Followup on our 2016-17 Repertoire Report

 We’ve had pushback on some of the information in our blog post on the 2016-2017 orchestral repertoire of the top 21 U.S. orchestras.  A statement by musicologist and writer Steve Ledbetter (on his Facebook page), that these 14 orchestras “have totally turned their backs on women composers”  is not 100% correct (but pretty close!)  So I’d like to offer a little further contextualization.  A staff member from the LA Phil wrote us to point out that they have nine works by women on their program this season.  However, they are all on “new music” events that seem ghettoized from the mainstream orchestral concerts.

For instance, six works (by Veronika Krausas, Ana Prvacki, Michelle Lou, Liza Lim, Ellen Reid, Clara Ianotta) are included on the noon concert of Oct. 1. The details of this event are not listed under the main LAPhil calendar, instead it gets its own page .  It is great that the LAPhil is commissioning new music and making a space for innovative works, but it is certainly not an orchestra concert.  At the new music concert the evening of Oct. 1, a work by Kate Soper is included (performed by the LA Phil New Music Group – again, not an orchestra concert).
The LA Phil’s Reykjavík Festival (April 11-15) will include works by three women, Thurídur Jónsdóttir, Anna Þorvaldsdóttir and Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir.  The pieces by the latter two will actually be performed by the LA Phil.  However, there seems to be no way to include the concerts in a subscriber series.

Gustavo Dudamel -- not conducting ANY works by women at the L.A. Phil this season
Gustavo Dudamel — not conducting ANY works by women at the L.A. Phil this season

Lest someone wonder if the lack of works composed by women reflects an overall lack of programming by living (or recently living) composers, a glance at the rest of the season reveals a great variety of male living composers.  John Adams’ 70th birthday is being fêted, and that means a lot of his music is being performed, including two operas.
The other living composers are Gerald Barry, Steve Reich, Andrew Norman, James Matheson, Christopher Rouse, James MacMillan, Georg Friedrich Haas, Matthias Pinscher, Nico Muhly, John Adams, Steve Reich, and Thomas Adès.  Also included are works by the recently departed Pierre Boulez and Elliot Carter, and the not so recently departed Lou Harrison.  Also there are some Icelandic men and others included on new music concerts.

One pervasive tendency is this notion that “since we don’t know any music by women composers, there must not be any, so therefore we have to commission it.”  As Steve Ledbetter points out,

While it is always good to generate new compositions, it is equally important to recognize the existence of a large and growing repertory of fine works that deserve to be heard again. Orchestras are always looking for older works by male composers (even those who are still alive!) — but they don’t seem to search the repertory for fine works by women. … There really needs to be some consciousness-raising here!! So much excellent music is not being given a chance to be heard!

It is hard not conclude that there is, on the one hand, so much ignorance; and on the other, the biased insistence that if we don’t know this music, it must be because it isn’t any good.  In particular I would like to see orchestras explore works by women of the generation of Pierre Boulez, Elliot Carter, and Lou Harrison.  Why not start with Joanna Beyer, Elizabeth Maconchy and Ruth Schonthal?

*  * * * * * *  * * * * * *  * * * * * *  * * * * * *

As a footnote, an additional concert by The New York Phil deserves mention, an all-Kaija Saariaho concert being performed Oct. 13 and 14, at the Park Avenue Armory.  I believe this event was not included in our previous count because it is a special concert and tickets are sold by the venue, not the NYPhil website (and are not offered on any subscription series).  Esa-Pekka Salonen is conducting, as he also is on two of the Reykjavík concerts in LA.   I mention that to point out his far-flung influence in advocating for new music from Nordic countries (and including women).

Send a Comment

Your email address will not be published.