"I once thought that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose—not one has been able to do it, and why should I expect to?"
This depressing quote came from Clara Schumann, the 19th century German composer. Schumann was despondent because she lacked role models—other female composers to draw inspiration from. Such composers existed, but as the Independent (UK) notes, they were "written out of history; left out of the canon. Schumann needed to forge her own path, seemingly from scratch, and in the face of a society that found her pretensions to create music preposterous. It's hardly surprising she gave up."
Certainly we've come a long way since Schumann's time, right?
According to a survey of the 22 largest American orchestras, women composers accounted for only 1.8 percent of the total pieces performed in the 2014-2015 concert season. What's more, women composers only accounted for 14.3 percent of performances of works by those living composers who are writing the pieces that may one day enter the regular repertoire.
It's not a pretty picture, but we're pleased to say that things are improving, thanks in no small part to the League of American Orchestras. The league recently announced that composers Andreia Pinto-Correia and Xi Wang were selected to receive orchestral commissions of $15,000 each as part of its Women Composers Readings and Commissions program, administered with the American Composers Orchestra and EarShot, and supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. The program also includes career development workshops and readings with Buffalo Philharmonic, Berkeley Symphony, and American Composers Orchestra.
Let's take a quick look at the two other players here. EarShot is a program of the American Composers Orchestra in collaboration with the American Composers Forum, League of American Orchestras, and New Music USA. The program helps orchestras around the country to identify and support promising composers in the early stages of their careers.
The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation's support, meanwhile, falls perfectly in line with some of the foundation's more recent gifts and its mission of opening doors for women in the arts and culture space. For example, in April of 2015, the Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University announced the creation of the Virginia B. Toulmin Fellowship for Women Choreographers to support the work and expand the opportunities available to women in the world of ballet, where leadership and choreography are dominated by men.
"In two short years, the Toulmin Foundation's support of women composers has already made a substantial impact on the field," said Michael Geller, president of American Composers Orchestra. "By leveraging the EarShot network, we are providing needed exposure and development opportunities to some incredibly talented and deserving composers, and through the commissions and performances with multiple orchestras we will start to see and hear performances with orchestras around the country."
Ultimately, the Women Composers Readings and Commissions program aims not only to boost the public's awareness of female composers, but also to support living composers so their work can enter the modern repertoire—and stay there.