’s Place programmes a diverse range of genres – jazz, folk, electronic and Venus Unwrapped is just as diverse. Folk legends Kathryn Tickell and Kate Rusby are performing as part of the series as well as the stunning jazz composer Zoe Rahman.

In particular the classical concerts are programming lots of historical composers including the amazing polymath Hildegard von Bingen, Rebecca Clarke, Lili Boulanger and Clara Schumann. Recently there has been a noticeable increase of contemporary female composers being performed around the world but never any historical female composers. This is definitely a plus, acknowledging the long history of women composing music, not just something women started doing in the 60’s but saying women have always been composing.

The big question for me is why not just decide to program 50/50 gender split concerts from now on, or at least a lot more than in previous seasons, what will happen at the end of the year?

In 2020 will Kings Place go back to playing mostly male composers and marginalising women again? Or will they have received so much positive feedback and seen the work of so many other women composers, not just the ones programmed, that they will continue with a gender balanced programme from now on?

Let’s have a closer look at just the classical music concerts.

The series starts on Thursday with the work of amazing Baroque composer Barbara Strozzi, played by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

OAE are an internationally renowned orchestra based in London. In the 2018/2019 they are playing 100 concerts, the only concert in which they feature a woman composer is the one as part of Venus Unwrapped. The rest is just a sea of usual suspects – mostly Bach, some Handel, some Elgar and Strauss etc etc etc.

Now you could argue that maybe the rest of their programme was set already before Venus Unwrapped was announced and they got involved but:

  1. This sounds like they are just jumping on the bandwagon – Venus Unwrapped is getting a lot of publicity so they thought would be good to join in, not because they actually believe in diversity in programming.
  2. Their programme is completely male dominated, why have they not been playing Barbara Strozzi, Martines, Smyth before?
  3. Is there a possibility that people will think they have more of a commitment to gender balance than they really do?
  4. If their season was already set in stone before they joined in Venus Unwrapped what about next year? Will they realise that they should start programming more women composers?

But that is just one orchestra, what about the other ensembles involved?

Well amongst the other ensembles taking part are English Symphony Orchestra, early music vocal ensemble Stile Antico, Aurora Orchestra and Piatti Quartet. If you look at all their programmes it is a similar story, no (or almost no) women composers apart from their concert(s) as part of Venus Unwrapped.

Also if these ensembles are playing a female composer it is usually a contemporary composer, in the case of Aurora Orchestra playing Anna Meredith and Missy Mazzolli. So there are centuries of female composers they are ignoring.

It’s not just one ensemble, it is everywhere, all these ensembles are simply playing female composers as part of Venus Unwrapped.

I’d like to be optimistic and at least wait until the 2019/2020 seasons are announced before I pass judgment on these groups, maybe they will be inspired by Kings Place and think they need to start creating gender balanced programmes.

On the other hand it’s showing just how much work needs to be done, if these ensembles are only playing female composers as a publicity stunt.

Any playing of women composers as part of a gender balanced programme should be commended, especially a year long series, it isn’t just the one concert marking the centenary of women’s suffrage or International Women’s Day. That doesn’t mean it’s not tokenism though, just on a grander scale.

The marginalisation of female composers is everywhere – on radio stations, recordings, awards and performances. Change needs to happen in all of these settings if we can hope to create gender balance in the classical music industry. It can’t be down to one venue to change. They can be the rolling ball though, the question is are they?

There’s a great blog post by Helen Wallace, the programme director of King’s Place responsible for this remarkable festival. A remarkable inspiration, she says:

“Venus Unwrapped has become an unstoppable force, and will transform our future programmes at Kings Place. Despite the inclusion of 140 composers in the series, our research has uncovered so many more: this is just the beginning.”

That itself sounds very promising. Read the whole inspiring post here.

I think Helen Wallace herself is not viewing it as a stunt, it looks like King’s Place are coming at this as the start of real change which is fantastic but for the orchestras involved it doesn’t seem to be making an impact as yet.

There are lots of other initiatives going on to promote female composers, including my own gender balanced show. Maybe all of these together will make 2019 the watershed year?

These are just some of the questions on my mind going into the year of Venus Unwrapped.

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

10 of the best new releases in 2018 of women composers.

As usual at this time of year there’s a lot of reflection going on about the year we’ve just had. In music terms this means a round up of the year’s best new releases. The  Guardian’s Top 10 list featured all male composers, mostly dead white ones including ‘neglected composer’ Hindemith, plus Bach, Stravinsky, yada yada yada. See the list here which comes at the end of an article which only mentions releases with male composers.

And this is from a generally left wing newspaper, who have published at least 4 articles this year about the lack of female composers being performed, why they have been unfairly marginalised, looking at what is being done and should be done to change that. Way to support this stance, am I right?

Go round the internet and look at all the major sites about classical music and you see the same story pretty much everywhere. Major independent retailer Presto Classical picked their Top 10 recordings of the year. Also all male, including yet more recordings of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, yawn.

There have actually been some amazing new releases of women composers this year, both historical and living so here is my own list for you. A list of 10 great releases from 2018 to check out, all featuring exclusively women composers.

  1. Global Sirens – Christina Petrowska Quilico. Released 16th November 2018.

Various composers of piano music from the 19-21st century. A brilliant selection of everything from romantic to ragtime to post modern. Some more well known composers including Lili Boulanger and Meredith Monk with other maybe slightly less well known composers such as Ilse Fromm Michaels and Susanne Erding-Swiridoff. Listen here.

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2. Chaminade Piano Music – Mark Viner. Released 9th November 2018.

Selection of piano music by Cecile Chaminade, French Romantic composer. Great selection from the masses of piano music she wrote, some lighter music, some serious. Listen here

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3. Elena Ruehr – 6 String Quartets. Released 16th February 2018.

String quartets by contemporary composer Elena Ruehr. I love these quartets, simply amazing. I can’t do them justice in words so here is ArkivMusic’s notes on the recording:

“Elena’s Six String Quartets are a magnum opus, three of them commissioned by the Cypress String Quartet, two by the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, and one an ASCAP Award winner. “…sumptuously scored and full of soaring melodies and piquant harmonies.” (The New York Times) “Music with heart and a forceful sense of character and expression.” (The Washington Post)”

Listen to the album here.

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4. Louise Farrenc – Symphonies 2 and 3 by Naxos Records. Released 27th April 2018

Orchestral works by French Romantic composer. Symphony Number 3 was performed on 23rd November as part of Trinity Laban’s Venus Blazing series, definitely deserves to be performed by major orchestras on a regular basis. Listen here.

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5. Linda Lister – Pleas to Famous Fairies. Released 18th June 2018.

Song Cycles by soprano and composer Linda Lister, the title cycle features pleas to such fairies as Ariel, Titania and Tinkerbell. Listen here.

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6. Emilie Mayer – Symphony No. 4 and other major works by Chandos Records. Released 12th October 2018.

Major works from German Romantic composer Emilie Mayer. Absolutely gorgeous, forget Brahms, forget Mendelssohn. Just listen to Emile Mayer, this is Romantic music at its finest. Listen here.

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7. Jessica Krash – Past Made Present. Released 26th March 2018.

Fantastic collection of chamber music by contemporary composer Jessica Krash. Several pieces for various chamber combos including flute and piano, solo cello, and soprano and piano. Strangely haunting music exploring the emotional connections between old and new. Listen here.

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8. Ruth Gipps – Orchestral Works by BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Released 7th September 2018.

Prolific 20th Century composer. Symphonies 2 and 4 that feature on this disc along with the tone poems should be on every major orchestral programme at least once per year. Glorious music that’s just at that point between modern and contemporary. Music that’s melodic, intriguing and edgy but not too dissonant, wonderfully listenable. Listen here.

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9. Stories For Our Time: Music for Trumpet by Women Composers – by Thomas Pfotenhauer and Vincent Fuh.

6 contemporary composers, 6 pieces, 1 amazing album. Listen here

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10. Arlene Sierra – Butterflies Remember A Mountain.

Volume 3 of chamber music by Sierra composed between 1997 and 2013. The title piece was written for and played by the acclaimed Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio. Listen here.

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There we are, that’s 10 of the best new releases.

Disclaimer: These are not specific rankings, not a Top 10, just 10 OF THE best releases of 2018. There are so many more awesome recordings out there. Recordings that are not on the list were not deliberately excluded, it’s not a judgement on other work merely an exploration of some of the brilliant and still unjustly neglected work that is out there.

I didn’t include above any of the fantastic albums I’ve played on the radio show on my album of the week section. 5/6 albums I featured since I started the show were new releases this year and are all phenomenal. Check these out below too.

 

  1. Nasty Women: Piano Music in the Age of Women’s Suffrage by Joanna Goldstein and Centaur Records.

Just the title alone demands a closer look. Love this album, it’s broad look at piano pieces by 14 American women composers in the first half of the 20th century. Something for everyone including late Romanticism, impressionism, American spirituals to ragtime, including works by Florence Price, Amy Beach and May Aufderheide. Available to listen and buy at Presto Classical here.

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2. In The Theatre of Air from NMC Recordings and champions of women composers Marsyas Trio. Featuring 5 contemporary British composers and one historical American composer including legends Thea Musgrave and Judith Weir with rising stars Georgia Rodgers and Laura Bowler. Available to listen and buy on Presto Classical here.

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3. Four Women by pianist Samantha Ege, featuring music from 4 spectacular women composers including the American Florence Price and Margaret Bonds, Vitezslava Kapralova and a world premiere recording of Ethel Bilsland’s The Birthday Party, written 100 years ago. Available to listen and buy from CDBaby here.

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4. Homage by Drama Musica, featuring soprano Susie Georgiadis and pianist Angiolina Sensale. This amazing new release brings to life songs by women composers from Italy and Brazil including Chiquinha Gonzaga and Geni Sadero. Some of the pieces are over 100 years old and are only just receiving their world premier recordings on this album. The album also features a protest song from contemporary Brazil composer Catarina Domenici. Overseen by founder Gabriella Di Laccio this is a spectacular record. Listen and buy here.

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5. Magic Lantern Tales by contemporary English composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Magic Lantern Tales is a beautiful collection of choral music. Listen here

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Happy listening everyone and here’s to a more gender balanced 2019!

17 Great Women Composers You Need to Know.

Chief t**t, I’m sorry chief classical music critic at the New York Times Anthony Tommasini just published a book of the 17 greatest composers ever. The entire list is comprised of the usual suspects of long dead white male composers: Monteverdi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Verdi, Wagner, Brahms, Puccini, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartok.

With a few minor variations this is the same list you see in most music books and most websites all over the world. The New York Times article says this represents a

“rounded understanding of classical music at its peak.”

  1. Rounded? Omitting every female composer and composer of colour? Hmm.
  2. Also “at its peak”, really? The most recent composer on there died nearly 50 years ago, so what? Classical music has been declining ever since? Such a terrible way to sell classical music, a genre which like every other is living, breathing and evolving constantly to create new and exciting music.

I’m sick of the utter white patriarchy of the classical music industry so here is my own list of 17 indispensably great composers to counter Tommasini’s and they all happen to be women, each with an amazing composition to check out. (Disclaimer: This is just 17 amazing composers, there are so many which I couldn’t include, so it’s just a starting point, not a definitive list with specific rankings).

  1. Florence Price – American – 1887-1953

Florence Price mixes African American spiritual and American folk idioms with Western classical music. The first African American to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra in 1932 with Symphony in E minor. She also wrote over 300 pieces including orchestral suites, string quartets, solo piano and choral music.

2. Dame Ethel Smyth – English – 1858-1944

Composer and suffragette, she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1922, one of the highest honours in the UK, and the 1st female composer to be awarded the honour, I think that makes her pretty great. Wrote 6 operas, a ballet, orchestral suites, string quartets, and violin concertante. The Mass in D was written in 1893.

3. Vitezslava Kapralova – Czech – 1915-1940

Inter war composer, child prodigy and conductor. 1st woman composer inducted to the Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts. (Posthumous appt in 1946, she was 1 of only 10 woman inducted up to that point). Contemporary of Martinu, she guest conducted Czech Philharmonic and BBC Symphony Orchestra playing her own Military Sinfonietta, written in 1937. Also wrote songs, string quartets, orchestral Suite Rustica, April Preludes for piano.

4. Marianna von Martines – Austrian – 1744-1812

Grew up downstairs from her piano teacher Haydn and became good friends with Mozart. 1st woman to be admitted to the Accademia Filharmonica of Bologna, society to which Mozart also belonged She was at the centre of the classical music scene in Vienna. Ran an influential salon which everybody who was anyone attended. Wrote tons of amazing music including Dixit Dominus, oratorios, keyboard sonatas and an orchestral Sinfonia. The aria Berenice ah che fai is set to a text of Metastasio, famous librettist back in the 1700s.

5. Maria Szymanowska – Polish – 1789-1831

One of the first professional virtuoso pianists of the 19th century. Also ran an influential salon and toured all over Europe. Wrote mostly piano pieces, lots of cool nocturnes and etudes long before Chopin turned up later in the century.

6. Barbara Strozzi – Italian – 1619? – 1677

Prolific Baroque composer of secular vocal music.

7. Ina Boyle – Irish – 1889-1967

Ina led a sheltered life in Ireland but took lessons from Vaughan Williams. She composed 2 symphonies, orchestral rhapsodies, an opera, ballets and choral music.

8. Germain Tailleferre – French – 1892-1983

Only female member of Les Six, the Parisian group of composers that included Poulenc and Milhaud, plus she was good friends with Ravel. She wrote masses of music including music for radio, film and TV when they came along. Played about with different instruments including oboe, clarinet and violin. Lots of dreamy modernist chamber music including this Concertino for harp and piano.

9. Amy Beach – American – 1867-1944

1st American woman to compose and publish a symphony. Beach’s Gaelic Symphony premiered in 1896 with Boston Symphony Orchestra. Child prodigy pianist, she also wrote a piano concerto and over 100 songs. Member of the Boston Six with Edward Macdowell.

10. Emilie Mayer – German – 1812-1883

Romantic composer – Associate Director of the Berlin Opera Academy. Wrote 8 symphonies, cello sonatas, piano trios and Faust Overture, written in 1880.

11. Nina Makarova – Russian – 1908-1976

Russian composer influenced by Russian and Mari folksongs.

12. Dora Pejacevic – Croatian – 1885-1923

Prolific composer, wrote 1st modern symphony in Croatian music with Symphony in F sharp minor in 1917. Other works include a piano concerto, songs and chamber music.

13. Alice Mary Smith – English – 1839-1884

Classical music history makes it look like there were no English composers in the 200 years or so between Thomas Tallis and Edward Elgar. Alice Mary Smith falls into that supposed void with 2 symphonies, vocal music, concert overtures and clarinet music.

Her Andante for Clarinet is the only piece by a historical woman composer being played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra this season.

14. Judith Weir CBE – English – born 1954

First woman appointed as Master of the Queen’s Music in 2014. Known for choral music and operas.

15. Michiru Oshima – Japanese – Born 1961

Composer of film, video games, TV and straight up classical music.

16. Chen Yi – Chinese – Born 1953

1st Chinese woman to receive an MA in composition from Beijing Central Conservatory of Music, Pulitzer Prize finalist. Written for a variety of mediums including concert band.

17. Odaline de la Martinez – Cuban – Born 1949

1st woman ever to conduct the Proms in 1984. Founded Lontano Records to champion music of living composers, women composers and Latin American composers. Fellow of Royal Academy of Music.

There we are, just a tiny fraction of amazing composers who deserve greater recognition. Hopefully this will be a good jumping off point to discover a broader range of music beyond the dead white males that currently fill the concert halls and airwaves. Again this was not a ranking, just a list of 17 like Tommasini’s for conceptual symmetry, in no particular order.

Listen to my weekly radio show The Daffodil Perspective to hear more brilliant composers, over 50% of which are women. I discuss their lives, music and context in standard classical music history.

Gender parity is for life, not just for Christmas

This is a message for all those orchestras out there playing one concert of women composers then sitting back and patting themselves on the back thinking the job is done. It’s no good just playing music by women composers in one concert or even one season of women composers.  Gender parity, or the work towards creating gender parity in music needs to be consistent, a constant consideration in every programme, every concert, every season.

We can’t just play one concert full of women composers then forget about them the rest of the year. It’s not enough, one concert could be said to be tokenism. One concert to satisfy the raging masses, pretending that gender parity is a consideration, only to go back to the usual programme of mostly dead white males for the rest of the year.

2018 has been great, there have been lots of concerts with female composers including a major performance of Dame Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D at Southwark Cathedral. Having said that, I can’t help thinking that it’s not so much to do with genuine thought towards gender parity but more to do with the Vote 100 anniversary. It’s been 100 years since some women got the vote in the UK and lots of orchestras have celebrated that by playing a concert of women composers.

Everyone loves an anniversary or birthday. Peter Maxwell Davies got an entire Proms concert on his 70th, John Williams’ 85th was the same plus you have the birthdays of long dead composers being remembered with whole concerts or programmes dedicated to them.

In particular this year there have been a lot of performances of Dame Ethel Smyth, a composer and suffragette.  I also wonder if performances of her work are more because of her connections to the suffrage movement? She is known in both camps, classical music and feminism so playing her music makes sense.

And what about whole seasons of music by women composers? Are they any better? Trinity Laban’s Venus Blazing and Kings Place Venus Unwrapped seasons are both one year programmes playing music by women composers in every concert. But what about next year, will it just go back to the usual? Or will people have got used to hearing women composers in every concert that they will start clamouring for more of the same?

Then there are the orchestras themselves. The English Symphony Orchestra is playing two concerts in Venus Unwrapped at Kings Place next year, 2 out of 13 concerts next season. That being said these 2 concerts are the only concerts that contain works by women composers. Are they just jumping on the bandwagon, thinking being involved will make them look progressive or diverse when in fact the rest of the time they don’t have to bother with thought toward gender parity or don’t want to?

Lot of questions, lots of things to consider. Some of these decisions may not be as conscious as orchestras realise but it needs to be conscious. If we hope to change things we need to consciously think about the messages we send by the music we choose to play.

I hope this year is not just an anniversary year, I want this year to be a stepping stone towards a 2019 season that plays even more women composers. Let’s work on making that happen. Donne, Illuminate and Scordatura are just 3 of the amazing organisations committed to playing music by women composers plus I’m continuing with my weekly radio show playing women composers, listen to past shows here. We are not going anywhere, we are spreading the word.

Just a few thoughts I needed to express, I’ll be back with some more blogs on gender and music soon.