Women composers have long been underrepresented on concert programs. But increased public attention and a slew of recent initiatives suggest that historic imbalance may be shifting. Since 2014, the League of American Orchestras’ Women Composers Readings and Commissions program has commissioned ten composers to write pieces for orchestras (see the “At the League” column in this issue for more about the program). In the U.K. this year, London’s Trinity Laban Conservatory added a women composers initiative, and the BBC Proms and 44 other U.K. arts groups are collectively advocating for gender parity among composers. In Ireland, an organization called Sounding the Feminists is curating chamber music programs devoted to music by women composers who were “active but hidden as composers over the centuries.” Among the women gaining belated recognition is African American composer Florence Price (1887-1953); several U.S. orchestras are performing her works, and the first recording of Price’s two violin concertos was released this winter, performed by the Janáček Philharmonic and soloist Er-Gene Kahng, concertmaster of the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra. Also appearing with greater frequency on concert programs are works by Clara Schumann, Cecile Chaminade, Ethyl Smith, Lili Boulanger, and Amy Beach.
Music by living women composers is also starting to be performed more frequently. In 2017, all three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Music, including winner Du Yun, were women. One challenge has been insufficient resources connecting composers with orchestras and other presenters. In January, New Music Box reported that after years of behind-the-scenes work, composer Rob Deemer launched a huge Women Composers Database, created with the help of students at SUNY Fredonia. It’s in spreadsheet format, can be accessed by anyone—and includes 3,150 composers. The idea is for conductors, performers, and others to use it to research and create more diverse concert programs. Chamber Music America has a new Composers Equity Project, a database that includes women, gender non-conforming, and minority composers. Meanwhile, the nonprofit Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy—which has been working steadily for years to get more music by women composers performed—has online resources that include a 283-entry list of works by women composers; repertoire suggestions for mostly historic composers, with information about how to obtain music and links to audio files; and orchestral scores by women of African descent.