The need for the five15 project
Women are still nowhere near being properly represented as composers. In the 2015 Proms, only four living women composers had works commissioned by the BBC Proms in comparison with 24 living male composers. No women composers had works longer than 12 minutes, compared with 24 from living male composers. (Source)
Members of the London Oriana Choir were also struck by the case, reported by The Independent on 9th September 2015, of Edexcel, one of the UK’s biggest exam boards, who had been forced to change their A-level music syllabus after teenager Jessy McCabe discovered that there was not a single woman amongst the 63 composers featured on the exam board’s syllabus for next year.
In a 2014 survey, In a 2014 study of events listed on Bachtrack, the largest online classical events finder, the highest performed woman composer was Sofia Gubaidulina at No 132. The top five women composers performed were:
132. Sofia Gubaidulina
180. Clara Schumann
210. Kaija Saariaho
219. Judith Weir
260. Sally Beamish
In response to this, the choir commissioned Ipsos MORI to survey the public, asking them to name up to five composers. The results are astonishing: unprompted, only 3% of respondents named a female composer. Even when asked specifically to name a woman composer, only 4% of adults were able to name one. Considering 57% of adults could name a male composer, we feel that this is a huge difference that should be addressed.
The five15 project is not a flash in the pan for the London Oriana Choir. It began its journey to a commitment to the music of women composers in March 2003 when, under the auspices of the Society for Promotion of New Music’s Adopt a Composer scheme, it paired with Sophie Viney for a piece written especially for them, and performed at St Martin in the Fields in London.
Sometime later, under its then Musical Director David Drummond, the choir performed two sell-out concerts on International Women’s Day devoted exclusively to the music of women.
The first, in 2011, was reviewed warmly in The Observer by Fiona Maddocks and featured music from across the centuries by composers including Elena Kats-Chernin, Lili Boulanger, Sally Beamish, Judith Weir, Cecilia McDowall and Roxanna Panufnik. The second, in 2013, featured a similarly wide range of contemporary composers and was partially filmed by S4C television for a broadcast feature on Grace Williams.
The choir has continued to perform the work of women in many of its concerts and under its current Musical Director, Dominic Ellis-Peckham, will be embedding a stronger commitment to commissioning and performing music by women composers through the five15 project.
Ipsos MORI survey
Ipsos MORI carried out a survey on behalf of the London Oriana Choir between 26th February and 1st March 2016 amongst a representative quota sample of 981 adults aged 16-75 in Great Britain. Survey
data were weighted according to the known population profile of GB for age, gender, region, social grade and working status.
Only 3% of respondents named a woman composer when asked to name any composer of symphonic or choral music
When asked specifically to name a woman composer, only 4% of adults could name a woman composer
Most named female composers – Clara Schumann (12 mentions), Hildegard of Bingen (5 mentions), Fanny Mendelssohn (4 mentions) and Judith Weir (4 mentions)
About 3 in 5 adults (57%) can name at least one composer
Beethoven was the most commonly named (33%), followed by Mozart (29%), Bach (24%), Handel (15%) and Tchaikovsky (11%)