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Is There Enough Diversity In Classical Music Today ?

  This is a complex issue .  Many people think that classical music is  dominated by white males ,  especially dead ones . To some extent this is true .   For example, there have been many women composers over the centuries ,  yet not one of them is as well known as  Beethoven, Bach ,  Brahms, Tchaikovsky ,  Mozart , Wagner  and other world famous composers .    Why ?  Sexism, obviously .  In past centuries , being a composer was not thought to be a proper occupation for women  , and  so many gifted women were discouraged from attempting to become professional composers .  
    Felix Mendelssohn , for example had a sister , Fanny  , who was  just about as gifted musically as her famous brother .  She was an accomplished  pianist and composer like her famous brother , but was discouraged by her family from  composing , and  several of her works were actually published under her brother's name .  
     Felix Mendelssohn's contemporary Robert Schumann was married to a highly gifted pianist who was born Clara Wieck, daughter of a well known German piano teacher .  She married Robert , and they had about eight children .  She became famous as a pianist and outlived her husband by forty years .  She also composed a fair amount of music , including songs and a piano concerto .  Yet she never achieved as much fame as a composer as a pianist .  In our time, there have been a fair number of recordings of her music .  
   These are  0only two of the many gifted women composers from the past who never achieved  fame as composers .  However , within the past thirty years  or so,  things have been changing  a great deal for women composers , and there more of them active today and being performed than ever before .  Now It's not even news when an orchestra plays a work by a contemporary woman composer .  Among them are Jennifer Higdon of America ,  Kaaia Saariaho of Finland ,  Sofia Gubaidullina od Russia ,  Judith Weir of England ,  to name only a few .  All of these have been regularly performed by orchestras  all over America and Europe , and their music has been recorded by some of the  world's leading record labels .  
    The Metropolitan opera recently performed an internationally acclaimed opera by Kaaia Saariaho ( 1952 -)  , "L'Amour De Lointain " (Love from afar ) to considerable acclaim .  The opera features a libretto in French and deals with a medieval legend of a French nobleman who longs to  meet his beloved  in north Africa, whom he has never seen .  This was only the second opera  by a woman composer the Met reptilian opera has performed , but it was  enthusiastically received by critics and audiences .  
    The only previous one by a woman composer at the Met was  around 1903 , when a long forgotten opera by  the English composer Dame Ethyl Smyth  , who  was actually  widely performed in   the late 19th and early 20th centuries .
In addition, the conductor  was only the fourth woman conductor to appear at the Met , the rising  Finnish conductor Susanna Malkki , who has recently become music director of the Helsinki Philharmonic and has appeared with leading orchestras and opera companies all over Europe and America .  
    Until  about forty years ago ,  conducting was a profession almost entirely limited to men , especially white men .  But in recent years , more and more women have been making highly successful careers  as conductors , appearing with the world's leading orchestras and opera companies  with increasing  regularity .  Perhaps the first  one to do this was the late American Sarah Caldwell ,  a  highly enterprising and innovative conductor who was the first woman to conduct at thew Met  in 1977 .  She founded the Boston opera , and  was able to put on many  important  but really performed operas  such as Schoenberg's Moses & Aron "  and others on a limited budget .  
   In New York, Eve Queler , born in 1936 , founded the Opera Orchestra of New York , which was and is devoted to giving concert performances  of  rarely performed operas by many different composers  , including  ones by  Meyerbeer, Massenet , Donizetti., Verdi and Wagner .  She  was able to engage many of the world's moist famous opera singers to perform with her, and also  featured  many talented up and coming ones who later became world famous .  Most of the performances were in Carnegie hall , but she  took her company elsewhere  on occasion .   Her orchestra consisted of  many of New York's finest freelance musicians , and the performances she led   were almost always notable occasions  , and New York opera fans  attended religiously .  
   More recently ,  Marin Alsop, a protege of Leonard Bernstein , became music director of the Baltimore symphony orchestra , first women to hold such a position with one of America's  major orchestras , and she  has  appeared with leading orchestras all over America and Europe , also becoming music director of the Sao Paulo symphony orchestra of Brazil .  She has also made acclaimed recordings of a wide variety of orchestral repertoire in Baltimore, London and Sao Paulo .
    Joann Faletta  has been music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic for many years and  has gained a loyal audience there and elsewhere  ,  and has also been a champion of music by women composers and lesser known works by a wide variety of composers .  Both Faletta and Alsop have made  acclaimed recordings for Naxos records .   Australian born conductor Simone Young  recently stepped down as music director of the prestigious Hamburg  State opera  in Germany after some years , and has also made recordings of the complete symphonies of Anton Bruckner with the  Hamburg State Philharmonic orchestra , which plays both for the opera and also gives a series of orchestral concert s  .   More and more women have been breaking the glass ceiling  in the highly competitive field of conducting .
    Until fairly recently ,  most of the world's leading orchestras were  almost exclusively  made up of white males ,  but this us no longer the case .  Now there are many, many women  in  them , as well as numerous  Asian and Asian American  musicians , as   contours such as Japan, South Korea and China now have a well established  system of orchestras  and music schools .  If you look at  photographs of the New York Philharmonic for example, when Leonard Bernstein was music director there in the 1960s as well as  films taken of them playing, you will see nothing but white males .  But now, there are numerous women in the orchestra , as well as Asian American , Chinese, Japanese and South Koreans .
    This came about years ago, when American orchestras adopted a system of auditions behind a screen  so that the members of the orchestra who sat at auditions could not tell  whether an applicant was  male female or     not white .  Unfortunately , only about one per cent of  American orchestra  members  are African Americans, but this is not due to  discrimination . Very few African Americans have ever  studied orchestral instruments and aimed at careers  in orchestras .    
      The repertoire of orchestras worldwide is still largely by "dead white European  males ",  but   those DWEMs  are responsible for the creation of so much glorious music .  However , programming is still more diverse than ever .  You can hear plenty of music by LIVING white European males  ,  and American composers  are very much   a presence at concerts , both living and dead ones .  Chinese born composer Tan Dun , currently living in New York  , has written  intriguing works mixing  both Chinese and European instruments ,  and he is only one of a variety of  Chinese, Japanese and South Korean composers active today .  
   Argentinian born  composer  Osvaldo Golijov , of Russian Jewish descent ,  is only one of  a  number of Latin American composers  who have been widely performed in out time .  It's anyone guess as to how much diversity should be in classical music , but you can't deny the fact that  this centuries old art form  has  far more more diversity than ever before .  

Posted: May 10 2017, 06:32 PM by the horn | with no comments
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