Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

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!



Monday Link Round Up: July 18, 2016

by sarah - July 18th, 2016

News to start your week!


New Music Box has the fellows and finalists of the New York Foundation of the Arts Artists’ Fellowship Program – including Lisa Bielawa, Du Yun, Stephanie Griffin, Sarah Hennies, Molly Herron, and Angelica Negrón.  Read more here.


Patti Niemi, percussionist with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, has a new memoir about her experiences as a professional musician titled Sticking it Out.  She spoke with Sam Briger on Fresh Air.  Read the transcript here, or listen to the conversation below:


There is now funding in Britain to encourage orchestras to perform works by contemporary British composers.  Gillian Moore of The Guardian has the story – and a list of suggestions, including works by Helen Grime, Errollyn Wallen, and Tansy Davies.  Read the full story, and listen to excerpts, here.


The News & Record in Greensboro, NC has a story about Eastern Music Festival’s conducting training program, now in it’s second year.  The 8 fellows include 5 women and 3 men from across the globe.  Read more here.


What did we miss?  What are you reading?  Leave us a comment and link below!

2015 In Review

by sarah - December 30th, 2015


This was an exciting year for those of us following women’s work in music.  We’ve already talked a bit about the tremendous opportunities and advancements women have made in conducting roles.  But Let’s also take some time to look at the plethora of “Highlight” lists that have been shared online and see how they compare to our favorite stories and concerts:


Sinfini Music was very deliberate in highlighting the achievements that women have made in the UK in the past year – including the appointment of Xian Zhang, the first woman to have  a titled role at a BBC Orchestra, Jessy McCabe, who successfully petitioned Edexcel to include works by women in their A Level Music curriculum, and Tansy Davies premiered a new opera, Between Worlds.


The 2015 Staff Picks of music at NewMusicBox includes works by  Du Yun, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and winner of the 2015 Pulitzer for Music, Julia Wolfe.


From The GuardianAndrew Clements’ top 10 concerts included Tansey Davies Re-Greening, a new commission by the Nation Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (read the original review here).  Tim Ashley included an exciting production we missed – the revival of Francesca Caccini’s La Liberation di Ruggiero done by the Brighton Early Music Festival (original review is here).  However, no works by women appeared in Tom Service’s, Fiona Maddocks’, or George Hall’s list.


NPR’s list of top 10 classical albums for 2015 includes Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s In the Light of Air, featuring the International Contemporary Ensemble.


Thorvaldsdottir was also featured in Alex Ross’s annual year in review at The New Yorker, with mentions in the Performance category (“In the Light of Air” at the Ojai Festival) and in Recordings (“In the Light of Air” as recorded by the International Contemporary Ensemble).  Ross also took note of Laurie Anderson’s installation at the Park Avenue Armory, and recordings of works by Rebecca Saunders, Liza Lim, Helena Tulve, and Paula Matthusen.  Read more here.


It was disappointing to see that no works by women were included in Fred Plotkin’s list at WQXR’s Operavore blog acknowledging the new operas that premiered in 2015.  There was no mention of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain, the first fully staged performance of Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers, or Tansy Davies’ Between Worlds.


As we move on from 2015 we can reflect on and be glad for the dozens of great concerts, new opportunities for women as conductors and performers, and greater attention being generally brought to the work of women in music – as well as to look ahead for more excellent programming in the year to come!

Tansey Davies Interview

by sarah - July 30th, 2015

photo credit Rikard Österlund

British composer Tansey Davies, who will have a new work performed at the BBC Proms this year, was interviewed by Sinfini Music.

Davies work is an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary approaches to music, and has received much well-deserved attention in recent years.  In addition to the work being heard at the Proms in August, Davies opera, Between Worlds, was recently premiered by the English National Opera.

The interview discusses her beginnings, inspiration, and how she works – and does not discuss the “woman composer” question!  Read her full responses to Sinfini Music’s 10 Questions here.

For people new to her work, Davies recommends starting with neon:



Women at the 2015 Proms

by sarah - July 21st, 2015



The 2015 Proms kicked off on Friday, July 17 with another full lineup of fabulous and engaging concerts ahead.  The role of women in music has been a hot topic in the London music scene this year, stemming largely from the popularity and publicity of BBC Radio 3’s women-only programming surrounding International Women’s Day.  (You can read Laura Seddon’s take on the efforts in her guest blog post here.)  As usual, the Proms programming includes a handful of contemporary women composers, and commissioned works.

Two great pieces have already been heard:

Anna Meredith’s Connect It, (a BBC Commission) was heard on July 18 & 19.

July 20 saw the World Premiere of From the Beginning of the World by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, written in homage to Thomas Tallis.  Listen to a recording of the concert here:

But there is more to come:

On July 25 the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group will be presenting the work of three different women, and each work will have a premiere: the World Premiere of Shiori Usui’s Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l., a BBC Commission; the UK Premiere of Betsy Jolas Wanderlied; and the World Premiere of Joanna Lee’s Hammer of Solitude, which was also a BBC Commission.

On August 2 Anna Meredith’s Smatter Hauler, a BBC Commission, will receive its World Premiere.

The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain will give the World Premiere of Re-Greening by Tansy Davies.

Internationally acclaimed percussionist Evelyn Glennie appears at the Proms on August 10 performing, among other works, Orologeria aureola a piece she co-composed with Phillip Sheppard, and Prism Rhapsody by Keiko Abe.

On August 27 the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra will present Bergen’s Bonfire by Alissa Firsova.

Helen Grime’s A Cold Spring will be performed in a concert honoring the 90th birthday of Pierre Boulez on August 29.

The Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio will present Arlene Sierra’s Butterflies Remember a Mountain on September 7.

On September 12 –  the final night of The Proms, which Marin Alsop will again have the honor of conducting – will open with the World Premiere of Eleanor Alberga’s Arise, Athena, a BBC Commission.

This season includes some excellent pieces by contemporary women – but, as always, the omission of works by historic women (Rebecca Clarke!  Ethel Smyth! Grace Williams!) is discouraging. And while the list of pieces by women is indeed exciting, it is a very small amount of the music of the Proms as a whole.  Out of about 225 total programmed works there are 13 works by women in the entirety of the Proms —  less than 6%.  (For some perspective, 14 different works by Beethoven will be heard this year.)

Only one woman composer, Anna Meredith, will have multiple works performed this year.  Also it seems strange that none of the participating ensembles have chosen to perform a piece by the Master of the Queen’s Music, Judith Weir.

In short, we think that the Proms could do more to encourage the programming of works by women — while it could be worse, it could also be much, much better.