Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Gender and Music: Nicola LeFanu

Gender and Music: a topic that’s been in the air recently, with Vasily Petrenko’s silly comments on women conductors, and then Marin Alsop’s splendid last night of the Proms. Her spirited riposte to Petrenko, and her support for inclusivity, drew widespread applause. A few days later, the European Union ‘s WIMUST project was launched in London by MEP Mary Honeyball. This is a strategy to try and create greater gender equality in the performing arts and particularly music.

This was all in my mind when I received the September packet of leaflets for concerts in York and its region in the coming season. There is a wealth of music making, both professional and amateur, something York can be proud of. The gender statistics are not so good, though. There are only two female conductors: Margaret Griffiths directs York Opera’s Nabucco, and Jane Sturmheit directs the Chanticleer Singers.

Women composers fare badly. The extensive (and usually admirable) University series has only two represented, both programmed by young artists: the Ligeti quartet plays Gubaidulina, and Chimera ensemble plays Saariaho. Yet there are several concerts (for example of 20th century British music) which could, and should, have been more representative. Other York concert series, whether orchestral, choral or chamber, have no music by female composers; I found only one example, Cecilia McDowell’s Canterbury Mass (Micklegate Singers.)

Late Music should therefore be congratulated on its enlightened programming. Composers who happen to be women were featured in all the 2012-2013 concerts, and commissions have been shared equally between male and female recipients.

There is no reason why female composers should be marginalised. There are plenty of us, in all generations, and writing in a range of musical idioms. It is time more of York’s excellent music groups took the trouble to discover a rich repertoire which they are currently ignoring. Equal opportunity and inclusivity in the 21st century? I should hope so!
Nicola LeFanu
September 2013