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A Unique Solution to the Lack of Performances by Female Composers

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

Tragically, only a small fraction of works performed by orchestras are composed by women.

I was reading this article recently and I began to think…

Should the Orchestra Program More Works Composed by Women?

Obviously, the answer is “yes”, and although it could be argued that progress is being made year by year, it's not enough. So, with that being said, maybe I should modify the question:

Why are the orchestras not programming more works by women?

Let’s Dig Deeper…

Before we can even get to the central question about the orchestras programming more works by women, we need to find out why orchestras aren’t programming more works by contemporary composers in general.

According to The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who extracted data for the 2016-2017 orchestra season in the United States, 12.3% of music performed during that time period was by living composers.

Some quick math tells us that 87.7% of works performed were by non-living composers. Why is this so?

I would argue that the primary reason is the belief that any variation from this formula would cost them money. If that isn’t as obvious to you as it is to me, then this article may be helpful in that regard.

...the minute you stop reinventing, you stop growing, and when you stop growing, you start dying.

Works Composed by Women

Only 1.3% of works performed durning the 2016-2017 season were composed by women according to the BSO, and that's not nearly enough, right?

But if the symphony orchestra directors believe it’s not financially beneficial for them to include more underrepresented artists, what’s the solution?

This may sound like a radical approach, but why not look to the film industry for answers?

A Lot of What It Takes to Get Along…

In the Journal of Music article mentioned above, Adrian Smith believes the solution involves a long-term cultural investment at the possible expense of making money. But what if the orchestras could actually program new music by women and make a profit in the process?

Film studios do this everyday and they are all about making money. What film studios are NOT all about is continually remaking the same films using the same scripts.

This is essentially what happens in the concert halls every year.

I’m suggesting that maybe the symphony orchestras could learn some lessons from the billion dollar film industry.

If classical orchestras were to follow the model of the film studios, you would see a mixture of remakes, reboots, and “original” material.

In a typical concert program or concert season, this might translate into the following:

  1. A little bit of Beethoven

  2. A lot of new music styled in the early Romantic tradition

  3. Some contemporary pieces featuring new talent, more specifically — women

They would also promote their current stars as much as possible. After all, it's very difficult to hype something that's been in existence for centuries.

In the arts, the minute you stop reinventing, you stop growing, and when you stop growing, you start dying. Ultimately, a dying art form is probably more concerned with its own survival than greater minority representation.

So... Where Do We Go from Here?

I'm not saying that my solution is the best solution. Maybe it's not even a good one. But it is a possible solution to this issue.

What do you think? Is the lack of money the issue or is it sexism? If money is the issue, does the film industry provide a road map to solving this issue?

Do more diverse works create more interest? Can the orchestra directors do something to solve this problem or does the artistic community as a whole solve it?

Don't forget to leave a comment and let me know….


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