News for my 100 day anniversary!!!

Today is 100 days since the 1st broadcast of The Daffodil Perspective, and to celebrate I’m taking it to the next level, so much exciting news to share.

1, I’ve launched my brand new logo everywhere. I think it looks really cool!

2. Also got a brand new and improved home page. Read all about my mission here.

3. I’m pleased to announce Contemporary Corner has its first monthly residency with PARMA Recordings! On the 3rd Tuesday of every month I will be showcasing a single composer album by one of their awesome composers. This is starting on the 19th March, in the meantime here’s a small taste of what’s coming up.

4. Im also excited to announce I’m now a contributor on Women in Music Blog, a fantastic organisation started 30 years ago by composers Odaline de la Martinez, Nicola leFanu and others to support and promote women working in the arts. Fingers crossed to be a full member soon too. Next week on the show I’m very excited to feature the music of Lucy Hollingworth, a brilliant composer and by happy coincidence a trustee of Women in Music.

5. I wrote a guest blog on Dame Elizabeth Maconchy for Illuminate Women’s Music, another trailblazing organisation supporting and promoting women composers. We have a great relationship and I’ve been pleased to feature some of their live recordings every month on the show. Check out my piece on Maconchy and find out more about Illuminate here.  They will be playing music by Maconchy at the Royal College of Music on Saturday 16th February, a concert not to be missed.

6. This week Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy mentioned my blog post on their Monday Link Round up. Check it out and find out about their amazing work here. Shout out to them and all the work they do seeing music by women gets performed.

7. I’ve been playing Florence Price a lot on my show so I’ve decided to make my celebration of her official, introducing Fun With Florence! Every month I’ll be showcasing a different piece by this amazing woman along with sharing her story, what inspires me so much about her and a few lessons she can teach us.

That will be happening on the 4th Tuesday of every month and I’m starting with a very special recording from pianist Samantha Ege, a fellow champion of Price and brilliant interpreter of Price’s music.  Her album Four Women was released in November, I was very excited to feature it as my album of the week on the 27th November. Have a listen to Ege’s rendition of Price’s Sonata in E Minor from the album Four Women.

To find out more about Samantha Ege and her work check out her awesome site Music Herstories here

8. I created my first curated Spotify playlist – a basic guide to female composers throughout history starting with Hildegard von Bingen, moving through the eras to the 21st century. Just some of the many awesome women composers.

Expect more curated playlists coming soon…

9. Lastly shout to composer Rebecca Rowe, I featured her wonderful Fantasie In Nomine in Contemporary Corner on 29th January. Pleased to get a mention on her site too, she’s got tons of great things happening, check it all out here.

10. That’s almost it, I’m planning on starting more regular blog features including updates on new releases, upcoming events and various curated playlists. Few more things in the works, will drop them as soon as I can.  Check out my Facebook page and Twitter for updates.

Here’s to a more gender balanced future!

 

 

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.

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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.

 

Should women start boycotting classical music concerts?

Come on ladies, we’ve all been thinking the same thing. Why should we continue to support orchestras and festivals that constantly, consistently and systematically exclude us. We’re half the f***ing population and we women composers make up less than 5% of classical orchestral programming??

Last week the Donne – Woman In Music project combined with Drama Musica published their findings. They surveyed 15 large orchestras around the world and found that for the coming 2018-2019 season containing 1,446 classical concerts around the world, only 76 include at least one work by a woman. That is just 5% of concerts containing at least one female composer. The Guardian newspaper published an article on it, see the link here.

“The figures, compiled by the Donne – Women in Music project and Drama Musica, also show that a total of 3,524 musical works will be performed at those concerts, and, of those, 3,442 (97.6%) were written by men and only 82 (2.3%) were written by women.”

9 months ago if I’d that seen that article I would have been annoyed but unfortunately not surprised. 9 months ago I thought there were only about 5 female composers in the world. I thought the lack of programming meant they don’t exist or weren’t very good. I’ve been going to see LSO, BBC Symphony, The Proms, Royal Festival Hall and various other classical concerts for nearly 30 years and I’ve never heard any female composers being performed so maybe they just don’t exist or are not good enough.

That was what I would have thought 9 months ago, I’m not the me I was back in March though.

In the past 9 months I have discovered that there are thousands of female composers, not just contemporary composers, born after 1950, but female composers throughout the whole history of Western classical music. And not just any female composers but amazing female composers, composers who write engaging and enthralling music, composers like Florence Price who have rekindled my passion for classical music, a passion that I’ve not felt in over a decade and which I was starting to think might be dead.

In the article it is stated that:

Some organisations have introduced measures to address the issue. The BBC Proms and the Aldeburgh Festival, for example, have pledged a 50/50 gender balance in commissions of contemporary composers by 2022.

That’s great but what about all the existing female composers that you’ve been ignoring for decades, centuries in some cases?

Early 20th Century American composer Florence Price? Whose Symphony No.1 in E Minor might be the most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard. What about Germaine Tailleferre? The only female member of Les Six, the Parisian group of composers who included Poulenc. Yeah, you’ve heard of Poulenc but the prolific and incredibly talented Germaine Tailleferre? Nope.  Or the English Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) – a composer who was so admired in her time that she was made a Dame in 1922, one of the biggest honours in the UK and the first female composer to receive the honour. What about Amy Beach, Lili Boulanger, Marianne Martines, Maria Szymanowska, Hildegard von Bingen, Barbara Strozzi, Francesca Caccini? Nope.

Don’t feel bad, I didn’t know any of those names either before March this year. And I studied piano and clarinet for over ten years, got two Grade 8 certificates in said instruments and studied at Guildhall School of Music Junior Department, I was in countless orchestras, bands and ensembles inside and outside school including the National Youth Wind Ensemble of Great Britain, plus most of my music teachers were women and I went to an all girls secondary school and I didn’t hear of any of those names until 2018, it’s infuriating is what it is.

Female composers have always been around. they haven’t just started composing music, they have always been there. Yes, the scene has always been male dominated like most art, Yes, there haven’t been as many women as men composing music. Yes, it’s been a terrible struggle to get published. Women have unquestionably faced more challenges than men of similar social backgrounds to getting their work out there, we’re talking bans on women composing, being admitted to certain schools, submitting work to certain competitions and more besides but women have always been there.

Got a great quote here from the article from the head of London Philharmonic Orchestra, resident at The Southbank Centre:

Timothy Walker, chief executive and artistic director of the LPO, said the orchestra did “not make artistic choices based on issues of gender, religion or ethnicity” but was “strongly committed to supporting female musicians and composers”.

This is coming from the director of an orchestra who in the 2018/2019 season are playing 32 concerts at The Southbank with just 2 of them featuring a work by a woman. The LPO are playing world premiere of Helen Grime’s Percussion Concerto on 16th January 2019, Grimes sharing the stage with 4 male composers. Then, on 27th February they’re playing Andante for Clarinet and Orchestra by Romantic composer Alice Mary Smith.  The piece, although absolutely gorgeous (listen here), takes up just 7 minutes of the concert. The lion’s share of time going to Weber’s Clarinet Concerto and Brahms Symphony No.2 because no-one’s ever heard those two pieces before.

Come on Tim, you’re not strongly committed to supporting female musicians and composers, and as for not making artistic choices based on gender! That’s just your sad justification to play the same old tired c**p we hear year after year and not bringing anything new and interesting (or old and interesting – note the list of awesome pre 1950 composers above) to the mix.

Soprano Gabriella Di Laccio, who spearheaded the whole project, has this to say:

“I don’t really understand it, we don’t have excuses any more. The idea that there might not be enough female composers or the music might not be good enough … this is all in the past.”

Tell them Gabriella!

This is why I stopped going to classical concerts, I don’t want to hear the same composers again and again, everywhere I go – nothing but Mozart, Beethoven and Bach plus the few others.

So yeah 50/50 gender splits in new commissions is great, please keep on doing that.

AND play lots more past women composers too.

From my research and the list complied by Gabriella Di Laccio it wouldn’t even be difficult to programme at least one work by a female composer in every concert. That’s how many female composers there are!

If you want a laugh, or a cry, or an excuse to take a boxing class (because you know that hitting your computer isn’t a good idea and going up to the artistic director of LPO and punching him will get you jail time) then read the comments to The Guardian article. Truly hilarious and horrific in their narrow mindedness.

the most relevant classical music, maybe for historical reasons, was written by men.

Most relevant? Relevant to whom? And how do you choose which is the most relevant?

But the fact remains that women DIDN’T write classical music, men did. So it’s completely understandable that the line-ups at classical concerts should be dominated by men.

I refer you to this list of over a thousand female composers throughout history put together by Gabriella Di Laccio and Donne: Women In Music Project.

There are female composers in every musical era – Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern and Contemporary.

I quite like my classical music, but I’m not aware of a single female composer. Not one.

Perhaps when female composers produce something so good that even people like me hear about it, we can start agitating to get them added to concert lists.

I played the clarinet and piano on a daily basis for 10 years to bloody Grade 8 standard and I never heard of any of these composers so it’s definitely not about being good. In addition the below symphony by Florence Price is my new favourite symphony of all time, which easily trumps anything and everything that Wolfgang Amadeus ever wrote:

Music, like all art is subjective and we have been subjected to over 300 years of straight white male, middle aged, upper/middle class viewpoint. It’s high time we change that.

Oh, I need to share one last hilarious comment.

But, by the sounds of it, didn’t provide any figures to support their case.

The orchestra programmes are listed online and in booklets for everyone to see, don’t take my word for it – just google LSO or LPO and look at their programmes. The results are already listed out there to support our case.

So, how do we change things in an industry that is conservative to the point of stagnation?

I’m not suggesting we completely discontinue playing Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 or Handel’s Messiah or Mendelssohn’s Violin. It’s always nice to hear old familiar music but we can’t just play it all the time.

Nor am I suggesting we do what Classic FM did last International Womens’ Day which is play a bunch of awesome forgotten female composers then play the same old boring stuff the other 364 days of the year. We need female composers being played consistently, in every concert, in every ensemble. We need to show everyone that women create music too, not just the few people that happened to catch that one concert or one broadcast but creating a consistent 50/50 gender split in all classical concerts so everyone can see.

Gabriella Di Laccio says:

she had heard of orchestras praising themselves for including music written by a woman. “But then it is a three-minute piece, while everything else is 20 or 40 [minutes] – and they only do it to cover themselves.”

Orchestral concerts usually have 3 or 4 pieces on average. So always include a familiar classic male composer. The concert by the LPO, except for the length of the piece, is a good idea. Weber’s Clarinet Concerto is a very well known piece, every clarinet player on the planet has played it at some point, usually studies it at Grade 5/6. The Andante for Clarinet and Orchestra is by Alice Mary Smith – another Romantic composer so you’re keeping the same vibe going. It’s very short though, as Di Laccio says it is important to be playing longer works for women.  It’s not just number of works but length of works that are important, women have been and are writing incredible symphonies and concertos too.  As an example Romantic composer Louise Farrenc wrote 3 gorgeous symphonies, Emilie Mayer wrote 8.

Check out my playlist here of just a few of the amazing symphonies composed by women that should be performed by major orchestras on a regular basis.

If you’re putting a programme together with Poulenc, play Poulenc then Germaine Tailleferre, the forgotten member of Les Six. Something familiar plus something not heard of but similar in style so it’s likely to be better received.

So what do we know?

  1. Women have always been composing classical music.
  2. 2. Women compose music of equal brilliance and splendour as men.
  3. 3. There have been enough female composers throughout history to programme music in every concert to suit everyone’s taste – Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern.
  4. Women do write symphonies and concertos too.
  5. There is no excuse any more to discriminate against female composers past and present.

Di Laccio says:

“The whole idea of doing this is not to make people angry but to raise awareness. I hope this will be a gentle wake-up call.”

I’m not angry, I moved past angry 9 months ago when I discovered that female composers actually do exist. Now I’m incensed, outraged, just downright p****d off.

I hope others do get angry because then we might actually change things.

I think we need to petition every major orchestra in the UK and abroad to include at least one work by a female composer in every concert.

I think we should boycott orchestras who don’t play female composers on a regular basis.

As consumers we have all the power, the money we pay to go to concerts funds these orchestras. We don’t pay, or only go to concerts with female composers then orchestras might receive the message.

I don’t have all the answers but it’s too important for 50% of the population to go on taking up 5% of the space. Let’s change it, now.

Florence Price: African Spirituals meets Western Romanticism

Nationality: American

Born: 9th April 1887 – Little Rock, Arkansas

Died: 3rd June 1953 – Chicago, Illinois

Music period: Nationalist, Modern

Biography:

Florence Price is a legend, she was the first African American woman to have a symphony played by a major orchestra. Born Florence Beatrice Smith in Little Rock, Arkansas, she was lucky to be born with a music teacher for a mother who nurtured Florence’s talent from a young age and saw she got her first composition published at just 11 years old. Florence finished school at 14, despite racial tensions she went on to study organ at the New England Conservatory of Music and graduate at just 19 years old.

However, despite this prodigious early start in life it wasn’t until she was middle aged that she was able to achieve success as a composer. After university she became a teacher, married, had children. In 1927 she moved to Chicago to escape persecution and this meant she was able to study composition with various high profile teachers and at prestigious institutions. In 1931 she and her husband divorced and she became a single mother. But, in 1932, at the age of 45 she entered and won a national competition with her 1st Symphony and the following year the symphony was premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

From this point in 1933 until her death two decades later Price was a respected and popular composer. She composed over 300 pieces including 4 symphonies and 2 violin concertos, a few glorious orchestral suites, a lot of insanely beautiful choral music and organ music.

Sadly after her death in 1953 her music faded away and a large chunk of it, including her 2nd symphony was lost. It wasn’t until 2009 when some random people were renovating a house in Illinois that they found vast amounts of her old scores in the attic, just lying there.

Why do I love her?

Florence Price ignited a love for classical music that I thought died 13 years ago. Her music enthrals in a way I don’t think I’ve felt since I was 9 and my parents took me to see The Nutcracker for the first time.

Price’s music is full of vibrant colours especially because she uses a lot of wind and brass instrumentation in her compositions, it’s not just all about the strings.

She mixes black spiritual music and African American church music with Western romantic styles, a lot of blues tones and gospel flavours.

Some of her works are arrangements and embellishments on folksongs and spirituals such as her Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint, think along the lines of Holst’s Military Suite in F and Vaughan Williams Folk Song Suite.

 

Where to listen?

You can listen to more of her music by checking out my specially curated Youtube playlist below:

You can also listen to my curated Spotify playlist here:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/f5br4ydnbuxgdiphp0one5y3q/playlist/3XXCuixDoxE8q3tBUWZ9WC

Lastly, I do encourage you to listen and then support her work by buying and downloading recordings of her music.

Where to buy?

There is a particularly amazing recording of her Symphony in E Minor and her Piano Concerto in 1 Mvt by the New Black Music Reportory Ensemble from Chicago and pianist Karen Walwyn, recorded in 2011. See the link below to listen and download it for £8.

https://www.prestomusic.com/classical/products/8026813–recorded-music-of-the-african-diaspora-vol-3

Enjoy all these resources and see you next week for a look into another amazing female composer.

Elizabeth