Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

Beach’s Bal Masqué in Boston Performance

by Liane Curtis - August 19th, 2018

Amy Beach’s delightful waltz, Bal Masqué, op. 22, is part of this week’s concert by Boston’s Landmark Orchestra.  Titled “Symphonic Dances” the Aug. 22 event features “music to move by” with professional and community dancers.  Directed by Christopher Wilkins, the concert is free to all.

Bal Masqué is unique in Beach’s output as a single-movement orchestral work.  It is handy for programming, and thus this lovely waltz was performed in 2000 by the Boston Pops (directed by Keith Lockhart) at the concert where the addition of Beach’s name to the composers’ names on  Boston’s Hatch Shell was unveiled (described in detail here).  Like most of her orchestral music, the performance materials were never engraved – hand-copied score and parts served as the performance materials.  Thus Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy undertook the editing and engraving of the score and parts as part of our celebration of Beach’s 150th birth anniversary last year (engraved and edited by Chris A. Trotman).  We hoped that this new edition would encourage performances, and we are happy to say that is happening!  😀

Bal Masqué is Beach’s orchestral version of the piano work of the same title, published in 1894.  But the melodies in Bal Masqué are found in two of her other works.  The song, “Wouldn’t That be Queer,” part of the set of opus 26 published in the same year, shares melodic content with the “A” part of the Bal Masqué’s tripartite ABA form.  Presumably the song predates the instrumental version, since reading a poem (in this case one by Elsie J. Cooley) usually suggests a melody to a composer.

The middle “B” section of Bal Masqué is an arrangement of mvt. 4, “Pierrot and Pierrette” from Beach’s Children’s Carnival, Op. 25, for solo piano.  Was the lilting melody extracted from Op. 22 to make a movement for the children’s suite?  Or did she create the melody as a separate movement and then later decide to frame it with the tune of “Wouldn’t that be Queer” to form a longer, multi-section waltz?  As yet, there is no definitive answer to this question.

In a further recycling Beach would later arrange “Wouldn’t that be queer” for women’s three-part chorus and piano (published 1919).  Beach’s self-borrowings are many, and are a rich topic of study.  Clearly, she wanted her striking melodic ideas to be put to a wide use and be heard in a range of contexts.

Here’s a recording of the orchestral Bal Masqué

 

Monday Link Round Up: August 6, 2018

by sarah - August 6th, 2018

News to start your week!

What better way to tackle the new week than a fantastic conversation?  Elizabeth Blair speaks with Emily Doolittle in the most recent episode of Listening to Ladies.  Learn more at the website, with lots of links and music, stream the episode through your favorite podcast app, or in the player below!

Calls for Participation are open for the 2019 Women Composers Festival of Hartford!  There are seeking compositions for the Ensemble-In-Residence, composers & performers for the annual Music Marathon, and presenters & performers for the Women Composers Forum.  Learn more at their website – and spread the word!

In a delightful change of programming, and response to national outcry at their predictable and stogy programming, The Philadelphia Orchestra has altered their plans for the 2018-2019 season to include works by two women composers.  They will perform the US Premiere of Perspectives by Stacey Brown in November, and Masquerade by Anna Clyne in June.  Read more at The Philadelphia Inquirer.  The story was also covered by NPR.

Podcaster (and pianist) Kai Talim let us know about his far-ranging conversation with conductor Mei-Ann Chen in a recent episode of Skip the Repeat.  We interviewed in Maestro Chen in 2013 when she was busy leading performances of music by Florence PriceMei-Ann Chen continues to build her conducting career with Asian and European engagements, as well as continuing as Music Director of the Chicago Sinfonietta. But, as she discusses with Kai Talim, her big professional breakthrough was her appointment as Musical Director of the Portland Youth Philharmonic.

 

And, from the blogosphere, we ran across Heather Roche’s report on the Royal Philharmonic Society’s conducting workshop for professional women musicians new to conducting.  Roche was pleased to be invited to apply, but taken aback that the workshop included no repertoire by female composers.  Her response was this post of five suggestions of pre-1950 works by women.  We applaud her ideas heartily, but also want to emphasize that all conducting classes — not just ones for women — should include music by women.  OK! Now we’d better get busy sending that message to directors of conducting classes!
We would love to know what you think!  Email at [email protected]

A View from Germany: Classical Music is so Sexist

by Liane Curtis - July 30th, 2018

Inge Kloepfer‘s striking article “So sexistisch ist die Klassik  — Classical Music is So Sexist” appeared on June 13, 2018 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.  We wanted English-speaking readers to be able to read this important journalism, so we asked Elizabeth Osman to translate it for us, and then I polished her translation.  Thank you to Inge Kloepfer for permission.   (Liane Curtis)

(this image appeared in the E-paper version of the article)

 

“If enough castrati were available, women would not even have roles as singers: in the classical music establishment, the obstinate patterns of perceptions maintain that feminine can be merely the muse, while genius is only masculine.”

 

The Berlin Philharmonic program for the upcoming concert season is outdated – to an extent that you wouldn’t think possible in 2018. Because the next season will be predominantly enacted by men. Women are almost only allowed on the big stage of the Berlin Philharmonic as singers. Because the music scene no longer has Castrati for the high voices, and not everything can be done with Countertenors, the strictly conservative program writers cannot ignore Sopranos.

But that is not all: not once does a female conductor stand at the podium of the [Berlin] Philharmonic [in this season].  Also, new music composed by women is almost never played. Of all things, for the Berlin Philharmonic, which makes such a big fuss of their role in youth development, one would expect otherwise, especially since they have had Andrea Zietzschmann as the (female) artistic director for the past eight months.

This top operation of German classics is no exception. The Elbphilharmonie (Hamburg) is only a bit more modern and forward looking. We, the audience who are inclined to the classics, are still predominantly entertained by men in the large concert halls. And we can hardly stand it.  “There is a need for progress, especially in the area of female conductors and composers” admitted Director Zietzschmann. But it does not appear that anything  is happening with them.  At least she promises that “in the season after next, female soloists will play a larger role.” Numerically, women remain accessory parts to this day in the top classical music scene, [and even that role is] not guaranteed to them. This discrimination is systematic – it is part of a deeply rooted and rarely acknowledged set of beliefs and practices.

It has already been a year and a half since the survey by the German Cultural Council. The result of the analysis of the past twenty years showed one thing above all for the world of classical music: it has a sexism problem. And it cannot get it under control.  Olaf Zimmermann, President of the Cultural Council, says “patriarchal structures have become deeply entrenched in the pattern of artistic work.” The male genius cult had never been challenged. And it will not be even today. Men are still the geniuses, women still the muses. The artistic leaders have been reassuring the public for years that a lot has already been done, that progress has been made. Statistically, that is false.  The classical world had made more progress, more than a hundred years ago. For example, in the 1908-09 season in Vienna, almost 40 percent of the official soloists or chamber musicians were women. It was after that the women disappeared from the main stages.

The directors regard the women question as obsolete, at least for soloists, and claim that equality prevails here. But once again, the numbers show this is also not true: one only needs to count the concert programs. And female conductors are not good enough (it is claimed) for the big stages. “Unfortunately, the number of female conductors is much less than the number of male conductors, and so the selection is limited,” said Zietzschmann.

This is not plausible: for 25 years, more women have studied singing and instrumental music than men. For 15 years, 40 percent of the conductors and 30 percent of the composer classes have been female. Assuming a normal distribution of talent, the degree programs should produce in percentage terms just as many excellent, mediocre, and bad female musicians as male musicians. But on the biggest stages this is not the case – we see only a very few female superstars like Martha Argerich, Barbara Hannigan, Hélène Grimaud, or Yuja Wang. Natural distribution laws apparently do not apply here. Why?

The American neuro-scientist, Vivienne Ming, has been researching this very phenomenon [the prejudice that is discussed in the previous paragraph] for years, though not in the field of fine arts, but in rather in economics. Not without reason does she elevate the issue to the level of human cognition; after all, she has determined that the male or female first name of a start-up founder determines the chances of receiving financing. Our brain, she explains, is lazy when it has to make a decision. When an investor has mostly encountered male engineers, then his brain will resort to this usual assessment of business model and will tend to judge the men’s models positively. The women simply lose the game due to these bad statistics. In other words, people – men and women alike — are prejudiced, and they are most often not aware of it.

A whole novel about this cognitive phenomenon was written by American bestselling author Siri Hustvedt, called The Blazing World. It deals with an artistically talented but unsuccessful gallery owner’s wife, who decides (after the death of her husband) to restart her career as an artist with the help of three men. Behind their masks, the perception of her art changes 180 degrees. There is, Hustvedt said, a perceptual reality: art is assessed very differently depending on whether a male or female name stands by it. And she knows that countless studies have long since proven that. This perceptual reality is not different in music – it is just that it simply not believed.

The consequences of this bias are significant: If women do not get to the big stage at the same rate proportion as men due to obvious bias, then they will never win the game against the statistics. A perpetual show of this distorted perception is the important Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, which is worth 250,000 Euros. In its 45-year history, it has only been given to men – with only one exception: in 2008, Anne-Sophie Mutter. The foundation has brought four women to the Board of Trustees, including Director Zietzschmann and her colleague from the Zurich Tonhalle, Ilona Schmiel. So far (to date), they could not or would not produce any change. At the beginning of May, another man was rewarded and thus removed from the sphere of semi-visibility. The prize went to Beat Furrer, who once sat on the Board of Trustees himself. Women do not have such a situation. “A timidity exists, about being seen to bend to the pressure of quota,” says the Foundation. Every time there are serious, remarkable females competing for the prize. But unfortunately, no women are perceived as having the same level of  accomplishment as  the top level of men. There are other curious arguments, for example, that women who have children would have problems maintaining the quality of their work. Mostly, composers are the target here. “The Board of Trustees retains the absolute right to award the prize according to artistic criteria.”

Maybe they should advertise a highly paid composer competition, in which the submissions are anonymous. Like the curtain for auditions that was introduced in America to eliminate the problem of skin color. The trick revealed something amazing — it brought more women into the orchestra and made the body of sound of the orchestra even better. Not because the women played better, but because fundamental pool of talent was increased greatly.

One cannot measure quality the way that distance is, in meters, says the Viennese music historian, Melanie Unseld. A Beethoven Symphony does not have a value of 80 and one by Mozart 79 or 81. Does a Beat Furrer compose better than the grand Sofia Gubaidulina? Unseld has always addressed these issues of women in music and how they are perceived. “There are mechanisms supporting the belief that the question of quality is gender neutral,” she says. Because it is based on an aesthetic criteria that has been developed for centuries,  in (thought-)structures in which men call all the shots.

“What pieces does a female piano student get to learn?” one can ask.  Only on rare occasions does she learn [music by] Fanny Hensel. And then what will she then learn at the conservatory?

Gender obscures the perception of quality in such a way that more than a few people have adopted the assumption that women cannot conduct. That is the way it has been for decades. What deficits have not been attributed to all female musicians? For example, intonation difficulties and rhythmic insecurity – a death sentence in serious music; or shortcoming in contrapuntal technique, which is a basic prerequisite for composing. In the meantime, the professional niveau is out of reach: women could not conduct male music like that of Bruckner or Stravinsky; or they exude too much sexual energy at the podium – the musicians who had their concentration impaired would, of course, play poorly. It goes without any explanation: women at the podium? “Just not my cup of tea,” said acclaimed Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons a few months ago. Outrage followed, and the poor guy, certainly not a misogynist, backpedaled meekly, then let himself be carried to a very true statement: he just comes from another time. Right – Jansons comes from the world of yesterday – at least in the issue of women.

And he can’t get out of there [the world of the past]. Just as we can’t get out of there, when it comes to the fine arts. Jansons’ brain plays him the same statistical trick with him as ours does, or as anyone’s brain does if we let it: what he sees and has seen are mostly men on the important stages, and therefore it is very clear to him that they can and do play better.  [What he experiences becomes his reality, and what he knows is simply better than what he does not know]

Can that ever change?

Only if the men decide to follow suit with Tonhallen boss Ilona Schmiel: although this coming season offers their audience no female conductor, but certainly comparatively strong female soloists. “The head conductors must, on their part, insist on finding outstanding female conductors and engaging them.” After all, it is also crucial to “who will be discovered and pushed by whom.” Alexander Steinbeis, director of the German Symphony Orchestra Berlin for more than a decade, which shares the Scharoun building with the Berlin Philharmonic, will feature three female conductors in addition to several female soloists on the big stage. “I would like to have more,” he says, especially those who have an excellent reputation and a lot of experience on the big stages. But how are there ever going to be more, if so few famous orchestras are willing to trust them for an evening?” Here is the circular reasoning of the problem [“the cat bites its tail,” is the German expression], that he understands.

Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Culture, Monika Grütters, has initiated another mentoring program for young women in art and culture. The Siemens Foundation now wants to look after women more, she says, and Jansons is now all about young female conductors. The crux of it is: aid support programs nurture the old patterns of perception that women still need help, because they are not good enough. It does not lie with the quality of the female musicians, but that the men in the classical music industry set still the tone. In 2018, women will belong on the conductor’s stand, and they will be rewarded. Their music deserves to be played.

Not promotion, but recognition is the solution – it could be that easy.

 

BBC Proms 2018: By the Numbers

by sarah - July 12th, 2018

The 2018 BBC Proms kicks off today, Friday, July 13 and continues with extensive programming through September. The annual event features what is considered the best of the best in contemporary classical music programming with ensembles, soloists, and conductors from around the world. The schedule of events is enormous, with paid and free concerts, lectures, workshops, radio broadcasts – not a dull moment until after Labor Day.

Others have already shared their thoughts on the choices in programming for this year’s Proms, but we felt it important to add our thoughts, and figures, to the conversation as the Proms officially get underway.

There are a lot of ways that we can account for how works by women are represented at the Proms – and we can start with clear figures.  For example:

  •  Of the 127 composers represented this year (in all of the programming, both numbered Proms and “Proms at…” concerts, symphonic and chamber music) only 22 are women. (17% representation) Of those 18 women, only four are historic (Lili Boulanger, Hildegard von Bingen, Morfydd Llwyn Owen, and Dame Ethel Smyth.)
  • Of the roughly 103 hours of music (that’s 4 ¼ days straight), women’s work only accounts for 4 hours. (4% of the overall time)
  • Of the 296 individual works being performed (again, at both symphonic and chamber music events), there were 28 individual works by women. Only two had more than one work being performed (Lili Boulanger, who has an impressive six pieces throughout the schedule, and Caroline Shaw who has two). (9% of the total works)

    This Proms 2018 graphic features men and women in equal proportion — unfortunately very misleading

All told, this is tremendous progress over the figures from last year! Which, sadly, only continues to highlight just how underrepresented women are in so much classical music programming.  But this year the BBC Proms proclaims they are championing women in their discussion of “What’s new and extraordinary”!

The Proms, and the UK music scene in general, has been making great effort in working towards more equality in the representation of women in classical music – and we can, I’m sure, look forward to more good things to come. There are notable celebratory moments throughout this season in the work towards inclusivity and representation. For example, works by women are featured in both the “First Night of the Proms” and the “Last Night of the Proms.” Many of the women composers who are having works heard were commissioned by the BBC, and we are always delighted in organizations making an effort to be inclusive in supporting new music. In fact, of the 24 works by women being heard, five are World Premieres of a BBC Commission. (There are also two world premieres and two UK premieres being heard as well.)

For such a British affair it’s remarkable how much Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday is being celebrated, with music being featured in a total of nine events, including a full performance of West Side Story.  Scottish composer Thea Musgrave, who marked her 90th birthday just a few months ago – and was honored by the Queen herself – is also included in this year’s events. But with just a single work being performed, (Phoenix Rising in Prom 33, paired with Brahms in a concert titled “Brahms’s A German Requiem”) it’s hardly a comparison. It can also be noted that zero works by Judith Weir, Master of the Queen’s Music, are on this year’s program.

Prom 8 is the only event to include works by multiple historic women composers. Titled Youthful Beginnings, the program includes two works by Boulanger, Felix Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto, Nocturne by Morfydd Llwyn Owen, and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4. An innovative program to be sure – but the interest of the event is lost in the description:

Mendelssohn’s precocious First Piano Concerto joins Schumann’s forward-looking Fourth Symphony and music by Lili Boulanger and Morfydd Owen – both of whom died tragically young – in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales’s first Prom of the season.

So Mendelssohn is precocious, Schumann is forward-looking, but Boulanger and Owen just died young?  Certainly their music has admirably qualities other than the early death of the composer?  Or would sharing that Lili Boulanger’s “Youthful Beginnings” include being the first woman to win a Prix de Rome in music, and that Morfydd Owen completed over 250 highly regarded compositions in just 10 years –is that too much to share?

Prom 13 highlights contemporary women, titled Pioneers of Sound, and works by five works by electronic composers.  Certainly an innovative programming choice for Royal Albert Hall!  In addition to historic composers, the performance will also include a newly revised work by Daphne Oram (1925-2003) who was on the forefront of electronic composition.  For all of the losses in this year’s programming, there are also wins.

All of which is to say, it’s frustrating, but not surprising. Disappointing, but still better than what has happened in the years before. (See our look at the 2016 Proms, 2015 Proms, and 2014 Proms reports.) Progress is painfully slow, but it is happening. And, it can be noted, all of these figures far exceed the representation that women receive in any top American orchestra season (although the number of Proms concerts exceeds that of orchestras and features a wide range of ensembles, large and small, and also soloists).

Have a listen to some of the compositions and composers being heard this year:

NPR on Female Composers At The Symphony (and the lack thereof)

by Liane Curtis - June 20th, 2018

As Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy celebrates the 10th anniversary of our founding, and continues to celebrate the important work of The Women’s Philharmonic, who performed and promoted music by women throughout the 23 years of their existence (1981-2004) we are always happy to hear media attention being given to our central issue, of women composers, and their under-representation in the concert hall.

Thus, we are excited to share this story by NPR’s Tom Huizinga on the scarcity of female composers in classical music programming.  This is a great story, with interview clips and music excerpts from a range of important living female composers.  But I’d like to take issue with Jessie Rosen, President of the League of American Orchestras, for his statement: “If you go back in time, this was not a viable career for a woman to become a composer. And so, you have a canon that, by definition, does not have a lot of women composers in it.”  Huizinga then continues “And so, you end up with tons of Mozart and Beethoven.”

Well, as Jennifer Higdon so aptly puts it “Heck, you know what? Half of humanity is made up of women.” And this has always been the case.  Women have often lacked  education, encouragement, and opportunities — but nevertheless there have ALWAYS been women who found ways around these obstacles and composed music.  And in fact, there were women who where hugely successful in their own time — Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and Amy Beach are two very different examples — who were later cut out of history because ignorant people said women back then didn’t write music because they couldn’t have a career doing it.

Moreover, look at the many canonic MALE composers who did NOT make a living a living by composing — from Vivaldi the priest to Charles Ives the insurance executive —  here and here are listicles of more.

The problem is not that there weren’t plenty of women composers, the problem is because “composer” has so long been defined as male, that people therefore find it hard imagine a musical landscape that is different from the one that the grew up with (one enshrined with great men and only men).  As  describes in the Frankfurter Allgemeinen, the classical music world has yet to make a serious effort to dismantle the cult of male genius (update: English translation of the article is here.)