Radio Rambler – International Women’s Day 2018

Today is International Women’s Day, and as usual I have updated the Radio Rambler Spotify playlist with all-women composers.

A year ago, the PRS Foundation published an evaluation of the first five years of its Women Make Music initiative, which revealed that 78% of interviewees said they had experienced sexism within the music industry.

At the time I described this as ‘shocking’. A year on, and in the wake of all the revelatory horrors that 2017 and 18 have given us, I’m no longer shocked by that statistic, for all that it remains appalling. This simply is, it is now abundantly clear to those of us fortunate enough not to have had to experience it, how the world is and has been for very many people.

But not how it should be, or can be.

The pace of change in the last year has been exhilarating to watch, with record labels, publishers, competitions and festivals all coming under the spotlight regarding their equality practices. Some good things: Huddersfield Contemporary Records committing to 50/50 representation ‘within five years‘ (ie 2022); the PRS’s recently announced Keychange pledge, which ties 45 international music festivals to the same commitment; the louder dynamic level of reports like Rebecca Lentjes’ from the Ostrava Days, which make for uncomfortable but necessarily sobering reading.

But, as some older composers, such as Nicola LeFanu, have cautioned, we have been here or somewhere like it before: in 1972, the Society of Women Musicians (founded 1912) finished operating, concluding that its job had been done and equality achieved. In 1987, LeFanu and others noticed that women had suddenly, and once more, disappeared from the new musical landscape. For a few years, their lobbying bore fruit: women composers and conductors began to achieve some degree of prominence once more. And then after five years or so, she says, ‘the bandwagon rolled by’.

There is certainly much still to be done. The appearance of an all-male shortlist for this year’s Gaudeamus Prize startled many, and provoked a lot of head scratching – how could this happen with an anonymized judging process? Well, clearly it did. And something needs to be fixed, whether that solution comes from lowering the barriers to entry, introducing quotas, or rethinking the whole idea of competitive composing. The comments made in the wake of Keychange by Sally Cavender, vice-chair of Faber Music, that ‘the playing field is relatively level in terms of opportunities and encouragement’ while her own company (one of the UK’s leading music publishers) includes only one woman (Tansy Davies) among its 26 ‘house composers’ should also give pause for thought.

A tide may be turning, but tides have a habit of coming back in. We must use the present moment of advantage to build the structures we need to stop that happening again.

So, as ever, it is with as much solidarity as I can muster that I offer this year’s playlist.

Previous playlists can be found here:

(I failed to make a playlist for 2016; sorry.)


P.S. On a more lighthearted note, I’ve been enjoyably listening my way through Fi Glover and Jane Garvey’s Fortunately podcast; readers of this post might like the 15 December episode with Clemency Burton-Hill, which also touches on this topic.

Radio Rambler – International Women’s Day 2017

Today is International Women’s Day, and at the start of this week the PRS Foundation published an evaluation report on the first five years of its Women Make Music initiative to increase the profile and representation of female composers and songwriters in the UK. Compiled on the basis of interviews with 18 Women Make Music grantees, a survey of applicants and grantees, and a review of grantee and applicant summary data, it reveals some stark home truths about the UK music scene, not least that a shocking 78% of interviewees said they had experienced sexism within the industry.

Among classical music composers, a particular issue that was noted was a lack of female role models, as in the following quotation from one grantee, one of the most revealing of all:

I’d been composing for five years before I heard the work of another woman composer.

Another noted that:

A new generation of commissioners would also help. The BBC Proms was described as ‘awash with oestrogen’ when there were three female composers!

I was on a train recently, listening in on a conversation between two other passengers. I forget exactly what the subject was – court judges in the Caribbean, I think – but he was explaining to her that of course there were still many more male judges than female, because that was the legacy of the system, but this was no reason to introduce positive discrimination, which is, he pointed out, still discrimination. The system had to change, obviously, but it still had to award positions to the judiciary on merit. She tried her best to respond, but was given less space in the conversation in which to do so. And I wanted to say to him but don’t you see: your approach (‘merit’, reckoned on the terms of those already sitting in power) just passes the buck back to the system you claim to want to change. It’s saying ‘we know there’s a problem with men being in charge of everything, we’ve heard your complaint, now leave it to us men and we’ll sort it out’.

Independently of all this, last week an old but great xojane post cropped up on my Facebook feed: 35 practical steps men can take to support feminism. It’s a list I fall far short of completing, but it points to what being a (white, cis) male (attempted) feminist means: a constant, and probably uncompletable process of self-improvement, a continual rechecking and recalibrating of unconscious biases.

Those of us who perform, programme and write about new music need to stay vigilant to this. As with the Caribbean judiciary (if that is indeed what was being discussed on that train), many of us are still men. We have a responsibility, I believe, to cede some of that power where we can, or to use it to support our female friends and colleagues. I’m really proud to be involved with a group, Riot Ensemble, that makes improved gender representation a central part of its programming strategy. In 2016, every one of Riot’s concerts included at least one female composer; the programme for last Friday’s concert at The Warehouse was 75% women. It’s not everything and it’s not perfect: that will only happen when our numbers are 50% or better, every concert. Across the whole new music landscape things are starting to change, slowly, but there remains much to do.

And to the response that including a woman composer at your concert means leaving out a very fine piece by a deserving male – which well it might – the answer is simply this: programme more concerts.

As ever, it is in that spirit that I offer this year’s playlist:

Previous playlists can be found here:

(I failed to make a playlist for 2016, sorry.)

Radio Rambler – International Women’s Day 2015


Today is International Women’s Day, and once again the Radio Rambler playlist has been updated with three hours of contemporary music by women composers.

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:

Radio Rambler Celebrates International Women’s Day 2014


Today is International Women’s Day, and as in previous years the Rambler is marking the occasion with a celebration of contemporary music by women. The Radio Rambler playlist has been updated with two and half hours of music by female composers, all of it rather fantastic. Enjoy!

Maryanne Amacher – Stain (live version) (excerpt) (Nonesuch)
Laurie Spiegel – Appalachian Grove I (Anthology of Recorded Music)
Edith Canat de Chizy – Vivere (Aeon)
Pamela Z – Declaratives in First Person (Bridge)
Ellen Fullman – Body Music (Experimental Intermedia)
Elodie Lauten – Flow (Studio 21)
Laetitia deCompeigne Sonami – What Happened (Nonesuch)
Sachiko M – Detect (Antifrost)
Shelley Hirsch – In the Basement (Bridge)
Lisa Bielawa – Kafka Songs (Tzadik) in media res (Boston Modern Orchestra Project)
Wendy Mae Chambers – Snake Dancer (Anthology of Recorded Music)
Carola Bauckholt – nein allein (Coviello)
Mary Jane Leach – Bruckstuck (Experimental Intermedia)
Meredith Monk – Phantom Waltz (Brilliant Classics)

Update: Bielawa tracks substituted for another piece, since I’d inadvertently included something that was only a local file to my machine, not on Spotify itself.

This is my fourth playlist for International Women’s Day. Previous ones can be found here:

Radio Rambler Celebrates International Women’s Day 2013


Today is International Women’s Day, and as in previous years the Rambler is marking the occasion with a celebration of contemporary music by women. The Radio Rambler playlist has been updated with 5 hours of music by female composers, all of it rather fantastic. Enjoy!

Liza Lim – Weaver of Fictions (ABC)
Annette Schmucki – Arbeiten/Verlieren. Die Wörter. (Musiques Suisse)
Annea Lockwood – Thousand Year Dreaming (Pogus)
Judith Weir – Michael’s Strathspey (NMC)
Ursula Mamlok – Confluences (Bridge Records)
Nurit Jugend – Bows to Brushes (innova)
Juliana Hodkinson – Fish and Fowl (Dacapo)
Carola Bauckholt – Gerauschtone (Coviello)
Jennifer Walshe – i: same person / ii: not the same person (Interval)
Elodie Lauten – Rhyme and Reason (self-released)
Julia Wolfe – East Broadway (Point Music)
Chaya Czernowin – INA (self-released)
Adriana Hölszky – Countdown (NEOS)
Hildegard Westerkamp – Into the Labyrinth (Centrediscs)
Younghi Pagh-Paan – Pa-mun (Naxos)
Kaija Saariaho – Six Japanese Gardens (Ondine)
Myung-Sun Lee – Olleh (Celestial Harmonies)
Fátima Miranda – Diapasión (52 Promociones Musicales)
Cecilie Ore – A. a shadow opera (Aurora)

This is my third playlist for International Women’s Day. Previous ones can be found here:

No dead white guys: new music for International Women’s Day 2012

It’s international women’s day once more. So it’s also time for another Radio Rambler playlist highlighting the best new music written by women. Just like last year, I’ve tried to pick tracks by composers who aren’t so well known, or who write music that is especially original or interesting, or that challenges any preconceptions of what ‘female’ music might be.

About a month ago the debate about why there are so few female composers was reignited by Kerry Andrew in this Guardian article. For my money the short answer is a lack of female role models and teachers. As was noted during that debate (by Aaron Cassidy, I believe), Huddersfield has a higher-than-normal ratio of female to male composers in its music department … and a higher-than-normal ratio of female to male composition students. If we want change, we need to celebrate those great women composers that we do have.

And that means celebrating their diversity too. Singling out only those whose music is approachable and easy on the ear isn’t the answer: that way lies pigeonholing, stereotyping and a new wave of suppression. Also boredom. Challenging the world needs challenging music.

This playlist is my small contribution.

So to it:

Wendy Mae Chambers: Mass for Mass Trombones: Introit
Meredith Monk: Unison
Chaya Czernowin: Winter Songs III (album reviewed here)
Liza Lim: Ochred String
Cathy Berberian: Stripsody
Malin Bang: Alpha Waves (album reviewed here)
Daphne Oram: Four Aspects
Alwynne Pritchard: Matrix
Galina Ustvolskaya: Grand Duet
In-Sun Cho: Klang Aus der Ferne
Rebecca Saunders: Blue and Gray
Pauline Oliveros: Mnemonics III
Sofia Gubaidulina: Fachwerk
Unsuk Chin: Xi
Beth Anderson: Joan
Eliane Radigue: Kailasha

P.S. Another small contribution comes from composer Chris Swithinbank, who has been taking a look at female representation at IRCAM.

International Women’s Day: Radio Rambler special

To mark International Women’s Day today, a special Rambler spotify playlist of awesome music by women composers. No dead white guys.

Annea Lockwood – World Rhythms
Karin Rehnqvist – I. Det For Två Vita Duvor
Judith Weir – King Harald’s Saga
Leilei Tian – Ensemble Intégrales
Olga Neuwirth – Suite aus ‘Bählamms Fest’, part 1
Chaya Czernowim – Afatsim
Meredith Monk – Earth Seen from Above
Misato Mochizuki – Intermezzi I
Sofia Gubaidulina – Cello Concerto no.2
Kaija Saariaho – Jardin Secret I
Isabel Mundry – Ohne Titel
Galina Ustvolskaya – Piano Sonata no.6
Jennifer Walshe – G.L.O.R.I.-
Pauline Oliveros – Beautiful Soop

Honourable mentions to many I wanted to include but who aren’t currently represented on Spotify, but particularly Liza Lim and Rebecca Saunders.

With apologies to my American readers. If I could give you Spotify, I would.