Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

2010-2011 Repertoire Report

by sarah - October 30, 2014

While our priority at the moment is to get the word out about our Performance Grants, we thought we might take a moment to reaffirm the need for those grants, by taking a close look at some data about what orchestras are programming.  In our work to level the playing field for works by women, we often turn to the repertoire reports that the League of American Orchestras assembles annually; they provide a summary of the progress that is being made (or not made).  These reports are valuable as they gather data from orchestras throughout the United States.  However, they are also flawed.  They are usually quite delayed (the most current data available is from the 2010-2011 season), and are dependent on the voluntary participation of ensembles.  For this most recent data, for example, there is no information from many top ensembles including Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, among others.  Yet, with those caveats in mind, they allow us to put various ensembles in comparison to one another and take a look at the broader picture.

Some highlights from the 2010-2011 Season, which reported on 62 Orchestras, include:

  • 1,247 Concert Performances
  • 4,006 Performances of Individual Works
  • 1,099 Individual Compositions Performed
  • 316 Individual Composers Represented

The number of participating ensembles, concerts and performances have declined since the economic downturn.  In comparison, the 2009-2010 concert season included 6,249 individual performances.

  • Of the 4,006 performances, there were 28 performances of works by women – 0.6% (*Note: these figures include every reported performance of every work, including repeat performances)
  • Of the 1,099 individual compositions performed, there were 25 pieces by women composers – 2%
  • Of the 316 composers represented, 13 were women - 4%
  • None of the works by women performed during the season were composed by a historic composer – all are living women who were able to advocate for their own works.
  • Of the 62 orchestras who reported 16 performed works by women – 25%

And now a bit of perspective – Beethoven was, unsurprisingly, the most performed composer with 276 scheduled performances (about 7% of all performances, versus the 0.6% representing all works by all women composers).  The most performed individual work of the 2010-2011 season was Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, op. 68, which had 34 scheduled performances.

The comparison to the 2009-2010 year, which you can read in detail here, is less than encouraging.  What little change there has been has been in the opposite direction.  And, as always, while it is disheartening to see no works by historic women included in regular programming, there were several premieres in the 2010-2011 season that need to be recognized.

US Premiere:

World Premieres:

  • Nancy Bloomer Deussen’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
  • Jennifer Higdon’s Tenfold
  • Catherine McMichael’s  Symphonic Dreams
  • Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s  Avant!

The grand-prize for the ensemble performing the most works by women goes to Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra which performed a grand total of 5 pieces – all of which were by Joan Tower.  (Of course, she was named the Pittsburgh Symphony Composer of the Year for the 2010-2011 Season.)

Other notable inclusions were the performance of two works by women by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Gabriela Lena Frank’s Illapa: Tone Poem for Flute and Orchestra and Jennifer Higdon’s Blue Cathedral) – though it is also worth mentioning that they were heard in their summer series at Tanglewood.  (Perhaps they feel it best to include works by women – even those by two of the most prolific and well respected contemporary composers – in the less formal, outdoor concerts, than in Symphony Hall?)

In recent news, the Baltimore Symphony has put together a database to compile some statistics on the 2014-2015 concert season based on the announced season programs of 21  top orchestras (determine by size and operating budget).  It’s worth reading their full findings, and I look forward to continued follow up on what the data revealed.  The initial findings include (emphasis mine):

  • Collectively, the 21 orchestras will perform more than 1,000 different pieces in part or full by 286 different composers a total of almost 4,600 times.

  • 9.5% of all pieces performed are written since the year 2000.

  • The average date of composition of a piece performed during the year is 1886.

  • A little more than 11% of the works performed are from composers who are still living.

  • Female composers account for only 1.8% of the works performed. When only looking at works from living composers, they account for 14.8%

  • German composers account for more than 23% of the total pieces performed, followed by Russians (19%) and Austrians (14% — in large part due to Mozart).

  • American composers made up less than 11% of the pieces performed. When looking at only works by living composers, however, they account for more than 54%

I’ll need to dig into the data a bit more to determine if the figure accounts for individual works by women or the number of women composers represented.  Either way, the figure is still painfully small.

Even when so  many voices in the arts world are calling for more innovation, for something to stir up the pot and excite and attract new audiences, too many ensembles won’t leave the comfort zone of the (one-time) crowd pleasers and old favorites.  I for one, however, am very tired of anticipating the same rotation of symphonies by Beethoven and  concerti by Mozart.  Artistic Directors and Conductors – as well as Executive Directors and Board Presidents – would benefit from taking a risk and programming the works of voices that are too often unheard.  I am hopeful that as more attention is paid to the facts and figures of what music is being performed, as well as what voices are being ignored or forgotten, changes will follow.

Written by Mrs Bach — the Movie

by Liane Curtis - October 29, 2014

In 2008 we reported on Prof. Martin Jarvis’ theory, that Anna Magdalena Bach  was not only the scribe but also the composer of some of J.S. Bach’s well-known works.  Now Jarvis is back, expanding his idea and collaborating with Heidi Harralson, a forensic document examiner, and has developed his theory into a film.  They also work with composer Sally Beamish, who observes “What I found fascinating is the questions it raises about the assumptions we make: that music is always written by one person and all the great masters were male by definition.”  The Washington Post finds the theory plausible.  There have been after all, other cases when works ascribed to J.S. Bach have been determined, through scholarly processes,to be by someone else.  And the sky did not fall.  J.S. Bach retains his place in the firmament of great composers.

This article in the Guardian is more sensationalist in tone and states that Jarvis’ goal is to “prove” Mrs Bach wrote some of her husband’s best-known works.  It has provoked some heated debate in more than 300 comments to date, revealing that the idea that a woman might have composed music, is in itself a shock for some; and even some kind of a heresy (judging from some responses) to suggest a lowly women might have written music we are used to thinking of as by the great God, J.S. Bach.

At any rate, it is fun to find this classical music topic addressed in popular websites like Jezebel and  Feministing.

One question I have, is when the film will be shown in the U.S.?  (It has just opened in London, and is being shown at a festival in Leipzig tomorrow, Oct. 31) .

Mrs Bach — this link is for the full flier of new film — But below we provide the beautiful first page.   And here is the Trailer for the Film

mrs bach


Repertoire to Know: Louise Talma’s Toccata for Orchestra

by sarah - October 28, 2014

Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy is excited to be once again offering the Performance Grants to help orchestras (professional, community, and youth ensembles) include works by women in their concert repertoire.  We recognize that the lack of representation of women in concert programming, and the lack of diversity in general, is due in part to the limits of annual budgets and the current holdings of the ensemble’s library and are happy to help provide means to explore new repertoire.  We are looking forward to reviewing the grant applications and to support innovative programming!  To help stir the creative juices for what works may be an excellent addition to an upcoming concert program, we’ll be highlighting different pieces through this blog.  (Note: none of the suggested works are a requirement to receive the grant.)  And if you haven’t done so already, spread the word and encourage your favorite ensemble to submit their application for the 2014 Performance Grants!

The first piece that deserves some long overdue time in the spotlight is Louise Talma’s Toccata for Orchestra.  The piece, which was written in 1944 and is an example of her neoclassical writing, incorporates elements of Jazz and Americana in Talma’s compositional style.  Though it was highly praised by critics during Talma’s lifetime, there are few recordings.  (One is available in “print on demand” through Amazon.)  The work is available to rent through the Theodore Presser Company.

Talma at the McDowell Colony, ca. 1948.  Image from the Library of Congress

Talma at the McDowell Colony, ca. 1948. Image from the Library of Congress

Talma (1906-1996) was an American composer who worked and lived in New York City.  A student of Nadia Boulanger, Talma explored both neoclassical and twelve tone compositional styles during her career.  Her compositions were acclaimed during her lifetime and she often spoke about her work – one example of such an interview can be found here.  A new biography of Talma (Louise Talma: A Life in Composition) by musicologist Kendra Preston Leonard has just been published.  You can see Leonard’s lecture about Talma’s life and works though a recorded Library of Congress webcast below:


Amy Beach’s European Successes Recalled by Musical America; article of 100 years ago reprinted

by Liane Curtis - October 25, 2014

Beach-headlineThe noted publication Musical America recalled Amy Beach’s travels and concertizing a century ago, by reprinting an article from October 17, 1914 that interviewed the composer and gave details of her trip.

Musical America offered links to a scanned version of the original article (PDF), and also to a reprinting of the text.  Written during Beach’s shipboard return following several years in Europe, it notes her successful performances, both as a pianist, and also by ensembles, including major orchestras.  The author also gives us a sense of Beach’s personality, for instance, when Beach is asked if she plans to write an opera, “Her face lit up. It is a most expressive one, by the way, and her blue eyes talk out of it very winningly.”   And the origins of Beach’s “hit” song, “The Year’s At The Spring,” are recounted. Enjoy!Beach-the-years


Congratulations to Michelle Merrill

by sarah - October 24, 2014

The Detroit Symphony just announced that Michelle Merrill has been appointed the orchestra’s new Assistant Conductor.

Image from www.micelle-merrill.com

Image from www.michelle-merrill.com

According to the DSO press release,

As Assistant Conductor, Merrill will act as cover conductor for all classical series concerts, as well as conduct DSO’s Young People’s Family Concerts, Education Concert Series programs, and occasional Pops series programs.

Merrill is a rising star in the conducting world, and was the recipient of the Ansbacher Conducting Fellowship in 2013.  In an interview with the Detroit News where, predictably, the gender question was raised:

Merrill stands out in the conductor field on two counts. First, at 30, she’s young in a profession that ordinarily favors age. In addition, she acknowledges she’s the rare woman in the field, but shrugs off any significance to that. (She is not, however, the first woman in this position at the DSO.)

“I don’t ever really think about it,” Merrill says, “but it is unusual. When I’ve done conducting workshops, I’d often be the only woman. But it never occurred to me I needed to break some glass ceiling or anything,” she adds. “Conducting is just what I wanted to do.”

Which is to say that I am hopeful that even though it is painfully slow, progress is being made.  There have been several notable appointments this year which is slowly challenging who a conductor is supposed to be, and look like.  And perhaps with each new appointment the gender question will become less compelling to interviewers.

Congrats to Merrill and best of luck in the new position!

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