Listeners arriving last week at the Aspen Music Festival’s second Composition Program Recital of the summer had an all-too-rare experience at classical concerts: they saw a majority of works by women composers — three out of five.
The classical world remains a locus of glaring gender inequality. A 2015 study of major U.S. orchestras, conducted by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, found just 1.8 percent of pieces performed that season had been written by women. Surveying works by living composers, women’s pieces comprised a higher but still-shockingly low 10.3 percent of performances.
The structural bias and lack of opportunity for women that has led to this under-representation has become a prominent topic of debate in the music world in recent years, as progress has been slow but, it seems, steady.
One sign of the movement toward equality: the 2017 class at Aspen’s Schumann Center for Composition Studies is half women — 5 out of 10. The even gender split is a first for the Aspen Music Festival and School’s vaunted, decades-old composition program. It resulted, not from any affirmative action initiative, but from a rigorous application process based solely on talent.
The five women in the class have often been the only woman in the room during their academic and artistic careers. The equality of Aspen’s 2017 class, said composition fellow Kimberly Osberg, has erased gender from the conversation here.
“It’s been nice to have an equal balance of men and women,” she said. “We can just be people. I don’t feel so novel-ized.”
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Along with some overt sexism, the cause for the lack of women composers is often…
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