At the risk of making a massive over-generalisation, there are probably fewer women working within the usual channels of contemporary composition (writing music for others to perform, in concert halls and opera houses) than are taking their music making into their own hands, either working in the electroacoustic studio, where no third party performers are required, or acting as performers of their own music. If this is true – and it’s only a personal hunch, I don’t have hard data – there are several possible reasons for this, most of them economic/structural and none of them having to do with biology. The list below features several performer/composers (Jessica Rylan, Maja Ratkje, Agata Zubel) as well as several electroacoustic composers (Maggi Payne, Andrea Polli, Hildegard Westerkamp). I’ve made a conscious decision to balance these with works written in a more ‘conventional’ concert hall format (Joanna Bailie, Iris ter Schiphorst, Isabel Mundry, Olga Neuwirth), but there is plenty of fluidity between those divisions, as you’ll hear.
This year BBC Radio 3 is also getting in on the act with a day of music by women composers, including their own playlist of female composers, but I’m confident they and I won’t overlap much. Here’s my playlist for this year:
Maggi Payne – Airwaves (realities) (Music and Arts Programs of America)
Jessica Rylan – Please Come To Meet Me There (Ecstatic Peace!)
Isabel Mundry – Ich und du (NEOS)
Andrea Polli – Round Mountain (Gruenrekorder)
Agata Zubel – NOT I (KAIROS)
Hildegard Westerkamp – Talking Rain (Earsay)
Olga Neuwirth – Clinamen/Nodus (KAIROS)
Maja SK Ratkje – Vacuum (Rune Grammofon)
Joanna Wozny – Archipel (BR-Klassik)
Iris ter Shiphorst – Studien zu Figuren / Serie A (NEOS)
Eve Beglarian – Robin Redbreast (New World Records)
Joanna Bailie – Five Famous Adagios (Sinfonietta Productions Ltd)
I’ve been making these playlists for five years now, and they aren’t getting any easier to put together. I try to avoid repeating composers between years too much, which makes things trickier (and I don’t succeed anyway), but even so it’s clear that despite the conversations that have been going on about this for forever, women are still underrepresented within contemporary music, underrepresented in the music that then gets recorded (even though I’ve included two of their recordings here, Kairos’s catalogue is as good an indication as any), and then underrepresented on the labels that are big enough to have Spotify distribution. While that all remains true, I believe there is still a case for spotlight-shining actions like this playlist, and I will continue to put them out there. Hopefully one year I won’t have to.
Previous playlists can be found here: