“Is this year’s Proms awash with oestrogen?”

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 music festival in the world, with up to 76 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 generally has 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. Indeed, WiM investigated some other festivals over several years and found that, with a few honourable exceptions, the Proms season was fairly typical. So it was decided to continue with Proms surveys.

This year is the first year that all programs have been in the charge of the new Proms director, Roger Wright. One music journalist has humorously described this year’s Proms as being “awash with oestrogen” – in reference to and contrast with the 2006 Proms which featured no women composers or conductors. So do the figures add up to a positive flood of women?

Composers: 6/128. (4.6%). All women composers are included in evening concerts, although 2 of the pieces are very short (5’ and 8’). Same number as last year, but the percentage is less.

Conductors: 1/64 (Susanna Mãlkki). Remains very low.

Instrumental soloists: 19/86 (22%). This is one of the highest percentages, although not as high as 2005.

Of the 6 women composers featured, 3 are BBC commissions or co-commissions for substantial pieces. (Unsuk Chin, Anna Meredith, Augusta Read Thomas). This is a good trend, although one has to point out that there are 12 BBC commission altogether – ie 9 go to men.

Perhaps a better way of number-crunching is to look at the proportion of living composers featured. There are 39 living composers of which 6 are women (15%).

So, is this year’s Proms awash with oestrogen? Only in contrast to the abysmal record of the past!