With COVID restrictions in NSW continuing to ease, the live music industry is slowly beginning to get back up on its feet. Sydney Conservatorium’s new partnership with The Women’s Club will celebrate the return to live performance with a series of seven recitals across April to June, focusing on works written and performed by female musicians.

Australian jazz trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis will perform at The Women's Club on International Jazz DayAustralian jazz trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis will perform at The Women’s Club on International Jazz Day on 30 April. Photo © Mireya Acierto

The partnership came about with the recognition from both parties that COVID-19 had particularly affected the musical opportunities available for women. Even before the coronavirus, a 2017 report from the University of Sydney Business School found that music festival line-ups are largely dominated by male artists and lead acts, that women receive significantly less airplay on Australian radio stations, and are less likely to be honoured in the music industry’s most prestigious awards (such as the ARIAs, “J” and AIR awards). Additionally, women represent only one-fifth of songwriters and composers registered with the Australasian Performing Rights Association, despite making up 45 percent of qualified musicians and half of those studying music.

This event series seeks to remedy elements of this disparity by providing paid performance opportunities to female musicians and composers, allowing them to expand their professional networks and become leaders in the music industry. The program is extremely diverse, with repertoire spanning all the way from classical to jazz, cabaret and contemporary works. Performers will consist of a range of Sydney Conservatorium students, staff and alumni – both internationally established and emerging. Julia Horne, co-organiser of the event, says: “There are some amazing women musicians, including a few who have returned home during COVID, and audiences will reap the benefits.”

A particular feature of the series will be music composed by residents of the Composing Women program at the Sydney Conservatorium. Established in 2016, the Composing Women program ensures that high-quality female graduate composers have their own space to explore their creative practice, supported by mentoring, skills and insight by an established female composer (currently Professor Liza Lim). Networking is an important part of professional development in the music industry, and Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium, Anna Reid, hopes that this event will allow women to come together and exchange musical ideas. “When women meet other women from different areas, creative ideas fly,” she says.

Three of the seven recitals will also include a dinner event, with a two-course menu created by The Women’s Club resident chef, Martin Teplitzky. When asked what the incentive behind this was, Horne says: “The idea of a supper club, dinner and a show is attractive to many people. Martin is the former proprietor of Berowra Waters Inn and Bon Cafard, both Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide hatted restaurants. This was an opportunity to combine great food with great music and create a one-stop night-time outing. The vibe is relaxed, either sitting at tables, cabaret style after a delicious dinner, or in comfortable seats, lounge-room style with eyes on the performance and the treat of hearing musicians introduce their programs.”

Creating visibility for female composers and musicians ties directly into the charter of The Women’s Club, whose mission statement is to “promote women’s cultural and intellectual life” in various ways, one of them being through “giving or arrangement of concerts and musical entertainment”. The Club also has a strong focus on women, being founded in 1901 and modelled on salons or conversational ‘circles’ which provide opportunities in education, social, political and aesthetic matters for women. In launching this series of recitals with the Sydney Conservatorium, the organisers hope that these events will broaden the awareness of women in music, and celebrate their achievements and contribution to our culture.

“We recognise the importance of the Club and their focus on supporting and elevating the voices of women in the arts, cultural sectors and in public life,” says Jacqui Smith from the Sydney Conservatorium. “We also value the existing connection between the Club and the University of Sydney, and wanted to enhance this relationship with some active cultural engagement through music performances.”

What’s more, these recitals are accessible to adult audiences of all ages and musical backgrounds. Recitals grounded in classical music performance traditionally have a reputation of being exclusive and high-brow, enjoyable only to those who are familiar with the musical content and performance practice. Particularly in a niche area where repertoire may be unknown, audiences may fear their knowledge of music and social history in this area is not adequate enough to show up and participate in these conversations. But fear not – Horne states, “These programs have been designed as an introduction to many of the great women musicians and composers. They are performances for adults of all ages. You do not need to be musically informed to attend. The evening performances have been designed to be salon-style, relaxed and enjoyable and draw from a variety of musical genres.”

As a cultural initiative, this series of recitals looks to be a great first step in the direction which the Australian music industry needs to take in order to arrive at a place where playing music by women is seen as common practice rather than the exception. In order to do this, both the professional and educational music worlds need to deconstruct ideas of Western European classical music as being the only genre worthy of study and performance, so we can enjoy the full kaleidoscope of art that diversity brings.

The first recital, Women in Classical Music, kicks off on 14 April, featuring music by Josephine von Auernhammer (1758-1820), Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944) and contemporary composers Elena Kats-Chernin and Aristea Mellos. The program will be performed by piano soloist Stephanie McCallum and pianist Erin Helyard, a renowned performer on the harpsichord and fortepiano and Artistic Director of Pinchgut Opera.

Internationally acclaimed Australian jazz trumpeter and composer Nadje Noordhuis and New Zealand-born pianist, organist and composer Steve Barry will feature in the second recital on 30 April, International Jazz Day.


The program and schedule: 

30 April – International Jazz Day featuring trumpeter and composer Nadje Noordhuis 

7 May – Contemporary Music-Sally Davis A Women of Song 

13 May – Women in Cabaret

4 June  – Women in Jazz – Chloe Kim

9 June –  A String Quartet-Quart-Ed

21 June – International Make Music Day-Liza Lim and Friends

This article is supported by The Women’s Club

The Women's Club

Sign up to the Limelight newsletter