Sydney-based composer Ian Whitney has been crunching the numbers for 2017 flagship seasons on his blog.

Sydney-based composer Ian Whitney has published an analysis of the Australian content in the flagship seasons of Australia’s major music organisations on his blog and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra is the big winner in the orchestral section with 12% of the works listed for performance being by Australian composers.

Dividing the organisations into three categories (Orchestras, Opera and Chamber), Whitney has ranked the organisations based on the percentage of Australian works on their programmes and included data on how many of the Australian composers are women. Whitney makes it clear on his blog that the numbers come from the season brochures of each organisation and don’t include data from education and outreach programmes or programmes where the repertoire is announced closer to the time – such as mini-festivals and special presentations.

Elena Kats-Chernin is the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Composer-in-Residence in 2017

The TSO’s percentage of Australian works is up from 2016, where Whitney clocked them at 5%. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra came in second (on par with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) this year, with 10% Australian works, although with a larger season they will be performing 15 Australian works to the TSO’s 10. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has a higher percentage of female composers – four or 31% of their Australian composers programmed are women (Liza Lim, Kate Miller-Heidke, Kate Neal and Katie Noonan) to the TSO’s one (Maria Grenfell, whose Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon will premiere in June). The MSO has only one female composer programmed, Elena Kats-Chernin, but as the orchestra’s Composer-in-Residence she will be having six works performed across the season.

The Australian Chamber Orchestras count was down on 2016 falling from 8% to 4% and of the Australian composers programmed by the ACO, West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Queensland Symphony Orchestra, none are women. The QSO came last in Whitney’s ranking, with only two Australian works programmed (by Malcolm Williamson and Joe Chindamo) – but this is up from 0 in 2016.

Victorian Opera topped the Opera category with an impressive 42% Australian content, up from a still commendable 29% in 2016, Katie Noonan the one female Australian composer in the line-up. Opera Australia, Opera Queensland and West Australian Opera came in equal second – and last – with zero Australian composers, all down from 2016. State Opera of South Australian was not included in the analysis, Whitney tweeting “Given up waiting for SOSA, as it is November and the cricket is starting.”

In chamber music, the Australian String Quartet came in first with three of their 14 works, or 21%, by Australian composers. Musica Viva, the only other organisation listed in this section, came in second at 16% with 16 of 101 works by Australian composers, 25% of them women.

Not listed are the Australia Ensemble who tweeted their own stats: “AE 2017: 27 works, 7 Aus composers (26%) 2 Aus women (Kats Chernin, Wilcox) but 5/27 composers in the season are female.” A number of other smaller ensembles and organisations, such as Ensemble Offspring – who may provide a more positive outlook for representation of Australian composers and Australian women composers – are absent from the list. Whitney acknowledges another gap in his analysis on his blog: “The big gap is choirs/voice. I don’t know how to start tackling that lot. My rough guide is ‘full time-ish, with admin/management staff’. I can only think of one, which defeats the purpose of ranking. Very open to suggestions on developing a choral division – I suspect that the results would be very pleasing.”

Ian Whitney, photo © Will Taylor

Since Whitney’s analysis is limited to the main-stage seasons advertised in the publicity brochures released for each organisation’s season launch, it is by no means an exhaustive analysis of the state of Australian music in Australia – for instance, by this criteria Whitney’s 2016 ranking didn’t include OA’s big-budget staging of Australian opera The Eighth Wonder – however it does highlight the place that Australian works and the work of Australia’s female composers hold in season programming across the country.


Click Here for Ian Whitney’s full rankings