Open Letter to Classic FM

Hi Classic FM. 

I just saw your post on 10 quotes from female composers that prove the struggle is real. It’s incredibly disappointing that you write this but you really don’t practise what you preach. How many of these unbelievable composers have you actually played on your station ever? Listening to your station and going through your playlist I can never see any. 

The struggle is real, you are correct. It would be a lot less bad if you, one of the biggest radio stations in the UK, would actually play some music by women composers on a regular basis. And not just relegated to an occasional series like Sounds and Sweet Airs. Female composers need to be played consistently if there is to be lasting change.

I’m appalled that these composers are not played on a daily basis on your station. I’m even more appalled that you keep writing about them, talking about how marginalised they are, yet by not playing them on a daily basis you are continuing to marginalise these composers. You are contributing to the centuries of institutionalised sexism that keep these amazing composers out of the history books.

I’d also like to add that you had a Best of British show a few weeks ago, an entirely all male lineup- failing to play Dame Ethel Smyth or Rebecca Clarke, (whose quotes both appear on the aforementioned article of 10 quotes by female composers), also failing to play the many other amazing and influential women composers from Britain. 

I’m the producer of The Daffodil Perspective, an online classical radio show which is proud to be completely gender equal. I would be more than happy to consult with you on ways to incorporate the hundreds of women composers on your station. I have a wealth of experience and knowledge regarding the centuries of women composers and how they all fit into the current biased version of classical music history. Just last week I showcased the music of the incredible and very important 20th century British composer Ruth Gipps, a student of Gordon Jacob and friend of Malcolm Arnold. 

Again I must reiterate my utter horror that you talk about the struggle of women and do nothing to actually change this. It’s absolutely shameful and hypocritical. As such a large radio station with a huge listenership you have an amazing opportunity here. Integrating women composers on a regular basis would only lead to a more robust and diverse listener base and would lead to greater appreciation of music history. 

I hope you’ll consider what I’ve said here and I look forward to your speedy response.

Elizabeth de Brito

The Daffodil Perspective Producer

 

 

 

Gatekeeping in the classical music industry

Post any article championing women or calling for diversity in classical music on one of the various classical music groups on Facebook and you’ll likely get a slew of sexist comments and narrow minded conversations.

One common sexist argument is that no-one is actively avoiding programming music by women.

The classical recording retailer Presto’s Recording of the Week is a brilliant example of an active, conscious decision to do exactly that.

Guess what Presto Classical’s recording of the week is?

Yet another recording of Beethoven complete symphonies!

Seriously, how can this pass for the most exciting recording this week?

James Longstaffe at Presto who chose the recording said:

“With a plethora of recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies currently available, any new performance that wishes to stand out from the crowd must have something pretty special to bring to the table.”

At this point the only way to make a recording of Beethoven symphonies in any way  pretty special is to have the flutes play the violin part, bassoon play the cello part, euphonium play the double bass part and vice versa.

Or screw it, why not just get the BBC Singers, divide them all up and get them to hum each part. At this point that is the only way you can get a recording of Beethoven’s complete symphonies worthy of being Recording of the Week.

Really James? You couldn’t find anything in the past decade, hell, even the past century that’s worth shouting about?

The Presto team also do a New Release Round up every week.  This week they have: Mahler’s 4th, Wagner, Schumann, Schutz and Cavalli. Basically nothing composed in the past 70 years and everything composed is by a well known, well recorded white male composer.

In picking the Recording of the Week James Falstaffe would have looked through the exciting new releases featuring women, the cool contemporary music and deliberately ignored them all to feature the most well known classical music on the planet.

And they do this every single week. Every week there is a deliberate choice between exciting and perpetual, new and old, diverse or patriarchal, change versus stagnation, heard or unheard.

The recordings that caught my eye on Presto this week were:

  1. Piano Miniatures by Female Composers – Viviane Goergen. A brilliant cross section of piano music from the past 150 years. Everything from Mel Bonis and Marie Jaell in the 19th century, Germaine Tailleferre and Vitezslava Kapralova in the early 20th century to living composer Alicia Terzian. All immensely talented composers and stunning performance from Viviane Goergen.
  2. Kaleidoskop: Works for Contrabassoon – Hans Agreda. Contrabassoon is one of these instruments lost in the sea of violin repertoire. It has a gorgeous sound and is not performed enough. So exciting to see a great musician showcasing works for this underrated instrument.

There have been over 60 recordings of exclusively women composers released on Presto so far this year (pales in comparison to the number recorded by men but still), there’s been at least one new recording every week, sometimes many more (see week of 8th March). Many of these releases were world premiere recordings and all are absolutely brilliant.  The only one Presto took any noice of was debut release by latest hotshot pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, she released a CD of Clara Schumann’s piano music.

There’s all this talk of classical music dying, orchestras getting shut down but what can we expect when the mainstream industry is entirely based on obsessively championing overplayed, over-recorded music from nearly 200 years ago?

There are legions of brilliant women composers from the past two centuries and more musicians than ever are championing these great women composers, creating many wonderful albums that are redefining our entire knowledge of classical music history.  All these recordings are being completely ignored by the classical music establishment. You can check out all the amazing recordings made this year alone here.

Then there are hundreds of really amazing contemporary composers creating new music all the time and some people are willing to put it out there. NMC Recordings have been putting out great recordings of British contemporary music for 30 years, plus record labels Navona Records and Divine Art are putting out high quality recordings of amazing contemporary music all the time.

But what is going to happen to all these recordings if they aren’t talked about?

What’s the incentive for new composers to keep creating when all the music industry wants to talk about is the same few composers from the 18th century?

Composer Stephen Hough wrote a recent article in the Evening Standard talking about the Proms saying:

“The composers whose works we play were often radicals and outsiders”

Note the past tense. It’s so common for people to think of classical music as past, all the music got created long ago and it doesn’t exist anymore.

Mozart and Beethoven together make up just over one third of all classical performances (statistics from Bachtrack here). Add the next 4 most played composers – Bach, Brahms Schubert, Tchaikovsky and they make up 78% of classical performances. Over 400 years and hundreds of amazing composers but nearly 80% of all performances are of just 6 white male composers that all died over a century ago?!

Is the past tense any wonder if that’s the only music being performed?

There’s a current call for more audience diversity, and talk of dwindling ticket sales, people saying they should do things to attract new audiences but what’s the message you are sending them? Come and hear the same 6 dead male composers at every concert. There are almost no women composers, no black composers, hardly any living composers. It’s an entirely monochromatic experience of a stagnant art form.

That’s what is currently being shouted at through current programming.

If you want to attract new audiences, new people from all walks of life you will have to change the message.

Classical music is not just written by a handful of dead, white male composers. It never has been but that is the message that people are being sent.

So how do we change this?

Do we either need to get through the current gatekeepers or do we need to create new gates?

 

Elizabeth de Brito

Producer of the The Daffodil Perspective.

The Daffodil Perspective is pleased to be completely gender equal. On the show this year I’ve played 16 of these new releases of women composers as well as playing contemporary music every week. Also in 8 months of doing the show I’ve played Beethoven once, Mozart twice.  Every week I make the choice to find as much exciting, varied, previously unheard music out there. Head to the Listen page to see the full tracklist. Classical music is alive and kicking on my show with a vibrant, diverse range of awesome music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is 2020 really just the year of Beethoven? 5 other important birthdays to celebrate this year

While the majority of the classical music world is losing their s**t over Beethoven’s upcoming 250th birthday, let’s remember there are 5 other very important birthdays we should be celebrating this year.

  1. Barbara Strozzi’s 400th birthday

Barbara Strozzi, baptised 6th August 1619, was one of the first women to publish under her own name. Strozzi was said to be the most prolific composer of secular vocal music in Venice at the time, she was also an accomplished singer. Her music is simply stunning, full of poise and precisely written.

 

2. Clara Schumann’s 200th birthday

The infinitely cooler member of the Schumann family turns 200 on 13th September 2019. Clara Schumann was a brilliant composer and one of the first virtuoso pianists in the world. She toured all over Europe, was at the very epicentre of the European music scene, knew anyone who was anyone and was hugely influential, Brahms was said to be madly in love with her. For much of her life she was the chief breadwinner in the Schumann family. She maintained a busy concert tour schedule all while being pregnant most of the time and caring for an increasingly ill husband. Her compositions, while comparatively few, are masterpieces of the Romantic era, full of drama and passion. Her output includes a piano concerto, piano sonata, tons of songs, trios and romances.

 

3. Galina Ustvolskaya’s 100th birthday

Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (17th June 1919 – 22nd December 2006) would be 100 this year. Dubbed ‘The Lady with the Hammer’ her music was said to have “the concentrated light of a laser beam that is capable of piercing metal.”  Ustvolskaya wrote immensely heartfelt pieces which initially seem brutal and harsh but are deeply moving. Her teacher Shostakovich said of her: “It is not you who are under my influence, it is I who am under yours.” She publicly acknowledged 21 pieces she wrote from 1944 to 1988, disregarding the Soviet patriotic pieces she was grudgingly forced to write. These 21 pieces include 6 piano sonatas, 5 symphonies and chamber music with various unusual but effective instrument combinations. This Composition No. 1 was written for piccolo, tuba and piano.

 

4. Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata turns 100!

The poor viola is the middle child of the string family, stuck between the ever popular, (overused?) violin and the low, mellow cello, somewhat the hipster instrument of the orchestra. Rebecca Clarke was a violist though so it was only fitting for her that she write a true masterpiece for her instrument. I give you her Viola Sonata, premiered at the Berkshire Music Festival in 1919.

 

5. Dorothy Howell’s Lamia turns 100!

Dorothy Howell’s symphonic poem Lamia was premiered by Sir Henry Wood at the Proms on 10th September 1919, he liked it so much he conducted it at the Proms 4 times in the next 8 years. In this centenary year get down to the Proms on 22nd August to hear it performed live by CBSO and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.

 

So there you have it – 5 other important birthdays we should be celebrating this year.

And that’s just the historical composers. Groundbreaking film score and electronic composer Wendy Carlos turns 80 this year and Eleanor Alberga celebrates her 70th birthday.

One final note – celebrating means a special occasion, doing something out of the ordinary. Beethoven is the most performed composer every year, along with Mozart and Bach. Most concert seasons feature around 10% Beethoven. In 2017 out of 17,741 performances, 3,000 of those were Beethoven (according to Bachtrack, full stats here.) That’s 16%! Hundreds of incredible composers across the world and Beethoven makes up 16% of all performances! 2019 is the same boring percentage of Beethoven they trot out every year, hardly extraordinary.

It’s like when your parents take you to McDonalds for your birthday as a child. It’s such a rare treat and it tastes so good. Then when you leave home you get Maccy D’s every Friday night at 1 o’clock on the way back from the pub. Suddenly it doesn’t taste that good. It does the trick alright, I mean it fills you up but that lovely taste, that memorable connection just isn’t there anymore.

Let’s bring back that loving feeling. 8 months into The Daffodil Perspective radio show and I’ve played Beethoven once. There’s so much other awesome music out there. let’s celebrate it all.

 

Elizabeth de Brito

The Daffodil Perspective Producer

 

 

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?