While our priority at the moment is to get the word out about our Performance Grants, we thought we might take a moment to reaffirm the need for those grants, by taking a close look at some data about what orchestras are programming.  In our work to level the playing field for works by women, we often turn to the repertoire reports that the League of American Orchestras assembles annually; they provide a summary of the progress that is being made (or not made).  These reports are valuable as they gather data from orchestras throughout the United States.  However, they are also flawed.  They are usually quite delayed (the most current data available is from the 2010-2011 season), and are dependent on the voluntary participation of ensembles.  For this most recent data, for example, there is no information from many top ensembles including Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, among others.  Yet, with those caveats in mind, they allow us to put various ensembles in comparison to one another and take a look at the broader picture.

Some highlights from the 2010-2011 Season, which reported on 62 Orchestras, include:

  • 1,247 Concert Performances
  • 4,006 Performances of Individual Works
  • 1,099 Individual Compositions Performed
  • 316 Individual Composers Represented

The number of participating ensembles, concerts and performances have declined since the economic downturn.  In comparison, the 2009-2010 concert season included 6,249 individual performances.

  • Of the 4,006 performances, there were 28 performances of works by women – 0.6% (*Note: these figures include every reported performance of every work, including repeat performances)
  • Of the 1,099 individual compositions performed, there were 25 pieces by women composers – 2%
  • Of the 316 composers represented, 13 were women – 4%
  • None of the works by women performed during the season were composed by a historic composer – all are living women who were able to advocate for their own works.
  • Of the 62 orchestras who reported 16 performed works by women – 25%

And now a bit of perspective – Beethoven was, unsurprisingly, the most performed composer with 276 scheduled performances (about 7% of all performances, versus the 0.6% representing all works by all women composers).  The most performed individual work of the 2010-2011 season was Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, op. 68, which had 34 scheduled performances.

The comparison to the 2009-2010 year, which you can read in detail here, is less than encouraging.  What little change there has been has been in the opposite direction.  And, as always, while it is disheartening to see no works by historic women included in regular programming, there were several premieres in the 2010-2011 season that need to be recognized.

US Premiere:

  • Augusta Read Thomas’ Violin Concerto #3, Juggler in Paradise

World Premieres:

  • Nancy Bloomer Deussen’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
  • Jennifer Higdon’s Tenfold
  • Catherine McMichael’s  Symphonic Dreams
  • Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s  Avant!

The grand-prize for the ensemble performing the most works by women goes to Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra which performed a grand total of 5 pieces – all of which were by Joan Tower.  (Of course, she was named the Pittsburgh Symphony Composer of the Year for the 2010-2011 Season.)

Other notable inclusions were the performance of two works by women by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Gabriela Lena Frank’s Illapa: Tone Poem for Flute and Orchestra and Jennifer Higdon’s Blue Cathedral) – though it is also worth mentioning that they were heard in their summer series at Tanglewood.  (Perhaps they feel it best to include works by women – even those by two of the most prolific and well respected contemporary composers – in the less formal, outdoor concerts, than in Symphony Hall?)

In recent news, the Baltimore Symphony has put together a database to compile some statistics on the 2014-2015 concert season based on the announced season programs of 21  top orchestras (determine by size and operating budget).  It’s worth reading their full findings, and I look forward to continued follow up on what the data revealed.  The initial findings include (emphasis mine):

  • Collectively, the 21 orchestras will perform more than 1,000 different pieces in part or full by 286 different composers a total of almost 4,600 times.

  • 9.5% of all pieces performed are written since the year 2000.

  • The average date of composition of a piece performed during the year is 1886.

  • A little more than 11% of the works performed are from composers who are still living.

  • Female composers account for only 1.8% of the works performed. When only looking at works from living composers, they account for 14.8%

  • German composers account for more than 23% of the total pieces performed, followed by Russians (19%) and Austrians (14% — in large part due to Mozart).

  • American composers made up less than 11% of the pieces performed. When looking at only works by living composers, however, they account for more than 54%

I’ll need to dig into the data a bit more to determine if the figure accounts for individual works by women or the number of women composers represented.  Either way, the figure is still painfully small.

Even when so  many voices in the arts world are calling for more innovation, for something to stir up the pot and excite and attract new audiences, too many ensembles won’t leave the comfort zone of the (one-time) crowd pleasers and old favorites.  I for one, however, am very tired of anticipating the same rotation of symphonies by Beethoven and  concerti by Mozart.  Artistic Directors and Conductors – as well as Executive Directors and Board Presidents – would benefit from taking a risk and programming the works of voices that are too often unheard.  I am hopeful that as more attention is paid to the facts and figures of what music is being performed, as well as what voices are being ignored or forgotten, changes will follow.