02 August 2013

Orchestral premieres and the NEA

The Summer 2013 edition of Symphony, the official magazine of the League of American Orchestras, brings us the (surprising?) news that nothing new is happening for women composers in the world of orchestral music.  Page 21, “A Continent’s Worth of Premieres: Looking Towards the 2013-2013 Season” is quite beautiful and is devoted to “World and Territorial Premieres in North America.”

The orchestras featured are the Boston, Baltimore, Toronto, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Seattle Symphony Orchestras, the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, Duke University, and the National Youth Orchestra of the USA. These 13 orchestras are premiering 18 new works, of which one is by a woman composer, Anna Clyne.

While the page itself is an advertisement from Boosey and Hawkes, it also represents the world of orchestral music rather well. Each year the LAO’s own statistics show that only 1% of orchestral music performed by its member orchestras is by women. (It did jump up to 2% the year Joan Tower received her commission to compose a work for 65 US orchestras.)

The NEA is now seriously threatened, with efforts being made to cut its already modest budget in half.  I receive many requests from the LAO, Opera America, and other large music organizations to lobby on their behalf and that of the NEA.  Certainly music and art do serve the greater good, but do I myself have an obligation to support rampart inequality in the arts?

No serious person now asserts that women do not compose fine music for orchestra.  Why is so little of it played?  Our tax dollars are not scorned as of lesser value—should the organizations and activities they support be allowed to continue scorning, or at the very least ignoring, our artistic achievements?






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