The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra has been making headline after headline as of late—and not for the same reasons that it did just a year or so ago. The orchestra that was only months ago presented with the first Amy Award for programming excellence has now fired the Music Director that made the award possible. The situation surrounding the termination of conductor Arild Remmereit is becoming increasingly complicated and frustrating for the RPO musicians and Remmereit’s supporters.
While I am not qualified to speak directly to the circumstances, and the extremely divided viewpoints on the matter, I do have a great concern regarding the future programming of the RPO.
Maestro Remmereit’s programming choices made a significant impact for Rochester and the larger classical music community, even with his extremely abbreviated tenure. A recent editorial in the Democrat and Chronicle spoke to the difficult situation that now exists in Rochester, and acknowledged among Remmereit’s achievements the inclusion of work by women and minority artists. In fact, his programming choices were so innovative as to warrant an invitation for the RPO to performing during the 2014 Spring For Music festival at Carnegie Hall. The original press release proudly announced that their performance, scheduled for May 7, 2014, would include Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony and other works by women composers. It seemed only logical that RPO would perform Beach at Carnegie Hall—the honor of participation came as a result of their adventurous and innovative programming. In other words: because Remmereit dared to feature under-performed works by women composers.
Imagine my surprise when I read in a press release from January that the RPO has changed their repertoire for the Spring For Music festival – instead of presenting the rich concert of works by women, the RPO, under the direction of Michael Christie, will perform Howard Hanson’s opera Merry Mount.
I am confused why the decision would be made to so dramatically change the programming for participation in the Spring For Music festival, particularly when the inclusion of works by women was a significant factor in the invitation to participate at all.
Regardless as to the personal and/or political factors of the recent dismissal, the RPO Board is gravely remiss to not acknowledge the positive developments in programming and engagement that have resulted from Remmereit’s vision. They were happy to acknowledge the ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming (due in part to including works by Karen Tanaka and Margaret Brouwer), as well as the Amy Award from Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy. Why suddenly ignore and dismiss the progress that has been made and the national recognition that has been garnered from diverse programming?
Jennifer Higdon (photo credit Candace di Carlo)
Jennifer Higdon’s piece “Machine” was recently included in an RPO concert. The program was originally meant to also include a work by Margaret Brouwer, which the management cut for budgetary reasons. Having two works by women on one program was another example of Remmereit’s visionary decisions. My colleague Liane Curtis mentioned the situation to Higdon, and Higdon observed:
Maestro Remmereit looks like an incredibly inventive programmer of fascinating concerts. These are the kind of concerts I dream about being able to attend. (email, Jan. 25, 2013)
I second her opinion. It would be a terrible turn of events if the RPO Board, and every orchestra Board, didn’t recognize the value of innovative and diverse programming and build on the past RPO successes. Instead, I fear, they will be advocating for more of the all too familiar, with the result that those innovative concerts that we’ve been dreaming will go unheard.
Every year the League of American Orchestras releases statistics on the repertoire that is performed by member ensembles. The information is collected and painstakingly compiled so that arts administrators, musicians, and academics can take notice of trends and changes in the music being heard on American soil.
As with most arts organizations over the past several years, the League has faced some cutbacks and has been a bit behind on their repertoire reports. But the happy news is that the 2009-2010 season reports have recently been made available to the public (available here).
As in the past, (you can see my past reports on these statistics here and here) I went through the report to see exactly where music by women composers was being heard; the numbers, unfortunately, were not terribly surprising. But there was some good news, too.
It should be understood that these figures are not perfect—I was only able to work with the information that was provided, which was somewhat incomplete. For example, no repertoire was reported from Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, Houston, National, Rochester, San Francisco, and St. Louis symphonies, among others. But, this data is still valuable and worth consideration.
Of the 6,249 performances, there were 45 performances of works by women composers – about 0.7% (*Note: these figures include every reported performance of every work, including repeat performances)
Of the 1,671 pieces that were performed, there were 39 pieces composed by women – 2%
Of the 490 composers represented, 29 were women – 6%
Of the 29 composers, only one was born before 1850 – Francesca Caccini.
Out of 137 orchestras, 30 performed works by women – 22%
Of those 30 orchestras, 3 were youth orchestras.
For some perspective, there were 457 scheduled performances of works by Beethoven (7% of the total works performed compared to the 0.7% of works by women).
There were 47 performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 alone.
The good news is the number of premieres of works by women during the 2009-2010 season.
US Premieres included:
Unsuk Chin’s Concerto, Sheng and Orchestra, Su
Augusta Read Thomas’s Helios Choros II
World Premieres included:
Margaret Brouwer’s Concerto, Viola
Gabrielle Haigh’s Poeme-Rituel
Dorothy Hindman’s Urban Myths
Rebeca Mauleon’s Suite Afro-Cubano
Missy Mazzoli’s These Worlds in Us
Amy Scurria’s What the Soul Remembers
Wendy Snellen’s Suite de Musica de Guitarra Para Orquesta
Stella Sung’s The Frog and the Well (Chamber Version)
Gwyneth Walker’s By Walden Pond
Diane Wittry’s Lamentoso
There was a tie for the grand-prize of number of works performed by an orchestra—the American Composers Orchestra and New Haven Symphony each performed four pieces. And there were some surprises among the “top” orchestras—Boston Symphony performed Augusta Read Thomas’s Helios II, the New York Philharmonic performed two pieces by Francesca Caccini, and Chicago (which, already has a decent history of including at least a few works by women composers each season) performed two pieces by Ruth Crawford-Seeger as well as a piece by Kajia Saariaho.
As the League continues to work to publish reports from more recent years, I’ll be interested to see what developments will be seen. For example, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra has clearly demonstrated their commitment to performing a diverse range of the orchestral repertoire, particularly the under-performed works by women, both historic and contemporary.
The Rochester Philharmonic just announced its 2012-13 Season. In his second season, Maestro Arild Remmereit will continue the orchestra’s exploration of great works by women, both historic and contemporary.
As we mentioned in our earlier post, we are thrilled to see the orchestra making this commitment to women. Remmereit recently served as keynote speaker at the annual fundraising luncheon of the Susan B. Anthony House and Museum. Emphasizing his commitment to women composers, he stated that music “is a necessity and shouldn’t just be in the hands of very few.” What GREAT NEWS! Happy Women’s History Month, but also nice to think that women aren’t only for March anymore!
I am always delighted to stumble upon the name of a historic woman composer in the daily news—and kudos to NPR for making my day!
Their classical music blog, Deceptive Cadence, highlighted new recordings of works by composer Florence Price (née Smith)—the first African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra.
I had been trying to put together some thoughts about the way women who perform classical music are viewed/described by the media, long before Yuja Wang made her controversial Hollywood Bowl appearance. And after sifting through dozens of articles and critiques, I have come up with at least some of what I want to say.
For those who are (perhaps blissfully) unaware of the media frenzy that has recently taken over the classical music community, Chinese pianist Yuja Wang, performed Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano concerto at the Hollywood Bowl on August 2. However, what has remained on everyone’s minds (continuing to be mentioned even 2-½ weeks later) is not her interpretation of the work, but rather what she wore.
The August 3 review in the LA Times by Mark Swed devoted a whole paragraph to the dress:
Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight that had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult. Had her heels been any higher, walking, to say nothing of her sensitive pedaling, would have been unfeasible. The infernal helicopters that brazenly buzz the Bowl seemed, on this night, like long-necked paparazzi wanting a good look.
For reference, here is a video of Yuja Wang (wearing a different – although equally revealing – dress) playing Scriabin:
The responses to the concert, and the review, have been plentiful:
Anne Midgette, music critic at the Washington Post, is familiar with the topic, having written a lengthy article for the New York Times in 2004 titled, “The Curse of Beauty for Serious Musicians; Young Women Find the Playing Field is Far From Level”. In recent days she, too, has contributed to the conversation regarding Wang’s dress, and criticizesLA Times reviewer Mark Swed’s take on the outfit, and speaks to larger concerns with how the classical music community is advancing and embracing change, or not.
And Amanda Ameer at Life’s A Pitch, commented on the dress, sharing her conflicted standpoint on a performer’s right to personal choice versus the expectations for a collaborative effort with the rest of the musicians. Many readers’ comments also raise excellent points on the implications of the general of beauty.
The Well-Tempered Ear is conducting a poll about what “appropriate” concert attire would look like, and rightfully addresses the differences in expectations for male and female soloists.
Adam Tschorn, also of the LA Times, shares his thoughts on the dress and the hulabaloo here.
An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer by music critic David Patrick Stearns likens Wang and her contemporaries (young soloists, like Lang Lang) as “rock stars”. Stearns believes that it is reasonable for young, talented, popular musicians to conform to the fashion of the day, but cautions that it’s going too far:
But it’s all getting so extreme, some might say classical music is turning into its own slutwalk, with artists seizing upon every possible media outlet, and looking as provocative as possible.
(Aside: Isn’t it interesting that he certainly purposefully chose that term and still misses the point, even with all the recent news coverage of slutwalks taking place across the country and around the world.)
Moreover, Stearns seems to be more concerned that fans of Wang will only be interested in attending concerts because of her attire and not her music, and then immediately calls to reference the other women that have faced scrutiny over the years
Overall, the classical world is a better place since violinist Anne Sophie Mutter began, in the mid-1980s, wearing strapless concert gowns that give her more freedom of movement, not to mention the sensual pleasure of feeling her violin close to her bare skin. Soprano Karita Mattila spends her spare time making her own form-fitting concert gowns; one could have worse hobbies. Both artists have exemplary careers with adventuresome contemporary repertoire. Also, visual desensitization set in quickly: After a few concerts, I stopped noticing what they wore and was all ears.
…and still seems to miss his own point.
As those of us who pay attention to these things know, it is not the first time that a critique of visual aspects of the performer took precedence over the music and its interpretation. Physical appearance has always played a role in music making – how a women presents herself physically is, and has always been, important to the society at large. There is a long history of women being prohibited from playing instruments because of how they required a woman to hold her body (think cello), or contort her face (oboe, trumpet, etc.). Instead, women were encouraged to play instruments that would enhance their feminine beauty.
When women first began to step into the spotlight in the 19th century as soloists (like Camilla Urso, for example), their attire was usually just as heavily critiqued as their performance. As Beth Abelson Macleod noted in her book Women Performing Music, many dresses were described “with an attention to detail generally reserved for bridal gowns on today’s society pages.”
And the bias that women faced in joining symphony orchestras, which was rampant in mid-late 20th century in the United States, and which continues in Europe, included commentary on physical appearance. In 1946 conductor Sir Thomas Beecham was quoted as saying,
I do not like, and never will, the association of men and women in orchestras and other instrumental combinations…. As a member of the orchestra once said to me, ‘If she is attractive I can’t play with her and if she is not I won’t.’
And he wasn’t alone. Franz Reiner, who conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony, said around 1945 that “I’ll take any man in the country before I’ll take a woman.”
The inherent bias was so troubling that blind auditions (where performers auditioned anonymously behind a curtain) were put in place in the 1960s and 1970s to allow for the possibility of merit to be the qualifying factor.
In the following decades, more women found their ways into professional orchestras, and earned success as soloists. But though expectations for appearance changed, it was never removed from the equation. Women instrumentalists have often found their attire to take up more room in their concert reviews than any thoughtful criticism of the performance. World-renowned violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter was one of the reviewers’ favorite targets in the late 1990’s. In a review that appeared on February 28, 1997, Toronto Star critic William Littler wrote:
The late English music critic Sir Neville Cardus, whose eyes were as open as his ears, used to say of the Viennese soprano Lisa della Casa that one should go to her concerts twice: once to listen, once to look. It is the kind of remark familiar as well to German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, she of the flowing tresses and off-the-shoulder gowns. It is a sexist remark, no doubt, for which those of us with trousers make no apology. Nature has been bounteous to such women and just a little bit cruel as well, because we can never entirely regard their artistry in isolation from their beauty.
Which brings us to the other side of this problem. Female solo performers are criticized if they choose attire that is considered too “racy”, as well as when they choose perhaps a more conservative ensemble. Lara St. John, Canadian violinist with a history of wearing un-conservative concert attire, received criticism of the latter kind from critic John Terauds in a February 13, 2004 review (also in the Toronto Star):
An almost matronly St. John shambled out on to the Jane Mallett Theatre stage in a wrinkled pigeon-coloured number that had to be one of the ugliest frocks to see stage lights this season….This violinist proved that what you look like says little about your music. Her music last night was as good as it gets. But it still might be time to buy a new dress.
(Midgette’s Times article, linked above, is written in response to this review by Terauds.)
Physical appearance in classical music continues to be an important factor for performers who seek to get ahead – particularly women. Over-sexualization of women performers is rampant, evidenced in part by the website Beauty in Music has been cataloguing “The Sexist Women in Classical Music”, which provided pictures of instrumentalists but neglects to include any names. And Norman Lebrecht at Slipped Disc had the audacity to suggest just a few months ago that EMI, having signed trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth, may have made an error in that they “already have a young, blonde trumpet player in Alison Blasom.” The implication, of course, being that there is only room in the classical world for one sexy trumpet player, and certainly not two, irregardless of their talent or creativity.
Men (perhaps increasingly) also face expectations and criticism – this evidenced by the listing of The Top 12 Classical Music Pinups (which includes men and women), and “breaking” stories about a composer who joined a modeling agency.
Expectations for vocalists are even more cutthroat than instrumentalists, particularly in this world of ever-enterprising, novelty-seeking and boundary-breaking operatic directors. The story of soprano Deborah Voight’s dramatic weight loss after being removed from an opera production because she couldn’t fit into a specific black cocktail dress is now infamous – and being retold by Voight, at Glimmerglass this past year as well as in an upcoming memoir. Australian opera director Lyndon Terracini has publicly and very clearly proclaimed his position in a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald:
The fat lady has sung. And if Lyndon Terracini continues to get his way, she won’t get an encore until she at least shifts some weight.
Lest the man charged with overseeing the future of opera in Australia be accused of sexism, he is quick to point out that his shape-up-or-ship-out message applies to all performers, regardless of gender.
”If you’re seeing a couple making out and one of them is obese, who wants to watch that?” he says with a theatrical grimace. ‘‘It’s obscene. You just think, ‘Jeez, for Chrissakes, don’t let the children see that’.”
Apparently it is okay to be fat-phobic if you are not sexist about it.
There have been plenty of arguments as to why it is important to maintain the concert standards that were created decades ago – but also arguments to change the status quo. If classical music is going to thrive once again, isn’t it time to move beyond these trite and blatantly sexist criticisms, which further reinforce the patriarchy that we still can’t seem to shake? It appears more and more that talent is coming in second place to reinforcing flawed and damaging beauty standards. We expect classical musicians to look beautiful, but not be too sexy or glamorous or empowered. And if they don’t conform to what the resounding majority believes to be beautiful, then they don’t belong on the stage at all.
Performers are on stage to be seen and heard, certainly. Watching a performer engage with the music is why I attend live performances. However, I see no point in forgetting the music for the sake of being a beauty/fashion critic, other than to detract from what is more than likely amazing (and maybe threatening) talent for the sake of maintaining restrictive social standards for beauty and appearance.
I just saw the new trailer for the film, titled Mozart’s Sister, yesterday – and today NPR’s classical music blog Deceptive Cadence discussed the film and the how little is really known about the life and music of the “other” Mozart.
Here’s the official trailer for the film:
It has opened (in limited release), and I’m anxious to find a theater in my area that will be presenting it. Though surely flawed, as almost all films of this nature are, it will undoubtedly provide a better insight into who Nannerl was and the forces that she had to work against throughout her lifetime.
The official website for the film also provides information about where and when it will be released nationwide.
Hannah Lash has received numerous honors and prizes, including the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award and a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is a past participant in the American Composers Orchestra’s Underwood New Music Readings; her chamber opera Blood Rose was recently presented by New York City Opera’s VOX. She holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music and Harvard University. The Orchestra will perform her God Music Bug Music.
Andreia Pinto-Correia’s music is distinguished by influences of Iberian folk traditions, particularly Arab-Andalusian poetic forms. Highlights of her upcoming season include the Carnegie Hall premiere of a work commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra, and a residency with Portuguese chamber orchestra OrchestrUtópica. She is now working on her first opera. She is a teaching fellow and doctoral candidate at the New England Conservatory. The Orchestra will perform her Xantara.
The point that many long-standing European music traditions exclude women is not news. Neither is the fact that blatantly sexist practices continue, in small or large ways, to this day. Anyone who has ever followed the Vienna Philharmonic can attest to that.
However, through all of the debates and conversations about the importance of upholding and/or breaking traditions, Italian news agencies reported that history was made this week when Susanna Mälkki led a performance at La Scala. It was reported as first time a woman has ever wielded a baton at the over 200 year-old theater.
That the honor would go to Susanna Mälkki is not surprising. The conductor, born in Finland, is an active opera conductor. At La Scala she led the world premiere of a La Scala commission, Quartett by Luca Francesconi. Past performances have included the Finnish premiere of Thomas Adès Powder her Face in 1999, and performances of Kaija Saariaho’sL’Amour de Loin and La Passion de Simone, and in February of this year she conducted the Boston Symphony in a performance of Unsuk Chin’s cello concerto.
Congratulations to the Susanna Mälkki! I look forward to hearing what is more to come.
So here is my own quick list of admirable conductors who I hope won’t be left out of consideration just because they are (guess what??) women.
That Alsop has invigorated the Baltimore S.O. is without question. That she would be great for the BSO is a no-brainer. I would love to see her here, and she’s one of the best-known conductors worldwide (she was just appointed Chief Conductor of Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra). But would she want to leave Baltimore for Boston? http://www.marinalsop.com/
Olandra de la Parra
If there were justice in this world (in particular, if sexism were not so prevalent in our human culture), the name of Olandra de la Parra would be better known than that of Gustavo Dudamel. Like him, she’s a Latin “Wunderkind,” starting her Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas in 2004 (when she was 23). In 2007 I heard her lead her orchestra in a powerfully sculpted performance of Beach’s Gaelic Symphony, offering clarity of the lyrical ideas, and dynamic pacing so that the energy of the monumental work continued to build. An electrifying presence on the podium, she offers imaginative programming, and a real passion for building not just audiences but community. And the POA has a new CD on the Sony Classics label. http://www.poamericas.org/
Susanna Mälkki Hugely experienced and widely in demand, Mälkki has already received critical acclaim at the BSO: “Mälkki’s foundation was a rhythmic energy that constantly percolated underneath the musical surface, producing an unusually fresh rendition of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony.” (Boston Globe, 2010). “Mälkki expertly navigated this complex score and brought it to life with complete assurance (BMI, 2011).
Musically she continues to grow, exploring broad vistas of new repertoire – much of it highly compelling — as well as bringing insights to familiar works, in her two orchestras, the Virginia Symphony and Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Given her success at these two mid-level ensembles (including continued growth of audiences, and a remarkable series of recordings and awards), that she has not moved up to one of the top-tier U.S. orchestras demonstrates a continued glass ceiling.
Joana Carneirohttp://www.imgartists.com/?page=artist&id=269 The Portuguese conductor recently succeeded Kent Nagano as Music Director of the Berkeley Symphony. This follows a term as Assistant Conductor with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She continues to be active as a guest conductor in cities including Sao Paulo, Prague, Indianapolis, St. Paul and Venice.
Laura Jackson received rapturous praise in for her work with the Atlanta Symphony during her term as assistant conductor there: for instance her Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 “bristled with life while creating a compact, clenched-fist sense of logic and purpose…. In each movement of the Brahms, she delivered a massive payoff…. [and she] let the bittersweet lyricism flow with both charm and angst.” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Now music director of the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra in Reno, Nevada, she continues to guest conduct nationally and internationally.
Award winning violinist and former child prodigy, as well as active soloist, Hilary Hahn has recently announced a new project, commissioning 27 new encore pieces. The news was released on her professional website. Hahn reportedly sought to increase and diversify the encore pieces that are heard throughout concert halls, as well as introduce audiences to different composers. Hahn handpicked the composers for the project, and has revealed 26 – the final composer is going to be a surprise. Included in the list of composers were:
I’ll look forward to new commissioned works, and applaud Hahn’s own activism in not only supporting living composers but also doing so in a way that introduces new music to what may otherwise be reluctant audiences.