Tuesday 17 August 2021

Sobering reading: Equality & Diversity in Concerto Halls

Donne - Women in Music

Performers and programmers are making admirable moves to create more diverse concert programmes, with the inclusion of more works by women and BAME artists. But exactly how diverse are concert programmes?

A new report from Donne makes sobering reading. Donne is a new charitable foundation, created by soprano Gabriella di Laccio, whose goal is to celebrate, advance, and amplify women in music. For their report Equality & Diversity in Concerto Halls [download PDF], researchers looked at the 2020/21 concert programmes world-wide, and examined the gender balance and percentages of Black & Asian composers in scheduled concerts from 100 orchestras in 27 countries. 

It makes sobering reading.

The results show that only 11.45% of the scheduled concerts worldwide included compositions by women; 88.55% included solely compositions written by men. Only 747 out of the 14,747 compositions scheduled by the 100 orchestras throughout the 2020-2021 season, were composed by women – a total of 5%. One alarming fact is that only 1.11% of the pieces were composed by Black & Asian women and only 2.43% by Black & Asian men. 

One reason for this is highlighted in the list of the top 10 most played composers, Beethoven, Mozart, R. Strauss, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Mahler, Ravel, Sibelius, Dvorak. It is clear that whilst orchestras might programme works by women composers, we are a long way off from any works reaching real popularity levels.

The report also breaks things down on an orchestra by orchestra basis. Some ensembles come out very well, the BBC Concert Orchestra scheduled 54.55% of its concerts with works by women, which is 31.71% of all scheduled compositions. Similarly the BBC Symphony Orchestra (50%, 13.33%), which speaks volumes for the BBC's drive for parity. That Chineke! Orchestra scheduled 72.73% of its concerts with works by women with 22.92% of all compositions by Black & Asian women, and 35.42% of all compositions by Black & Asian men should not surprise, but it certainly shows what is possible within the current concert framework. The Southbank Sinfonia is another ensemble that scores highly (50%, 20.63%) as does Aurora Orchestra (41.67%, 25/%).

Many European orchestras achieve lower scores and the leaders are the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (51.35%, 18.38%), Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (46.97%, 24.20%) Oslo Philharmonic (29.03%, 71.14%), Helsinki Philharmonic (25%, 11%), but an alarming number of European orchestras seem to have low figures or 0%! The situation in the American orchestras is similarly varied, with some admirable and some not. The rest of the world is patchy.

Inevitably, the effects of the pandemic are felt, some orchestras have few scheduled concerts, seasons having never actually made it to print, and even those scheduled will inevitably have been affected by restrictions. And I noticed over the last 18 months that when ensembles were performing with smaller numbers for on-line audiences, the concert programmes showed greater imagination and daring than live programmes.

This is an admirable and sobering piece of research, and I do hope that the foundation is able to continue this. The report also has a resource list for those looking for works, and there is a helpful web page on the foundation's website.

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