How is the classical music field doing when it comes to women composers? To be sure, there is reason for optimism in the past few years, but what do the composers themselves think? We decided to go straight to the source by asking a small sampling of the many composers active in the field to share their personal perspectives and experiences.– Jennifer Gersten
“When New York classical music station WQXR hosted a 24-hour marathon of music by more than 60 women composers in celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2019, it was welcome news. Still, said the station’s creative director, Clemency Burton-Hill, “What I would love is to never hear the phrase ‘woman composer’ ever again. I’d love for us to just talk about composers, but we need to take the steps to get there by making a conscious decision to elevate accomplished composers who happen to be women.” We may not be at that point yet, but there is heightened attention being paid to the problem. And there’s no denying a sharp increase in announcements of upcoming programs featuring music by women composers at orchestras in the U.S. and internationally.Which is why we think it’s a good moment to ask a sampling of today’s composers to share their thoughts about their own experiences, and the context of these changes at orchestras and what they might mean more generally. We asked each composer a few questions:
• Do you feel optimistic about the amount of music being programmed at orchestras by women composers, and the pace of change? Why or why not?
• What programs or individuals or orchestras have been helpful to you as a composer? Has being a woman composer positively or negatively affected your career so far?
• Have you had important mentors?”
This summer, I will be speaking at a panel at the Association of California Symphony Orchestras Conference about making programming more relevant. I’m also a board member with the American Composers Forum, which is working hard to incorporate DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) more fully into all its endeavors. In December 2018, I wrote “Motherhood and the Creative Process,” an article about my experiences juggling parenthood with composing. Change can be healthy when we include as many different and talented voices as possible at the table and listen to what is possible.I didn’t really have a lot of female mentors. When I was a teenager in Canada, I studied with Violet Archer and then had a few encounters with other female composers. However, what really helped me was meeting musicians who were like-minded. Violinist Kristin Lee was one of my students at Juilliard. I brought along Andrew Cyr, director of Metropolis Ensemble in New York, to one of her concerts, and we were blown away by her playing. I subsequently wrote a violin concerto for her and Metropolis Ensemble that led to a Juno Award, which really set my career in motion. Meeting those musicians was really key.– Vivian Fung
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