The 2019-2020 season announcements have been made, so now it’s time to crunch the numbers.  As in years past, we looked at the top 21 orchestras with the highest operating budgets throughout the country to see what, and who, they were playing.*  You can see last year’s report here.

The information we gathered was directly from their official websites and press releases,  and included the most up-to-date information. We only included the regular season “Classical” programs – not “Family”, “Pops”, Chamber Events, or “Holiday” concerts.  For example, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has a fantastic new music series titled Green Umbrella, however as these concerts are part of the LA Phil New Music Group and not the LA Philharmonic itself, we do not count them, even though there are many exciting new commissions by contemporary women.  This coming year also sees some exciting Family Concerts celebrating women in music from Seattle and the National Symphony Orchestra, and many new works being commissioned from women composers in a program titled “History’s Persistent Voice” from the San Francisco Symphony – but it’s not included in the regular concert series, so they aren’t included in these numbers.

The continuing conversations about representation – as well as the outcry heard by some ensembles last year in their lack of programming (leading to a public response from The Philadelphia Orchestra) – have continued to help nudge the needle in the right direction.  Though there are some significant improvements over past years, the rate of representation is still, unsurprisingly, a fraction of the otherwise dead, white, male programming.

In years past there have always been a handful ensembles out of the 21 that have failed to include even a single piece by a woman composer – but not so this coming season!  All 21 ensembles include at least one work composed by a woman, and many press releases specifically highlighted the women that were being heard in the coming season.

Of the 277 individual composers being programmed across all 21 ensemble’s seasons, 53 identify as women –  a total of 19%.

Looking over the past three seasons, the trend is clearly upwards.

There are 927 individual works being performed in the coming season – and 79 of those works are by women.

The 8% of women’s representation sounds abysmal, until it’s compared over the past three years.

When considering individual performances throughout the season (for example, the 13 different ensembles that will perform Beethoven’s Eroica in the coming year) the reality of the situation becomes clearer.  The sheer volume of repetition of the “old masters” makes any new/different voices difficult to stand out from the din. Of the 1522 different performances, only 98 are of works by women composers, whereas there are 162 different performances of works by Beethoven alone.

This coming year marks the 250th birthday of Beethoven – as if orchestras needed any more excuses to program his works.  (Never mind that 2019 is the 200th birthday of Clara Schumann – and zero orchestras chose to capitalize on that anniversary.) Plenty of ensembles made specific mention of the Beethoven anniversary and their programming “efforts” (is it really work to program Beethoven?) to celebrate this historic year.  However, their saturation of works by Ludwig was really hardly noticeable compared to other years, and the sheer volume of works by Beethoven (or Dvorak, or Tchaikovsky, etc…) makes the few new voices being added to the program hard to find.
Harder yet because the copy writers and marketing professionals putting together press releases and season brochures more often than not neglect to even mention works by women composers  –  and few new works in general  –  in describing the coming concerts to potential ticket buyers, even when the piece being performed is the world premiere of a commissioned work.  This is a complaint that I have shared before, and it certainly doesn’t hold true for all ensembles, or all concert descriptions, but the tendency is certainly to sing the praises of the old favorites and neglect what is new, different, and exciting.  A perfect example is the coming premiere of a new work by MacArthur Genius Grant winner Tyshawn Sorey by the Seattle Symphony, the description of which is:

Prepare to be dazzled by the Second Symphony, a pivotal work that blazed a path to glory for young Beethoven. Then music director Thomas Dausgaard leads the orchestra in Beethoven’s exhilarating Symphony No. 7 which celebrates relentless, infectious rhythms.

I find it shocking to not include any mention of the composer or the world premiere of the new work.  But it clearly speaks to the typical ticket buyers, and not to the potential new audience members.  Again, this is not always the case, as evidenced by The Philadelphia Orchestra’s description of a concert that includes two historic works:

Daniil Trifonov, the Orchestra’s Grammy-winning recording partner, returns for four performances. Amplifying the programs are two underappreciated works by formidable women composers: Lili Boulanger, the first woman to in, in 1913, the prestigious Prix de Rome composition prize, and Louise Farrenc, whose Symphony No. 2 dialogues with Beethoven, and leaves us asking why her works are not a more integral part of the canon today.

And perhaps no surprise that this great example came from Philadelphia.  The orchestra who wins for most works programmed in their regular concert season is Philadelphia – perhaps the bad press was effective in making some real changes after all.  They are performing a total of 12 works by women that range from World Premieres to Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No. 2 and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s Overture.
The many new commissions are exciting to see – and the stated and deliberate efforts by many ensembles to specifically reach out to women to add their voices to the canon is so very important.  Last year the Dallas Symphony Orchestra stated their planned efforts to include more women’s voices, and the New York Philharmonic has announced a new commissioning project to honor the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment with 19 new works by women (some of which are included in the 2019-2020 season, and some in the following season’s programming).
But also important to be included are the historic works from the canon – and several are.  In addition to Philadelphia performing Farrenc and Mendelssohn Hensel, the National Symphony will perform Bacewicz’s Overture, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia will perform Lili Boulanger, and works by Florence Price will be performed by Cincinnati, Chicago, Cleveland, Baltimore, Seattle, and the National Symphony.
The good news is that progress is being made – that the voices that have been calling for more diverse and inclusive programming are being heard, even if it takes shaming an ensemble’s leadership for that progress to be made.  But as the shift in culture that began with the #MeToo movement develops – and either settles down or rises up – we will see what lasting changes, and further developments can be made.
When I am asked how many women included on an orchestral program is enough I often think of the now famous quote by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

People ask me sometimes, when — when do you think it will it be enough? When will there be enough women on the court? And my answer is when there are nine.

We were completely comfortable having a court of only men for years, why not all women?  In the same way we’ve had seasons worth of all male programming, why not all women? There is more than enough repertoire to choose from, including highly acclaimed, award winning works.  The problem is not there being music available, or that the music isn’t any “good” – it’s that the system needs to change. These relatively small ripples in the water are promising.  But I will look forward to future concert seasons where women at least hold equal footing with men, and programming ideals change from the Canon to a true representation of the diverse composing voices.
Interested in listening in to some of the works being performed next season?  Tune in to our Spotify Playlist below:

Here’s what’s being performed:

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
71 total pieces
2 works by women

Jennifer Higdon: Concerto for Orchestra
Jessie Montgomery: Starburst

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
64 total pieces
9 works by women

Lera Auerbach: BSO Commission – World Premiere
Chen Yi: Ge Xu (Antiphony)
Anna Clyne: BSO Commission – World Premiere
Anna Clyne: Restless Oceans (US Premiere)
Reena Esmail: new work – World Premiere
Vivian Fung: Dust Devils
Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel: Overture in C Major
Florence Price: The Oak
Lotta Wennakoski: Hava

Boston Symphony Orchestra
81 total pieces
5 works by women

Chihchun Chi-Sun Lee: World Premiere – BSO Commission
Galina Grigorjeva: On Leaving, for unaccompanied chorus
Helen Grime: Limina (BSO Commission)
Betsy Jolas: Letters from Bachville
Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Metacosmos

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
99 total pieces
3 works by women

Jennifer Higdon: blue cathedral
Missy Mazzoli: Orpheus Undone (World Premiere – CSO Commission)
Florence Price: Symphony No. 3

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
73 total pieces
8 works by women

Julia Adolphe: New Work (World Premiere, CSO Commission)
Lili Boulanger: D’un matin de printemps
Unsuk Chin: Cello Concerto
Augusta Holmes: La Nuit et l’Amour
Florence Price: Piano Concerto
Caroline Shaw: New Work (CSO co-commission)
Gabriella Smith: New work – World Premiere, CSO co-commission
Julia Wolfe: Fountain of Youth (CSO co-commission)

Cleveland Symphony Orchestra
73 total pieces
3 works by women

Olga Neuwirth: Masaot/Clocks Without Hands
Florence Price: Symphony No. 4
Mary Lou Williams: Selections from Zodiac Suite

Dallas Symphony Orchestra
71 total pieces
4 works by women

Salina Fisher: Rainphase
Augusta Read Thomas: Aureole
Kaija Saariaho: The Magic Lantern
Julia Wolfe: Fountain of Youth

Detroit Symphony Orchestra
58 total pieces
3 works by women

Nkeiru Okoye: Black Bottom (World Premiere)
Outi Tarkiainen: Midnight Sun Variations
Julia Wolfe: New Work

Houston Symphony Orchestra
54 total pieces
1 work by women

Outi Tarkiainen: Midnight Sun Variations

Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
85 total pieces
6 works by women

Lili Boulanger: D’un matin de printemps
Gabriela Ortiz: New work for chorus and orchestra (World Premiere, LA Phil Commission)
Camille Pepin: Vajrayana
Kaija Saariaho: New Work for Orchestra (US Premiere, LA Phil Commission)
Anna Thorvaldsottir: Metacosmos
Julia Wolfe: Flower Power (World Premiere, LA Phil Commission)

61 total pieces
2 works by women

Helen Grime: Everyone Sang
Kaija Saaraiho: Ciel d’hiver

Minnesota Symphony Orchestra
63 total pieces
4 works by women

Franghiz Ali-Zadeh: Fairy Tales
Zosha Di Castri: Lineage
Anna Clyne: This  Midnight Hour
Kaija Saariaho: Ciel d’hiver

National Symphony Orchestra
80 total pieces
5 works by women

Grazyna Bacewicz: Overture
Salina Fisher: Rainphase
Jennifer Higdon: blue cathedral
Florence Price: Dances in the Canebrakes
Julia Wolfe: Fountain of Youth

New York Philharmonic
89 total pieces
8 works by women

Bjork: Virus, Joga, All is Full of Love, Undo
Unsuk Chin: Su, for Sheng and Orchestra
Jennifer Higdon: blue cathedral
Sarah Kirkland Snider: New Work (World Premiere)
Tania Leon: New Work (World Premiere)
Olga Neuwirth: New work (World Premiere)
Ellen Reid: New Work (World Premiere)
Nina Young: New Work (World Premiere)

Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra
77 total pieces
12 works by women

Lera Auerbach: Icarus for Orchestra
Lili Boulanger: D’un Soir Triste
Anna Clyne: This Midnight Hour
Valerie Coleman: Umoja for orchestra (World Premiere)
Zosha Di Castri: Lineage
Louise Farrenc: Symphony No. 2
Alissa Firsova: The Garden of Dreams: Homage to Shostakovich
Gabriela Lena Frank: Work in Dialogue with Beethoven (World Premiere)
Vivian Fung: Dust Devils
Jessica Hunt: Work in Dialogue with Beethoven (World Premiere)
Betsy Jolas: A Little Summer Suite
Raminta Šerkšnytė: De Profundis

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
55 total pieces
1 work by a woman

Julia Wolfe: Fountain of Youth

San Diego Symphony
57 total pieces
2 works by women

Lili Boulanger: D’un matin de printemps
Sofia Gubaidulina: Fairytale Poem

San Francisco Symphony
89 total pieces
4 works by women

Lili Boulanger: D’un matin de Printemps
Jessie Montgomery: Starburst
Raminta Šerkšnytė: Fires
Julia Wolfe: Fountain of Youth

Seattle Symphony Orchestra
79 total pieces
10 works by women

Anna Clyne: Within Her Arms
Reena Esmail: Sitar Concerto (World Premiere)
Janice Giteck: Potlach Symphony 2020 (World Premiere)
Elena Langer: Figaro Gets a Divorce Suite
Hannah Lash: Double Harp Concerto (World Premiere)
Olga Neuwirth: Aello
Angelique Poteat: Cello Concerto (World Premiere)
Angelique Poteat: New Work for Youth Chorus and Orchestra (World Premiere)
Florence Price: Violin Concerto No. 2
Lotta Wennakoski: Flounce

St. Louis Symphony
70 total pieces
5 works by women

Lera Auerbach: Icarus
Anna Clyne: This Midnight Hour
Sofia Gubaidulina: Offertorium
Jennifer Higdon: blue cathedral
Outi Tarkiainen: Midnight Sun Variations

Utah Symphony and Opera
73 total pieces
2 works by women

Kaija Saariaho: Asteroid 4179
Arlene Sierra: Moler

*Orchestras include: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minnesota, National, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, and Utah.  IN using these 21 orchestras we follow the lead of The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s “By the Numbers” Project of 2014- 2015.