Mohammed Fairouz wrote an essay for NPR’s Deceptive Cadence called “Don’t Hire Me. Hire a Female Composer Instead.” While his request is self-explanatory, Fairouz also digs into the data underlying big orchestras’ performances of women composers, and it is depressing. To wit: only 1.8% of pieces played in 2014-15 season were penned by women.
Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider describes it as a “circular problem” in her piece “Candy Floss and Merry-Go-Rounds.” Here’s the cycle: men hold prestigious positions, men seek out new hires and collaborators with similar backgrounds, the public and job-hunters perceive these positions as strictly for men, only men apply, ad nauseam. Snider dispassionately catalogs the casual sexism, snubs and insults women face in classical music (you can bet she leaves a lot of shit out — read the whole thing, it’s eye-watering). And all this happens before a note of music is ever heard.
This is a failure of orchestras and music directors who play the same crap year after year, audiences who demand to hear said crap, schools who aren’t doing their part to change things, and men who won’t speak up for change. So, where to begin? Maybe by emulating critic Rebecca Lentjes, who has a policy of only reviewing concerts “with at least one woman (or trans or nonbinary) composer on the program.” Perfect. Now, how about we concertgoers stop attending shows unless they meet that standard?
There’s a lot to do. The symphony season is drawing to a close, and it’s high time to reassess this whole enterprise.