Matthew Kaner
COMPOSER

Equality and diversity in classical music

I’m personally a little dismayed that, in spite of some very vocal opposition to the move [1], very few members of the composing establishment have come out in support of David Pickard and the BBC for pledging to offer 50% of their commissions for new Proms pieces to female composers from 2020.

As a young(-ish) composer myself I really don’t think we males have anything to fear from this new development. As a teacher in HE, I am very aware that trying to recruit female composers to degree courses (and to occupy lectureships) is a genuine struggle. Frankly, anything that encourages talented young women to have the confidence to enter the profession is positive as far as I’m concerned.

Knowing a handful of female composers as friends, colleagues and students has made it very evident to me that it’s a lack of role models (i.e. the appearance of equal opportunities) that prevents many women (and perhaps even more those of minority backgrounds) from pursuing careers as composers in the UK. Strangely enough, not seeing anyone who looks like you doing the career you’re considering can be enough to put you off giving it a go. (It’s hardly surprising when most young composers’ financial situations are so precarious anyway [2].)

Some colleagues have also suggested that introducing a 50% quota will somehow damage the current supposedly meritocratic system that leads to the most talented (mostly male) composers receiving the best commissions. Well, although I’m relatively near the beginning of my career, I have now witnessed how some commissions and opportunities are awarded to composers, and I’m fairly certain that no such meritocracy exists in reality. Being a good composer does of course count for a lot, but the truth is that having the right networks and contacts is still just as important. To those on the outside, large organisations (such as mainstream orchestras and festivals) can seem pretty closed and inaccessible.

So hats off to David Pickard and the BBC. There’s still a long way to go, but I think this represents genuine progress.

[1] e.g. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/01/bbc-proms-backlash-gender-balance-will-see-fading-opportunities/

[2] See http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-4446.12359/abstract

Posted on March 9, 2018

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