The Donne – Women in Music foundation has released the results of a new study analysing the 2020-2021 season programs of 100 orchestras around the world, revealing the lack of representation of works by non-white and non-male composers. The study, Equality and Diversity in Concert Halls, builds upon earlier research into the 2018 and 2019 seasons internationally, this year capturing a wider pool of orchestras across 27 countries, including the Sydney, Melbourne, Queensland and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras.

Gabriella Di Laccio

Gabriella Di Laccio. Photograph © Andres Landino

The study analysed the programs of some of the most influential and highly-regarded orchestras around the world, including the New York Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic, the London Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestras, Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, among many others, including the four from Australia. For the Australian orchestras, the report respected the office season dates so analysed the 202o seasons.

The report – which can be found on the Donne – Women in Music website – breaks down the findings of the study into clear statistics. Of the 14,747 individual compositions performed across the 100 orchestras, only 747 (5%) were composed by female-identifying composers. Furthermore, it lays out the “alarming” fact that, of those pieces, only 1.11% were composed by Black or Asian women, and 2.43% by Black or Asian men. Out of 4,857 scheduled performances, 88.55% contained programs solely made up of compositions by male-identifying composers. 

This marks a small improvement from the 2018-2019 study into 15 international orchestras (including the SSO), which saw 94.7% concerts with solely male programs, and only 82 of 3524 performed works by female composers.

Since 2018, Donne has tried to prove that this is not for a lack of material. The Big List, found on their website, is an ever-growing catalogue of over 4,000 female composers, stretching back before the 16th century, with external links to works and further information. The foundation also produces digital video content aimed at exposing audiences to works by these women. 

As Donne founder and curator, soprano Gabriella Da Laccio, said to Limelight in 2018, “I never stop coming across surprises, and I have a feeling that this will continue to happen for quite a while, as there are still so many composers to be discovered. If we take into consideration that it was so incredibly difficult for women to receive any recognition in the past centuries, the accomplishments of all these composers become even more impressive. They are all, with no exception, extraordinary women”. 

This new report also makes it clear why these statistics are worrying. After the decimation of the music industry brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to pay attention to these inequalities as organisations internationally work to re-find their footing. 

“For equality and diversity to become a reality in our concert halls, it is important that we move beyond tokenism for political correctness and aim for comprehensive and genuine inclusivity to permeate through the layers – that means the artists we see on stage, the repertoire presented in concerts and in our educational syllabuses, the personnel leading organisations and the audiences we are trying to reach,” said Di Laccio in the report.

Donne - Women in Music

Graphic showing representation statistics for the 2020-2021 season. Taken from Equality and Diversity in Concert Halls, published by Donne – Women in Music.

Also included in the report are testimonials from composers and performers, advocating for the need for parity in programming.

“If we continue to programme the same pieces for the rest of eternity, we are consigning the concert hall to be a museum, but even museums reckon with their past through the eyes of the present, and reframe the biases which have bought their exhibits. How wonderful that these concert halls can also reverberate with new music, and how gaping a hole is left by the music that is unheard, unplayed, uncommissioned,” said Manchester-based composer and writer Anna Appleby.

In regards to our domestic orchestras, the report lays out how the Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Queensland Symphony Orchestras fared under this scrutiny. Most damning were SSO’s figures for the 2020-2021 season, with no scheduled performances of works by female composers of any cultural background or non-white male composers. This is out of 277 compositions across 103 scheduled performances. It is not the first time SSO has faced criticism over programming, with Australian composer Ian Whitney’s analysis of the amount of Australian content in 2020 showing the decline in SSO’s diversity of representation, whilst Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s continued to climb. Felicity Wilcox also highlighted this in a recent piece for Limelight.

In conclusion, the report lays out clear suggestions for change and a move towards equal representation, including encouraging orchestras to program more diverse composers on both an individual and corporate level. The report also catalogues 500 compositional works by women, some of which are included in 2020-2021 seasons internationally.

“How can we do better? Dedicate some time studying works beyond the pre-established canon, thinking about creating more projects where equality is prioritized and opening more spaces for discussion, such as the work carried out by Donne under the direction of Gabriella di Laccio. They need to emerge, so that the subject is less and less treated as a novelty, and more like normalcy,” said Brazilian conductor Andréa Botelho in the report.

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