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BBC PROMS SURVEY 2018

For some years Women in Music (UK) has been doing a survey of the numbers of women represented in the BBC PROMS season. The Proms is the largest classical music festival in the world. This year there are 57 main evening orchestral concerts, as well as chamber music concerts, daytime events and late-night concerts. The audiences in the Royal Albert Hall are of many thousands, and all the concerts are broadcast, many on television.

This year the Proms Director, David Pickard, has publicly proclaimed that he intends to redress the balance between men and women. As far as composers are concerned he says his aim is to increase the number of BBC commissions to women until half of new commissions for the Proms season are for women by the year 2022.

The figures for women in the 2018 BBC Proms season are:

Composers:19/133 (14%)[[Last year was 9/120]
Living composers:17/43 (40%) [Last year was 8/36]
BBC Commissions:12/19 (63%)[Last year was 4/13]
Conductors:4/58 (7%)[Last year was 7/57]

This year I have made a new category for the number of living composers whose works are substantial (more than 15 mins) and are featured in main evening concerts. This is because many of the new commissions this year are for short pieces in chamber concerts or “family” concerts.

Substantial works by living composers: 5/14 (36%)

The women composers are: Kerry Andrew, Lili Boulanger, Tansy Davies, Bushra El-Turk, Suzanne Farrin, lisa Illean, Hannah Kendall, Anna Meredith, Isobel Mundry, Thea Musgrave, Laura Mvula, Olga Neuwirth, Roxanna Panufnik, Eve Risser, Nina Senk, Caroline Shaw, Ethel Smyth, Jessica Wells, Agata Zubel

The conductors are: Marin Alsop; Karina Canellakis; Sian Edwards; Jane Glover.

To analyse the results: These figures are substantially better than they have ever been. The previous best for composers was in 2015 when there were 12 female composers in the Proms season. The number of female conductors is down from last year, but that was an all-time high. Last year when I looked at the duration of the works by living composers I found that only one woman composer had a substantial work (15 mins or over), and that was not in a main evening concert at the Royal Albert Hall. That was compared to 17 substantial works by male composers in the main evening concerts. To have 5 substantial works by women this year is unprecedented.

It does seem that there is a marked improvement regarding the proportion of women composers in the 2018 BBC Proms season, with promise of this continuing. I take it that this is, in part, a response to the publicity generated by Women in Music (my survey started in the 1980s) and taken up by other music journalists and publicists. Result!

I have never implied that the BBC Proms season is any worse than any other substantial classical music season or festival – only that it is representative. I will now have to think whether to continue the Proms survey, or maybe switch attention to other seasons elsewhere.

Jenny Fowler

NOTE: Anyone is welcome to quote these statistics, but please mention the source. The figures for past Proms seasons are also available on the Women in Music (UK) website: www.womeninmusic.org.uk


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