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Women composers still denigrated at Proms

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judith weirOn the face of it, there is a record number of women composers represented at the 2019 Proms, but dig into the detail and it hardly a fair portion of either repertoire or venue.

This year’s programmers have clearly given thought to female composers, from the 12th-century Hildegard of Bingen, via Barbara Strozzi and Fanny Hensel, to significant figures of our own day such as Judith Weir, Errollyn Wallen and Anna Þorvaldsdóttir. Indeed, last year the BBC promised that by 2022, half of all Proms commissions would be given to women.

The headcount of more than 30 female composers in the programme this year looks impressive – at least compared with previous festivals. On the other, their contribution adds up to only around six hours of music, spread over 75 concerts (most of which last a couple of hours or more). Crucially, around half of these six hours of music will be performed outside the Royal Albert Hall – in much smaller venues, including Cadogan Hall.

Women still aren’t taking up enough time, or space, in the Proms and for no good or plausible reason. Here are some suggestions for the programmers: a semi-staging of Weir’s Night at the Chinese Opera; an encore for Wallen’s music for the opening of the 2012 Para-Olympics; a further performance of Grime’s Woven Space composed for the LSO. That is already well over the 6 hours being allocated to 30 composers.

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