Women composers, from Anahita Abbasi to Ellen Taafe Zwilich

Rob Deemer is an assistant professor and head of composition at SUNY-Fredonia. Deemer is also creator of the Women Composers Database, an impressive project whose stated purpose is to provide a one-stop resource for the types of composers who often (truthfully: always) get short shrift in the great concert halls of the world: women.

I traded emails with Deemer to ask him about the project. His goals for it are modest and sensible:

It is my hope that this database will allow for each programmer to discover their own pool of favored composers rather than relying on journalists or friends or “experts”. I also hope that organizations will use the database to find composers in their area that they might not be aware of; the more their programming reflects their audiences, the more successful their interactions with their communities will be.

Deemer said he’s been surprised at the volume of submissions he’s received, “hundreds and hundreds” so far to bring the running total to 3,100. If you’d like to do the same head to the Women Composer Database submission page to submit your favorites. You can add in biographical info like genres each composed for, ethnicity, and city of residence. I asked him about other under-represented groups in classical music, and Deemer said he’s already thinking about it:

I have actually already begun work on a Composers of Color Database to fill that void. Since the Women Composers Database already had a great number of composers of color in it, I’ve started with that and will be working with my team of students at the State University of New York at Fredonia to bring that second database up to speed by the summer of 2018.

All right! Add your favorite women composers to the list, and follow him on Twitter for updates.

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The degenerate gambler’s guide to handicapping the 2018 classical GRAMMY Awards

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Remedios Varo Uranga. (Wikipedia)

Seasoned gamblers know that this marvelous thing we call the internet allows one to wager money on almost any event in the world for which the outcome is not guaranteed. You can bet on the next Pope, the winner of The Voice, the length of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, and many more things.

You can also gamble on the GRAMMYs. Continue reading “The degenerate gambler’s guide to handicapping the 2018 classical GRAMMY Awards”

If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem, pt. 79

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Image by William Kentridge, courtesy Guggenheim Museum.

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. Continue reading “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem, pt. 79”

Out in orbit

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The newest installment in our ongoing playlist series is here, and it’s called Out in Orbit. It’s chockablock with good-ass releases mostly from this year or last. It features throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Schoenberg, Bartók, Caroline Shaw, Brian Eno, and many more.

Here are not one but two previous installments in the series in case you want more. We all want more.

Chasing Paganini through Genova

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Classical Dark Arts recently embarked on a junket that swung through Genova, Italy in pursuit of rare and singular sites. The following photos show our particularly impressive finds.

Cristoforo Colombo was born in Genova. For a time the city-state counted among its inhabitants some of the world’s wealthiest merchants. These days tourists dodge scooters and amble down labyrinthine pathways to peek inside the mansions that remain as monuments to bygone glory days. These palazzi double as museums for art and curious artifacts left behind.

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We went searching for a gilded set of artifacts housed at the Palazzo Doria Tursi: the personal effects of violinist, sorcerer and Genova native son Niccolò Paganini. Somehow the museum has managed to corral two unbelievable treasures among their collection, Paganini’s Guarneri del Gesù Cannon violin from 1743, and the 1834 copy of the Cannon by Jean-Baptiste Vuillame, called the Sivori. Continue reading “Chasing Paganini through Genova”

CDA’s top classical releases of 2016

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2016 will go down as the year Mozart improbably beat out Adele, Beyoncé and Drake in CD sales. If that doesn’t explain the wonky twelve months we’ve had then very little will. We saw the Cubs win the World Series, Trump beat Clinton, and the UK vote to leave the EU. Vine was shut down. Prince, Bowie and Muhammad Ali all passed away. Who would’ve predicted any of those at the year’s outset? Not you, Nate Silver. Continue reading “CDA’s top classical releases of 2016”

The four faces of the American orchestra

Today we take stock of symphony orchestras big and small across the US. It’s become fashionable to hate on them, to ignore their good work and declare them dead or passé. The kiss of death has been blown in their direction so often you’d think players would catch a chill.

All is not lost, though, and a new study points to some surprising strengths remaining for classical music. Today’s post, in four parts, looks at those strengths and the ways to build on them.

Part one: The state of US orchestras


Let’s start by taking a graceful swan dive into a properly-heated infinity pool of orchestral data.

In a new report the League of American Orchestras analyzed financial information on US orchestras from 2006 to 2014. You can find the report and analysis here in pdf form, but here’s a SparkNotes version.

1. Currently there are more than 1,200 orchestras in the US. They perform 28,000 annual concerts for a combined audience of 25 million people. They contribute $1.8 billion each year to the US economy.
2. Fixed orchestra subscriptions have remained static or slightly down, but single-ticket and flexible (choose-your-own subscrip) sales are up. People like choice! (But NB: subscriptions = more predictable revenue.)
3. Between 2010 and 2014, symphony attendance dropped 10.5 percent. During that same time, audiences for orchestra tours fell off by about half (ouch).
4. Donations stayed steady from 2006 to 2014.
5. From 2010 to 2014, the average donation by a non-trustee individual was less than $250.
6. Local governing bodies — cities, counties and states — channel much more money to the performing arts than the feds do. (Although they themselves may be flipping fed money, it’s unclear.)
7. Roughly half of every orchestra’s budget goes to player salaries & benefits. Fully 70 percent of money is plowed into performance production.

It’s not exactly boom times, but there’s room for optimism here. Let’s continue.

Continue reading “The four faces of the American orchestra”

Philip Glass on paying artists real cash money

Philip Glass has a straightforward response to the culture of free: it’s not working.

We swim in a sea of music. We have more art, books, shows, movies and ideas at our fingertips than the poor sap working the Library of Alexandria circulation desk could ever handle. If you’re bored these days it’s due to lack of effort, not availability.

There is a downside to all that free shit. Over at The Creative Independent, composer Philip Glass insists we’re wrong to assume artists should surrender their wares, gratis, for the common good. Continue reading “Philip Glass on paying artists real cash money”