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Last Night in the hands of a woman!

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Categories: women in music

“The sound of a glass ceiling breaking.”  This is how the BBC Proms website describes the innovation of a woman conductor being appointed to take charge of the iconic The Last Night.  Marin Alsop, Chief Conductor of São Paulo Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, first made her name in the UK as Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.  I remember attending a performance by Alsop and the BSO of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony when she drew an exhilarating performance from the players.

For The Last Night of the Proms she will steer the BBC Symphony Orchestra through a diet of Wagner, Bernstein, Vaughan Williams, Britten, more Bernstein, Massenet, Handel, Rossini – you get the picture! – plus the traditional items to get the last night prommers going.  No doubt they will have a lot of fun with her debut, too.

The Last Night opens with a world premiere commission from young English (woman) composer Anna Clyne.  To reciprocate the international exchange, Clyne is currently the Chicago Symphony’s Mead Composer-in-Residence through the 2013-14 season.  She describes herself as, “a composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music, combining resonant soundscapes with propelling textures that weave, morph, and collide in dramatic explosions.”

Follow this link for a flavour.  Anna Clyne’s Night Ferry.

Few other women composers get a look-in at the 2013 Proms – just 6 from a list of 129 – how can that be?!  They are Diana Burrell, Tansy Davies, Sofia Gubaidulina, Imogen Holst (daughter of Gustav), Elizabeth Maconchy and Priaulx Rainier.  Well, at least we can claim that 50% of them are living which is more than can be said for the men!

Women composers are well-represented on tutti and the Lontano label on tutti in particular offers some very engaging recordings – Maconchy is the first name you will see.

The usual gender issues aside, this year’s Proms Festival is truly eclectic and has something for everyone. It really is worth browsing the website – – and if you can’t be there in person, the evening concert is broadcast on BBC Radio 3 every day and there will be lots of other radio and television broadcasts of many of the events.

I’m really pleased Marin Alsop has been given The Last Night of the Proms and on Saturday 7th September, I will be cheering her on from the safety of my sofa!

Sarah Rodgers



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