Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

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]

2017-18 Season: By the Numbers

by sarah - September 8th, 2017

Now that Labor Day, and the end of summer, has passed we are looking forward to the start of the 2017-18 concert season – and taking a critical look at what we can expect in the coming programming.

We at WPA have been looking at the repertoire of major ensembles for a long time, and are thankful that more attention is being paid to the statistics – in particular with the diligent work that had been done in recent years by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  Though we don’t have such an overreaching look as the work that was done at the BSO, we can offer some specifics about the representation of women composers.

The information compiled is representative of the top 21 orchestras in the United States* (the same group that the Baltimore Symphony data has examined).  We looked at all the available information for the coming seasons (available through press releases, season brochures, and events calendars on the ensemble websites) and only collected data from regularly scheduled concerts (not special events, “Family” concerts, chamber concerts, “Pops” concerts, etc.)

Of those 21 ensembles, seven (7) did not program any works by women composers: Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, National, St. Louis, and Utah).  Those that did program works by women only included one or two, with the standout being Milwaukee which programmed four (4).  But not all programming is equal – for example, while Minnesota does have two works by women programmed, they are included in their “Emerging Composer” concert, which is only performed once unlike most concerts in their season that are played multiple times over a weekend.

With all of this in mind, the breakdown for the 2017-2018 concert season looks like this:

A total of 224 composers will be represented, of which 21 are women (8.6%).

A total of 770 individual works will be heard, which include 24 pieces by women (3.1%).

There are a total of 1,484 compositions programmed – which consists of the number of times the work was scheduled to be performed among various orchestras, not the number of performances each work will be heard.  (For example, ten ensembles have programmed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica, but we didn’t count all of the individual performances that might occur over the performance weekend, or include matinees, open rehearsals, etc.)  Of those programmed pieces, only 26 works were by women (1.8%).

Compared to last year’s numbers, this is actually a significant improvement – which only demonstrates how underrepresented women continue to be in concert halls.  The increase in the number of works by historic women is particularly encouraging.  Though we are always in support of new works by living composers, we are always delighted when works by women who are no longer around to advocate for themselves are included in programming.

Of the 21 women who will have works performed, five can be considered historic (composer born before 1950).  This is a huge improvement over the one work included among the same group of ensembles last season!

Even with all of this positive news, it is clear that the status quo is not even close to being disrupted.  Of those 1484 performances, works by Beethoven alone total 7%, and works by Bernstein, who is being celebrated this year in honor of his 100th birthday, total 5.7%.  Meanwhile, we are celebrating the life and music of Amy Beach – American’s first woman to compose a symphony and have it performed by a major orchestra – for her 150th birthday, but her works have not been programmed in any ensemble, including in her hometown of Boston.

It is worth noting that even though these works are being performed, they are not necessarily being recognized or promoted.  There were disturbingly few mentions of works by women in the online or print descriptions of each concert, even when the included work was commissioned.  For example, the Seattle Symphony has included Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps for a program titled Rachmaninov Symphony No. 3, taking place in February.  The other works on the program include Elgar’s Violin Concerto and, of course, the Rachmaninov Symphony.  The description for the event, however, only mentions two of the three:

Rachmaninov’s final symphony radiates a warm, nostalgic beauty rooted in the Russia of his early life. The virtuosic violinist Vilde Frang performs Elgar’s emotional Violin Concerto, a work demanding extraordinary technical skills and physical and emotional stamina.

Later in the Seattle Symphony season they include the world premiere of a new work by Alexandra Gardner in an event, titled Wonderful Town and featuring the work of Leonard Bernstein.  Other works to be heard include Wonderful Town and Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs.  The description for the event makes no mention of the significance of the premiere, or even the composer at all:

Leonard Bernstein understood the pulse of American life like no other composer, and his sassy, energetic scores still get our blood pumping. The Seattle Symphony brings Bernstein’s Broadway classic Wonderful Town to life with “Christopher Street,” “A Little Bit in Love,” “Ohio” and the “Conga!”

Seattle is not alone in this trend.  San Francisco Symphony includes Kaija Saariaho’s Laterna Magica in an event on June 9, which also includes Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy.  The event, titled Susanna Mälkki and Hilary Hahn, is described as:

Two superstars of classical music, violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn and conductor Susanna Mälkki, join forces to present Tchaikovsky’s monumental Violin Concerto. Experience Mälkki’s “charismatic and dynamic podium presence” (Chicago Classical Review) along with Hahn’s “consistent perfection” (BBC Music Magazine) in a concert also featuring Scriabin’s wonderfully mystical The Poem of Ecstasy.

Milwaukee Symphony includes Julia Perry’s Study for Orchestra in a concert titled American Classics.  Other pieces on the program include Bernstein’s Divertimento, Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and Copland’s Symphony No. 3.  But the concert description can only mention three of the four:

Aaron Copland’s stirring Third Symphony draws its majestic finale from his iconic Fanfare for the Common Man. Samuel Barber’s nostalgic setting of James Agee’s prose touches the heart. And Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento is a youthful romp. American Classics as only the Milwaukee Symphony can play them!

All of which only begs the question: why?  Or, rather, why not?  Why would the marketing for these concerts not highlight the inclusive programming – or, at very least, offer more information to the audience, and potential audience, as to who these unrecognized composers are?  Milwaukee’s website, for example, only includes the composer’s last name.  Only someone familiar with Perry’s compositions would recognize that the Study for Orchestra is her work.  The same can be said with the promotion for Los Angeles Philharmonic’s performance of Grażyna Bacewicz’s Overture; the composer is just listed as Bacewicz. 

Perhaps the marketing teams are hesitant to ruffle feathers from those donors and patrons who don’t wish to see a change in their beloved institutions.  But not promoting these innovations is a detriment to the ensemble, and the potential concert revenue.  As industry professionals continue to discuss how to bring new faces, and new dollars, into symphony spaces, one would think that highlighting the unique and visionary qualities of the event would be an advantage.

One would imagine that the marketing for such events would follow in the footsteps of what Baltimore Symphony has done in the concert titled Pictures at an Exhibition (February 16,17, & 18) featuring Florence Price’s Dances in the Canebrakes, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, and Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition: 

There are few pieces of music as visually evocative as Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Written in memory of artist Viktor Hartmann, the piece is a musical depiction of an art exhibition. Composer Florence Price was the first African American female recognized as a symphonic composer and the first to have a work premiered by a major symphony orchestra. Witness Joyce Yang push the piano to its limits with her performance of Prokofiev’s colorful Piano Concerto No. 3.

There is much to be done – but there are also many opportunities for ensembles to learn about works by women composers, and to even win funding to perform their repertoire in the coming seasons.  WPA Performance Grant applications for the Fall 2017 cycle are due on October 20, and there are many repertoire suggestions of under performed works deserving attention.

See more of who is playing what this season below – and have a listen to our Spotify Playlist that includes several of the works we can anticipate in the coming months:



Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: Florence Price, Dances in the Canebrakes (February 16, 17, 18) and Anna Clyne, Abstractions (February 22, 25).

Boston Symphony Orchestra: Arlene Sierra, Moler (October 5, 6, 7).

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Elizabeth Ogonek, All These Lighted Things [World Premiere, CSO Commission] (September 28, 29, October 1), and Jennifer Higdon, Low Brass Concerto [World Premiere, CSO co-commission] (Feb 1, 2, 3).

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra: Julia Adolphe, new work [World Premiere, Commission] (November 4, 5), and Emily Cooley, new work [World Premiere] (November 24, 25).

Detroit Symphony Orchestra: Roshanne Etezady, new work [World Premiere] (May 25, 26, 27).

Los Angeles Philharmonic: Chen Yi, Ge Zu (Antiphony) (December 8, 9, 10), and Grażyna Bacewicz, Overture (March 29, 30, 31).

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra: Julia Perry, Study for Orchestra (January 20, 21), Emily Cooley, Green Go to Me (March 9, 10), Augusta Read Thomas, Radiant Circles (May 19, 20), and Joan Tower, Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman (June 15, 16, 17).

Minnesota Orchestra: Hilary Purrington, Likely Pictures in Haphazard Sky (November 10), and Nina Young, Agnosco Veteris (November 10).

New York Philharmonic: Anna Thorvaldsdottir, new work [World Premiere] (April 4, 5, 6)

Philadelphia Orchestra: Jennifer Higdon, On a Wire for Six Soloists and Orchestra (October 19, 20, 21) and Concerto for Low Brass (February 22, 23, 24).

Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra: Teresa Carreño, Margariteña (January 26, 27, 28), and Jennifer Higdon, Tuba Concerto [World Premiere, PSO co-commission] (March 16, 17, 18). 

San Diego SymphonyGrażyna Bacewicz, Overture (December 1, 2) and Missy Mazzolli, River Rouge Transfiguration (January 26, 28).

San Francisco Symphony: Kaija Saariaho, Laterna Magica (June 7, 8, 9).

Seattle Symphony Orchestra: Lili Boulanger, D’un matin de printemps (February 1, 2, 3), and Alexandra Gardner, new work [World Premiere] (June 14, 16). 

*Orchestras include: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minnesota, National, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, and Utah.








CSUF New Music Festival

by sarah - February 22nd, 2017

Today marks the beginning of the 16th annual California State University – Fullerton New Music Festival.  The five day event is always an amazing opportunity to engage with a huge range of new music.  This year’s festival is titled “To the ends of the earth: Music from Iceland to Australia and Beyond” and is dedicated to the memory of Pauline Oliveros, who was the founding composer in residence.

The 2017 festival features Annie Gosfield as Composer in Residence, but will also include music by Pamela Madsen, Pauline Oliveros, Sarah Belle Reid, Fay Wang, Kate Moore, Anna Clyne, Fjola Evans, Kate Neal, Vanessa Tomlinson, Paola Prestini, and Anna Thorvaldsdottir among others.

The festival runs from February 22 to February 26, with fantastic opportunities to hear a wide variety of ensembles and new works – including several world premieres.  Find out information about all of the coming concerts, and the composers whose works are being heard, at the CSUF New Music Festival website.


Much New Music!

by sarah - October 7th, 2016

There are so many great concerts happening each weekend!  Here are a few highlights for the end of September:

The Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, winner of a 2015 WPA Performance Grant, opened their season with Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 2 on September 22.

The New England Conservatory, one of the premiere music schools in the United States, included Anna Clyne’s Night Ferry in the NEC Philharmonie’s performance on September 28.


And there is more to come!  This weekend will see two concerts that shouldn’t be missed:

index3The Michigan Philharmonic, led by Nan Washburn, has committed to performing at least one work by a woman composer in each concert this season.  The first event is October 8, with Katherine Hoover’s Four Winds Flute Concerto featuring flautist Amy Porter.

header-logoOn October 9 the Chicago Composers Orchestra, winner of a 2015 Performance Grant, will be performing at the Ear Taxi Festival, giving the world premiere two new works – Olivia Block’s Lazarus and Kathleen Ginther’s Lake Effect.  Find out more here.


Have a listen to some of the above mentioned works, and other music by these composers, below:

Already so many exciting concerts happening this season – and many, many more to come!  Be sure to follow the blog, and subscribe to the WPA Newsletter, to stay up to date with all of the concerts to come.  There is also still time to apply for a WPA Performance Grant in the Fall 2016 grant cycle – application deadline is October 14.  Learn more about the grant , discover repertoire suggestions, and apply online here.


Works by Women in the 2016-2017 Season

by sarah - August 30th, 2016

There is no denying that the end of summer is upon us.  While that means students returning to classrooms, it also means that the 2016-2017 concert season is arriving, too!  Before we get all dressed up for Opening Night Galas, let’s have a look at what we can expect in the coming months.

We have been keeping tabs on the repertoire performed by America’s most recognized and respected orchestras through the repertoire reports published by the League of American Orchestras.  Unfortunately this information, while hugely valuable, is also flawed.  It requires on ensembles to self-report (which some are more diligent about than others) and takes a great deal of time to organize, collate, and publish (currently the most recent repertoire reports available are for the 2010-2011 season).

For the past two years the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has done their own investigation in what is being heard; specifically, examining the 21 American ensembles that boast the highest budgets.  The information they gather about repertoire — including historical period, composer nationality, and gender – is not surprising to those of us who have been paying attention, but it has been effective in raising awareness about the lack of diversity that exists in today’s orchestral programming.  (Check out the full stats on the 2014-2015 season here and the 2015-2016 season here).

While we await the Baltimore Symphony’s thorough analysis, I took a quick look at who is performing works by women this coming season, with some interesting and surprising results.

For 2016-2017, of the 21 top orchestras , 14 did not program a single work by a woman composer:

  • Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
  • Chicago Symphony Orchestra
  • Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
  • Cleveland Orchestra
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra
  • Detroit Symphony Orchestra
  • Los Angeles Philharmonic
  • Minnesota Symphony Orchestra
  • National Symphony Orchestra
  • Pittsburgh Symphony
  • San Diego Symphony
  • San Francisco Symphony
  • St. Louis Symphony
  • Utah Symphony

Three ensembles have included one work in their programming:

The Houston Symphony will perform the world premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s Requiem May 5, 6, 7.  The piece was commissioned by the Houston Symphony.

The Milwaukee Symphony will perform Hav by Swedish composer Malin Bång on October 22 and 23.

The Seattle Symphony will perform In the Shade of an Unshed Tear by Agata Zubel on October 27 and 29.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra will present the American premiere of a new work by Sophia GubaidulinaTriple Concerto for violin, cello, and bayan on February 23.  The work was co-commissioned by the Boston Symphony.

The only historic work composed by a woman being performed this season is by the Philadelphia Orchestra.  Michael Tilson Thomas as guest conductor will be leading the ensemble in a performance of Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Andante for Strings (1931) on March 10, 11, and 12.

Which leaves only two ensembles performing more than one work by a woman composer.

Throughout his tenure at the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert has built a reputation for unusual, and invigorating, programming.  In his final season at the helm, Gilbert has chosen to include four works by women – all of which will be celebrating a premiere.

Lera Auerbach‘s Violin Concerto No. 4, a commission by the New York Phil, will have its World Premiere on March 1, 2, and 3.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir‘s Aeriality receives its New York premiere on May 19, 20, and 23.

Julia Adolphe‘s Unearth, Release (Concerto for Viola and Orchestra) was also co-commissioned by the New York Phil and the League of American Orchestras.  The New York Premiere will be heard on November 17 and 19.

And Tansy Davies will present a to-be-named new work featuring four horns, which will receive its U.S. Premiere April 27 and 29.  This work was also co-commissioned by the New York Phil.

While these four works are exciting, placing them in context of the 87 others listed for the season helps create some vital perspective — those four pieces are about 5% of the total programming.

It seems fitting that the Baltimore Symphony – the institution that helped collect and share the repertoire information over the past several years – has made a clear effort to include more works in recent years. The 2015-2016 season marked the ensemble’s centennial, which was celebrated with ten new commissions.  From the BSO website:

Ten American composers have each composed a short celebratory work to be presented during the Centennial season. These include TJ Cole, Kristen Kuster, Lori Laitman, Libby Larsen, Caroline Shaw, Joan Tower, James Lee III, Jonathan Leshnoff, Christopher Rouse and Christopher Theofanidis. Chosen themes for the commissions include: fanfare for the uncommon woman, earth, death of Poe and dancing blue crabs. These Celebration Centennial works have been commissioned for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop by Classical Movements, Inc. as part of the Eric Daniel Helms New Music Program.

Works by Kristin Kuster, Libby Larsen, and Joan Tower were heard in the 2015-2016 season, but the celebration continues with more premieres this autumn:

Caroline Shaw – Baltimore Bomb – premieres on September 17

Lori Laitman – UNSUNG – will be performed on September 29, 30, and October 1

TJ Cole – Double Play – is programmed on November 18 & 19

In addition, the Baltimore Symphony will perform Anna Clyne‘s Within Her Arms on March 2, 3, & 4.  With the inclusion of the three commissioned works being heard this year and the additional work by Clyne, the BSO’s four works ties the New York Philharmonic for the most performed works by women of the “top” American orchestras for 2016-2017.  When put in context of the 76 total works being performed in Baltimore, however, the 5% representation is still disappointing.

It will be intriguing to watch the upcoming season unfold: we will have some works by women included by orchestras that previously avoided doing so, plus we will have the industry-wide interest in the issue of diversity (as represented by the recent LAO conference), and finally, we have the historic nomination of Hillary Clinton as a Presidential candidate, making the point that women can indeed achieve at the highest level in every field.  In music, women have been breaking these glass ceilings all along as the art form developed, but particularly in the realm of orchestral programming, those ceilings need to be continuously “re-shattered” – the wheel reinvented – in order to achieve something beyond than marginal recognition.

One example demonstrating inventiveness and commitment to diversity is the new SHIFT Festival of American Orchestras founded by Washington Performing Arts and the Kennedy Center. This celebration of innovative programming was inspired by the successful Spring for Music Festival that took place in Carnegie Hall (2011-2014).  The inaugural 2017 Shift Festival includes performances by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Boulder Symphony (CO), The Knights, and North Carolina Symphony.  As with the Spring for Music Festival, innovative programming is encouraged – and there are great performances to anticipate from two ensembles in particular.

The North Carolina Symphony will perform on March 29.  From the website:

The North Carolina Symphony offers an innovative program, deeply evocative of North Carolina, represented in particular by four composers with ties to the state: Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Mason Bates, and Robert Ward. Snider’s work is a North Carolina Symphony commission, premiered in fall 2015, which includes a multimedia meditation on her family’s home in rural North Carolina.

The Knights is a new chamber orchestra based in Brooklyn, NY.  They will perform on April 1.  Again, from the website:

This deeply collaborative and creative chamber orchestra from Brooklyn brings a program featuring the San Francisco Girls Chorus, led by Lisa Bielawa, who is also writing a work commissioned by The Knights. The evening is rounded out with works by Brahms, Vivaldi, Aaron Jay Kernis, and a piece written collaboratively by the orchestra.

Historically, musicians, academics, and music enthusiasts have turned to “top” orchestras and conductors as leaders in the industry to guide performance practices and highlight what music we should be paying attention to.  I am hopeful that now these “top” industry professionals will now begin paying attention to what their audiences and communities are eager to hear.

Throughout the coming season I will be highlighting as many exciting, innovating, and inclusive concert programs as I can find – and most will not be happening at big-budget ensembles.  Many come from the wonderful ensembles who have been awarded WPA Performance Grants (the Fall 2016 application is now available!) – but I encourage everyone to let me know of the music that is happening in your communities so we can continue to celebrate exciting programming wherever it is happening!