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Does Classical Music Have a Diversity Problem ?

   According to conventional wisdom , the world of classical music is staid and set in its ways , and slow to change . There is some truth to this

accusation ,  but  things are still vastly different from  its past .  No longer is classical music   dominated by    white, preferably European males .  

There  are still plenty of them in the field, which is not necessarily a bad thing .  After all ,   dead white European  males  are pretty much  

what  brought  classical music into existence many centuries ago , and they have dominated the field as composers , conductors ,  

members of orchestras ,  instrumental soloists  etc .  
    But  in recent years ,  women  and  non-whites have been achieving   unprecendented prominence   in all the  fields  just mentioned . 

something which would have been unimaginable in the past .  Of course, there have been countless famous  and   beloved   female opera singers ,

as well as a fair number of  female  violinists , pianists , cellists etc .  However, there have been far more women composers   than most people

realize ,  but because of  sexism , they never achieved  the  public recognition  might have  gotten had they been male .  The sisters of  

both Mozart and Mendelssohn were  composers of  considerable talent ,  as well as  performers,  but  as women  things were  

against them .  Robert  Schumann's wife Clara was a renowned pianist who also composed , and some of her music has been recorded .  

   There are so many from the past who are now forgotten , but a surprising amount of their music has been recorded in recent years . 

But today , there are more women composer  before the public than ever before, and some of them have been widely performed .  

   Among them are  Sofia Gubaidullina of Russia , Kaaia Saariaho of Finland,  Judith Weir of England, and   Jennifer Higdon of America , to name 

only a few .  Now, it's not even news when an orchestra performs a work by a woman composer .  

   Until recently, the field of conducting was dominated bywhite  males  .  But more and more are starting to  appear with  the world's leading  

opera companies .  Marin Alsop  , a New York native and protege of  Leonard Bernstein , is the first woman to    be appointed as music director o
the Baltimore symphony , and has made recordings with them  and  achieved  considerable acclaim .  Australian  Simone Young served until

recently as music director of the Hamburg State opera , one of the most prestigious in Germany .  Susanna Malkki of Finland  is  rapidly  

achieving  international recognition  , and she has even been  touted as a long shot to become next music director of the New York Philharmonic 

when Alan  Gilbert steps down .  

   There are many others  , too many to  mention here .  50 years ago , there were very few women in  mosy of the world's top orchestras ,

but now there are plenty of them .  This began when orchestras adapted  blind auditions , with  candidates playing behind a screen , which they 

still use .

   Asian countries such as   Japan , China and  South Korea  have   been major players in classical music for many years .   Japanese conductor 

Seiji Ozawa turns 80 this year ,  Chinese superstar Lang Lang sells out audiences everywhere .  and  there are so many   others .

   Japanese , South Korean and Chinese musicians   are now common in  leading orchestras everywhere , as well as  Asian Americans /

   Young  and enormously gifted   Asian   aspiring  classical musicians  are now  filling  leading  music schools   all over America  , such as

Juilliard , the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia ,  and others .  They are actually a majority at Juilliard .  

   The renowned  Vienna Philharmonic , which  in order to preserve its traditional   sound  , has   always favored  native born  

Austrian  male musicians , has  been subject ot considerable criticism for failing to give women  and   Non-Austrians a chance   , has 

gradually begun  to   accept  some of these lately .  

    Unfortunately ,  African Americans still   make up only  about one percent of  American orchestras .  but this is not due to discrimination , but 

the fact that very few  African Americans have ever  aimed at  careers  in orchestras .  But no one is standing in  they way , and  

blind auditions  guarantee that they will not face discrimination .  There are no doubt  some  talented aspiring young  black  

instrumentalists  now , and there is no reason for  young blacks with talent  not to aim   for a career in them .  

   Opera is  the  field within classical which has produced  the most   African Americans  , and these include such legendary  

opera stars  as   Leontyne   Price , Marian Anderson , Grace Bumbry , Shirley Verret and others .to name only a few .  

Marian Anderson was the first balck  singer  to  star at the Metropolitan opera , as far back as the 1950s .

   The late Henry Lewis  was the first black conductor to appear at  the Metropolitan opera, and first  to  be music of a major  

US orchestra , the New Jersy symphony orchestra .  Marian Anderson's nephew  James De Priest , who passed  away last year ,

was an internationally acclaimed conductor who  appeared with  leading orchestras around the world  for decades . 

   Maybe the world of classical music is not quite as staid   as we've been led to believe by critics  and  commentators !


Posted: Mar 11 2015, 11:00 PM by the horn | with no comments
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