Tag: concert programming

This Is Just The Beginning

The past few weeks have demonstrated that there are discussions—good, meat-on-the-bone discussions—to be had about contemporary concert music and the creative artists whose work is so important to our cultures and aesthetic well being. That the recent conversations about bringing attention to composers with lists both big and small have induced such passionate reactions and dialogues only proves how vital these debates are. I very much appreciate the many varied and disparate viewpoints that have percolated through the comment threads of both columns, and recognize their value in staving off complacency as well as reevaluating one’s own observations and conclusions.

So…where do we go from here? As interesting as the previous exchanges have been, they only scratch the surface of what can be done to gain a better self-knowledge of who we are as a music community and ultimately expand our audiences and their appreciation of our work. While conversations between composers can be both useful and fruitful, we should not forget to address those who are not composers themselves or who are not intimately aware of the new music community. It is my hope, then, that we can find ways to introduce who we are and what we do to others in a way that is simple, educational, and enticing.

One quote from the comments section of my column last week brought me up short:

Being somewhat jaded from decades as a musician and manager, and in no way a great admirer of contemporary music. I was very positively surprised when I listened to Lisa Bielawa’s double violin concerto and Corey Dargel’s piece.

There may be hope for contemporary music yet!

Appearing as it did right in the middle of some pretty energetic debate, this reader’s reaction effectively encapsulated the point of the column—to introduce composers and works to those who were unaware of them with the hope that they would want to learn more. This individual did not like new music and yet was not only reading an article on NewMusicBox but seemed willing to listen to the audio files on the off-chance they were to his liking. Much in the same way that Drew McManus’s Adapstration site promotes “Take a Friend to the Orchestra,” we can find ways to bring those new to our field to the table, make them comfortable with taking risks, and allowing our own enthusiasms to spread in non-traditional ways.

In addition to inviting in new audiences, expanding our own discourses to bring together artists from across the aesthetic and artistic spectrum should be a constant priority. While we can’t expect every project to be all-inclusive, we as a community can strive to make sure our colleagues are aware of who’s out there and what new contributions are being made to our art. A great post by Jennie Gottschalk on her blog Sound Expanse made several cogent points to this end and made me wonder what more can be done to actively and enthusiastically increase our own awareness, knowledge, and appreciation of those artists who may differ from us in their language, process, and aesthetic.


In some ways, new music (however one might define such a thing) has been able to reach much further than before, and as the Internet and social media have evolved, so has the access to live and studio recordings, scores, and in many cases the composers themselves. This increased access is promising, but if it is not paired with education and awareness, its impact will be severely stunted. It would be great to hear about ideas you have as far as what forms this education and awareness, directed both inwards and externally, could take. I look forward to hearing your constructive ideas in the comments section below.

A Helpful List

I intended to write a response to Alex Gardner’s column celebrating International Women’s Day last week, but my poetic muse got the better of me. The state of women composers in our community today is indeed an important one, as David Smooke’s column investigates, and it is a subject of which we need to be constantly reminded.

There have been several discussions and articles over the past few years that have touched upon this subject (examples here here, here, here, here, and here, and the various facets of the discussion are complicated and not entirely one-sided – the specter of choosing works for anything other than artistic merit is sure to start a fierce debate.

I, however, do not intend raise such specters with this column. The need for greater programming of women composers is, of course, strong and obvious enough that nothing I could say could add to the argument. What little I can do to help the issue along I have done in the hopes that with information comes progress. Having been the positions of programming works for ensembles as well as selecting guest composers for new music festivals, I understand that one of the challenges in ensuring a balanced program is finding the composers–the internet gives us so much information with so little filtering.

With this in mind, I have created a list of 202 women composers to help all those ensembles, soloists, pedagogues, and organizations that may want to increase their programming of women composers. I do not make this list with any intent of labeling any one composer as being better than another–it is simply a reference to assist those who are interested in learning who is out there. Hyperlinks have been included to allow for easy navigation to their websites. This list is just a start–I have collected names over the years and this is the fruit of that collection. I ask that if you know other names that should be added to this list, please add them in the comments section. I apologize ahead of time if I have left names off that are known to me–I’m quite sure there’s a least a few names that I neglected that will induce a facepalm.

In the future, I hope that this discussion fades into the realm of the unnecessary–until then, use this list with the best of intentions and I look forward to being informed of others who are not listed.

Eliane Aberdam

Julia Adolphe

Kati Agocs

Adrienne Albert

Elizabeth Alexander

Kathryn Alexander

Beth Anderson-Harold

Laurie Anderson

Kerry Andrew

Clarice Assad

Lera Auerbach

Jennifer Barker

Carol Barnett

Sally Beamish

Eve Beglarian

Jennifer Bellor

Lauren Bernofsky

Abbie Betinis

Lisa Bielawa

Betsey Biggs

Carla Bley

Rose Bolton

Victoria Bond

Susan Botti

Jenni Brandon

Charlotte Bray

Carolyn Bremer

Kirsten Broberg

Margaret Brouwer

Courtney Brown

Eliza Brown

Shih-Hui Chen

Mary Ellen Childs

Unsuk Chin

Kyong Mee Choi

Andrea Clearfield

Anna Clyne

Gloria Coates

Lisa Coons

Renée T. Coulombe

Cindy Cox

Chaya Czernowin

Tina Davidson

Tansy Davies

Maria De Alvear

Emma Lou Diemer

Kui Dong

Emily Doolittle

Alexandra du Bois

Du Yun

Melissa Dunphy

Adrienne Elisha

Conni Ellisor

Marti Epstein

Nomi Epstein

Roshanne Etezady

Amanda Feery

Lesley Flanigan

Cheryl Frances-Hoad

Gabriela Lena Frank

Heather Frasch

Ruby Fulton

Nancy Galbraith

Alexandra Gardner

Stacy Garrop

Erin Gee

Mara Gibson

Suzanne Giraud

Janice Giteck

Annie Gosfield

Helen Grime

Sofia Gubaidulina

Anne Guzzo

Amanda Harberg

Linda Tutas Haugen

Mara Helmuth

Jennifer Higdon

Edie Hill

Dorothy Hindman

Sarah Horick

Emily Howard

Melissa Hui

Wang Jie

Marisol Jimenez

Lynn Job

Allison Johnson

Jenny Olivia Johnson

Jennifer Jolley

Zoe Keating

Elizabeth Kelly

Anne Kilstofte

Leanna Kirchoff

Amy Beth Kirsten

Barbara Kolb

Laura Kopelwitz

Kristin Kuster

Joan La Barbara

Andrea La Rose

Lori Laitman

Bun-Ching Lam

Sally Lamb McCune

Libby Larsen

Hannah Lash

Elodie Lauten

Mary Jane Leach

Anne LeBaron

Tania León

Elanie Lillios

Elizabeth Lin

Deborah Lurie

Gilda Lyons

Caroline Mallonee

Bunita Marcus

Paula Matthusen

Beth May

Missy Mazzoli

Frances McKay

Cindy McTee

Anna Meredith

Jenny Bernard Merkowitz

Helena Michelson

Anna Mikhailova

Diana Mino

Meredith Monk

Beata Moon

Zae Munn

Thea Musgrave

Tamar Muskal

Angelica Negron

Amy X Neuberg

Olga Neuwirth

Ketty Nez

Loretta Notareschi

Allison Ogden

Elizabeth Ogonek

Pauline Oliveros

Tawnie Olson

Roxanna Panufnik

Andreia Pinto-Correia

Paola Prestini

Leanna Primiani

Leah Sproul Pulatie

Shulamit Ran

Jody Redhage

Andrea Reinkemeyer

Belinda Reynolds

Sarah Ritch

Erin Rogers

Jessica Rudman

Elena Ruehr

Kaija Saariaho

Kate Salfelder

Jamie Leigh Sampson

Eleonor Sandresky

Laurie San Martin

Maria Schnieder

Laura Schwendinger

Debra Scroggins

Amy Scurria

Sophia Serghi

Judith Shatin

Marilyn Shrude

Arlene Sierra

Alex Shapiro

Sarah Kirkland Snider

Christine Southworth

Suzanne Sorkin

Bernadette Speach

Laurie Spiegel

Jane Stanley

Jennifer Stock

Hilary Tann

Augusta Read Thomas

Molly Thompson

Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Dale Trumbore

Joan Tower

Nancy Van de Vate

Adriana Verdie

Lois V Vierk

Kirsten Volness

Aleksandra Vrebalov

Melinda Wagner

Gwyneth Walker

Jennifer Walshe

Meira Warshauer

Dalit Warshaw

Orianna Webb

Frances White

Liza White

Amy Williams

Julia Wolfe

Rain Worthington

Luna Pearl Woolf

Xi Wang

Carolyn Yarnell

Chen Yi

Bora Yoon

Nina Young

Pamela Z

Judith Lang Zaimont

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Let’s Celebrate Today

We Can Do It

It’s International Women’s Day! To properly celebrate, I say let’s all burn, sink, or plant a piano Annea Lockwood-style. Perhaps in keeping with the times we could extend this practice to electric keyboards as well. Be sure to send photos!

Not only would I like to take advantage of this occasion to point you towards David Smooke’s post from Tuesday, in which he runs a few unofficial yet telling numbers illustrating gender representation in some small slices of the concert programming world, but also offer some potential solutions via Timothy Rutherford-Johnson’s exellent IWD-themed playlist for today, not to mention pile on some additional numbers (which are actually not as abysmal as I expected).

It is very true that there are fewer female composers in the world than male composers, and for that reason we will probably not anytime soon reach a 50/50 split in concert programming across the board. I agree that a big reason for this is a lack of role models and female composition teachers. (Indeed, I can almost guarantee that I would not be working in this field today if I had not had female composition teachers from day one.) However, the issue at present seems less about persuading more young women to enter the field, than about celebrating the female composers who are here now, making music now. I also urge the female composers out there to celebrate (obviously well beyond today) yourself and your music. Get out there and bring it, ladies. It’s up to those making decisions about concert programming to pay attention and look beyond their immediate circles of influence to hear and see the music of the many amazing female composers active today, and responsibility also falls on the composers to put their music out there with everything they’ve got.

I do think that numbers are improving, but it’s slow going, and many institutions (the larger ones especially) have a lot of catching up to do. However, I am heartened by the number of college professors (both male and female) who are incorporating a diverse range of music by female composers into their curricula. I hope a day will come when we can look back at these statistics and laugh.

By the Numbers

Last week, the website “Vida: Women in Literature” published their 2011 count. This series of pie charts visualizes the ratio of female to male representatives in various categories—including published fiction, book reviewers, authors reviewed—at some of the most prestigious periodicals in the fiction world. As an example, The New York Review of Books, considered one of the most important publishers of criticism on contemporary works, contracted with female reviewers 21% of the time (roughly four male reviewers for every female) in order to talk about books whose authors skewed 82% male. The New Yorker performed marginally more equally, with 28% of their articles generated by female authors and exactly one third of their “Briefly Noted” reviews devoted to works by women. A quick scroll through the statistics shows most publications representing women in the 20–30% range, with Granta standing alone as the only publication who published more women than men overall. For more context on these numbers, I recommend Danielle Pafunda’s “The Trouble with Rationalizing the Numbers Trouble”.

I’ve been following the online reaction to these numbers with interest. Writers from all walks of life quickly condemned the ratios, and many of the editors promised to look into improving the equality of gender representation within their pages. Although there are obviously many people who defend current practices, the literary community appears to have reached an overall consensus that this sort of inequality is wrong and should be corrected.

The main thing that struck me about these numbers is this: If they had been generated by concert presenting organizations they would have seemed exceptionally progressive.

I co-founded the ensemble League of the Unsound Sound, which has presented four different concert programs over two seasons. Since I try to be aware of gender inclusivity, as part of our programming, I took care to ensure that each concert included at least one female composer. As our ratio of 5 works by female composers compared to 13 by male composers shows (when considering specific pieces as represented on distinct concert programs—repeated programs at multiple venues are considered as a single concert), the literary community would have considered my efforts to be an abject failure.

LotUS Programming

I wondered how LotUS compared to other new music ensembles, and so I unscientifically perused the websites of some of my favorite groups. I want to emphasize that I chose the following groups because I think they are all wonderful and also because their sites made the data easily available. Each of these ensembles is comprised of amazing performers who I would pay to hear perform any repertoire, and I believe that they are among the most progressive programmers in the U.S. today. In short, I only included artists for whom I have the utmost respect and who I believe care about working towards gender equality in their programming. If I took the time to check other groups, I strongly believe that the ones listed below would remain among the most equal in their gender distribution. This makes the data that much less encouraging.

Before continuing, I need to stop for an important caveat. The Vida site spends months compiling and checking their statistics. They look at the same publications over years. Their charts are created with a scientific rigor that I am not trying to equal. I compiled the data for the charts and ratios below by quickly perusing the websites of some of my favorite organizations. I might have miscounted. Please consider the following as rough estimates only.

Now celebrating their 25th anniversary, Bang on a Can has long been on the vanguard of new music, and so I was not surprised that the listed ensemble repertoire for the Bang on a Can All Stars displayed the most equality among the ones I counted. Their ratio of 13 works by women compared to 47 by men composers counts as the highest percentage of women among those surveyed.

BOAC Repetoire

Other of my favorite new music groups all showed gender distributions with more than four men represented for every woman. The incredible JACK Quartet lists 100 pieces in their repertoire, of which 12 are by women. According to their website, Eighth Blackbird has been responsible for the creation of an astonishing 100 commissions, of which 18 are by women. Chicago’s Ensemble Dal Niente, prints event listings that show that they have programmed 75 works this concert season (when considered like LotUS so distinct concert programs are counted separately but the same set of pieces performed in multiple venues is only counted once), 7 of which are by women. The current repertoire list of Alarm Will Sound names 65 different works, of which four are exclusively by women, one is an arrangement of the all-female band the Shaggs, and one is a John Lennon/Yoko Ono collaboration.

JACK Quartet Repetoire

Eighth Blackbird Commissions

Ensemble Dal Niente stats

AWS Repetoire

As I state above, I chose these groups because I imagine that they are among the most progressive programmers working today (and also because their websites are organized so that this data is easily available). I believe each of the ensembles I cite above has artistic directors that keep the goal of gender equity in mind when they determine their concert repertoire. It seems that we still have to travel far in order to achieve true equality.

Stretching the Truth

Rubber Bands

Anyone only briefly acquainted with classical concert music of any color has likely had occasion to witness one of the most ubiquitous bluffs in the concert world: presenting one or more works from many years ago as an example of “contemporary” music. I can’t count the number of the times I’ve seen Shostakovich or Copland billed as representing contemporary (or variously, “modern”) music; and I’ve even been to a few so-called “new music” concerts where every piece on the program was from the last century. And don’t get me started about performing competitions that require performance of one “modern or 20th century work” along with the obligatories, as if the 21st century never happened.

The advantages to the perpetrators of these myths are readily evident. Often caught between fulfilling grant and trustee obligations, winning kudos from critics, and the need for programming that fills seats, major music organizations see the programming of truly contemporary works as something worth touting as much as possible and putting into practice hardly at all.

This stretching of the truth goes on both very baldly and implicitly. Most orchestral concerts featuring a lone 20th century work give the impression that the music of Bartók or Bloch or Barber represents the most adventurous flavor worth sampling. Similarly, I’m all for Pierrot Lunaire, but I can’t stomach a composition composed nearly a hundred years ago being billed as part of a contemporary music concert. If we’re not really going to program new music, let’s at least be honest so we can see how precious little new music there really is—all the better to test the assumption that a fresh work written in the listener’s own time would really be any more off-putting to closed ears than one more performance of a 20th-century masterwork.