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PROMS SURVEY 1989 - 2010

For some years Women in Music (UK) has been doing a survey of the numbers of women represented in the BBC PROMS season. The Proms is the largest music festival in the world, with up to 74 evening concerts, nearly all for full orchestra, as well as lunchtime chamber music concerts and other related events. Audiences in the Royal Albert Hall are of many thousands, and all the concerts are broadcast, many on television.

The BBC generally has a good record with regard to women - for instance in their orchestras - so if the inclusion of women in the Proms seems low, one can take it that the story is probably worse in other festivals and concert seasons. Indeed, WiM investigated some other festivals over several years and found that, with a few honourable exceptions, the Proms season was fairly typical. So it was decided to continue with Proms surveys.

It all began in 1989 when Jenny Fowler was leafing through the Proms booklet and was struck by the contrast between the pages listing singers - half of whose photos were of women - gifted, famous, glamorous women - and the pages listing composers, instrumental soloists and conductors, most of whom were men. She has never heard anyone claim that women singers are inferior to men singers - in technique, in musicianship, in personality, ambition, dedication, drive, "seriousness", or any of the other qualities which might be needed for an international career. Yet these are all reasons which are given to explain the imbalance in numbers between men and women who reach the top in other areas of music-making.

Clearly there are fewer women at the top in every field except singing. It is therefore even more important that our main music festivals should engage some of those outstanding women musicians who are available.

Here is a retrospective look at the figures WIM has been compiling since 1989:

Women in the Proms

1989
Composers: 1
Conductors: 1 out of 48
Instrumental soloists: 7 out of 45
 

1990
Composers: 1
Conductors: 0 / 43
Instrumental soloists: 13 / 47
 

1992
Composers: 1 / 103
Conductors: 1 / 50
Instrumental soloists: 11 / 46
 

1993
Composers: 1 / 100
Conductors: 2 / 53
Instrumental soloists: 11 / 66
 

The 1994 Proms presented some better figures:

1994
Composers: 5 / 118
Conductors: 2 / 50
Instrumental soloists: 13 / 42
 

The 1995 Proms kept up this improvement among Composers:

1995
Composers: 5 / 111 (these 5 included 3 BBC commissions)
Conductors: 1 / 51
Instrumental soloists: not counted.
 

1996
Composers: 0 / 108
Conductors: 1 / 59 (this is Jane Glover conducting half a concert)
Instrumental soloists: 7 / 35
 

In 1900, a single Prom concert contained works by 2 women composers. As we approached 2000, an entire season without any women composers at all was hard to understand. Which century were we waiting for?

1997
Composers: 5 women (only one full-length work, plus 2 short pieces & 2 songs)
Conductors: 2 / 55
Instrumental soloists: 8 / 39
 

1998
Composers: 5 / 111
Conductors: 1 / 57
Instru soloists: 4 / 27
 

1999
Composers: 6 / 144 (only 2 are included in the main concerts. The others are in late night or lunchtime concerts)
Conductors: 1 / 57
Instru soloists: not counted
 

2000
Composers: 3 / 113 (one is a BBC commission. The other 2 are in afternoon or lunchtime concerts)
Conductors: 3 (only one has a full evening concert)
Instru soloists: 12 / 47
 

As usual there were plenty of admirable women musicians who are singers - 54 of them - proving that women CAN get to the top provided they do it with their voices!

2001
 

2001
Composers: 3 / 120 (2.5%) (all 3 included in evening concerts, and one a BBC commission)
Conductors: 0 / 56
Instru soloists: 15 / 66
 

2002
Composers: 3 / 126
Conductors: 0 / 56
Instru soloists: 9 / 51
 

2003
Composers: 5 / 111 (4.5%) (There were 4 BBC Commissions and 3 BBC co-commissions, making 7 pieces by 5 composers. Several of these were in late night or lunchtime concerts)
Conductors: 2 / 64
Instru soloists: 4 / 45 (9%) (One of the lowest figures in these surveys)
 

2004
Composers: 2 / 123 (1.5%) (The worst year since 1996)
Conductors: 1 / 56
Instru soloists: 14 / 64 (22%) (The best result yet)
 

2005
Composers: 4 / 112 (3.6%)
Conductors: 2 / 62
Instru soloists: 10 / 39 (25.6%) (Better still)
 

Among historical composers one might expect the record to be lacking in women, but what about living British composers being played in the Proms in 2005? There were 17 of them, 16 were men. There were 9 BBC commissions and co-commissions. All men.

2006
Composers: 0/105 (this includes 27 living composers)
Conductors: 0/52
Instru soloists: 9/65 (14%) [See separate article re 2006 Proms season]
 

2007
Composers: 5/118 (this includes 30 living composers). Only one substantial work by a woman in the main evening concerts, whereas there were substantial works by 26 living men in the evening concerts.
Conductors: 2/67 (2.9%)
Instru soloists: 5/53 (9.4%). Much lower than usual.
 

2008
Composers: 6/117 (5%). This is equal highest with 1999. The difference is that 5 of the women’s works are in main evening concerts, and the other in a popular weekend afternoon concert. (In 1999 only 2 of the 6 women were played in evening concerts. Most of the other years the women’s works were often in lunchtime concerts or late night concerts)
Living composers: 4/28 (14%)
Conductors: 1/55 (1.8%). Remains very low. At least this is in main evening concert. (But since it is a Glyndebourne Opera production, would have been a glyndebourne choice of conductor.)
Instru soloists: 11/62 (18%). Better than the last few years, although not as good as 2006 (22%) and 2005 (25.6%)
 

2009
Composers: 6/128 (4.6%) All women composers are included in evening concerts, although 2 of the pieces are very short (5’ & 8’). Same number as last year, but the percentage is less.
Living composers: 6/39 (15%)
Conductors: 1/64
Instrumental soloists: 19/86 (22%)
 

2010
Composers: 7/146 (4.1%)
Living composers: 5/38 Two works by women are to be performed in evening concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, and one of these pieces is only 5 mins. The other 3 works by living women are for matinee concerts at a smaller venue.
Conductors: 1/63. This is a woman directing from the leader’s chair in less than half the concert.
Instrumental soloists: 13/61 (21%)
 

PROMS REPORT 2010

Composers: 7/146 (4.1%) This has gone down from the last 2 years, which were 5% & 4.6%. Two of the women composers are from Proms programmes resurrected from past years (1910 & 1919). Of the 5 living women composers, only two are to be performed in evening concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, and one of these is a piece only 5 mins long. The other 3 works by living women are for matinee concerts at a smaller venue. The figure for living composers is: 5/38.

Conductors: 1/63 – much like last year. This is Isabelle van Keulen directing from the leader’s chair for only 2 items out of 5 in this concert.

Instrumental soloists: 13/61 (21%) – similar to the past few years.

Looking at BBC commissions and co-commissions, we find 3 out of 14 have been given to women composers. These are: Tansy Davies for a substantial evening orchestral work, Alissa Firsova for a 5 min work, and Thea Musgrave for a choral work scheduled for an afternoon matinee. With 11 BBC commissions going to male composers, one wonders how women will ever catch up

Jennifer Fowler