The Proms 2005 – women composers thin on the ground again

by Jenny Fowler

For several years I have been doing a survey of the numbers of women represented in the BBC PROMS season. The Proms is the largest music festival in the world, with 74 evening concerts, nearly all for full orchestra, as well as lunchtime chamber music concerts and other related events. Audiences in the Royal Albert Hall are of many thousands, and all the concerts are broadcast, many on television.
The BBC has generally a good record with regard to women – for instance in their orchestras – so if the inclusion of women in the Proms seems low, one can take it that the story is probably worse in other festivals and concert seasons (with a few honourable exceptions).

Here are the figures for the 2005 PROMS:

Number of composers: 112
Women composers: 4 (3.6%)

These were: Unsuk Chin, Sofia Gubaidulina, Tatjana Komarova, Thea Musgrave.

Three pieces by the women composers are performed in the main evening concerts; one piece in a lunchtime concert; and there is an early evening “proms portrait” of Thea Musgrave.

Conductors/directors: 62
Women conductors: 2 (3.2%)

These were Marin Alsop and Clio Gould.

Instrumental soloists: 10 women out of 39 (25.6%)

These figures are very similar to the count that I have been making since 1989. There have been better years and there have been worse. It is particularly dispiriting to note this year’s figures regarding living composers. Among historical composers one might expect the record to be lacking in women, but among living British composers being played at the Proms this year?? There are 17 of them, 16 of them are men. There are 9 BBC commissions or co-commissions. All men.

I decided to look at a couple of other British festivals whose programs have been announced. The City of London Festival (June/July), has 44 listed composers, all men.
The Aldeburgh Festival (June) has 64 composers including one woman (Tansy Davies – this was an Aldeburgh Festival commission). Much better for women is the St Magnus Festival in the Orkneys (July). There are 4 “featured composers” and 2 of them are women (Sofia Gubaidulina and Sally Beamish). There is also a new music theatre production from a local composer: Gemma McGregor.

So if little St Magnus can do it, why not the others??

Jenny Fowler