Sounding the Feminists: promoting creative female musicians

What they want is for audiences ‘to hear the voices of those who continue to be marginalised due to their sex, gender identity, sexuality, race, and class’

The six-person steering group of Sounding the Feminists is chaired by composer Karen Power

The six-person steering group of Sounding the Feminists is chaired by composer Karen Power

 

It’s coming up on a year from the start of 2016’s Composing the Island festival, a landmark survey of 100 years of Irish music presented by RTÉ and the National Concert Hall. One of the festival’s unexpected side-effects was the way the limited representation of female composers effectively spurred a new movement into being. 

The movement called itself Composing the Feminists and modelled itself on Waking the Feminists, the campaign which had sprung into action in protest at the small representation of women in the Abbey Theatre’s centenary programme. The musical uprising did not achieve the kind of public profile or street presence of Waking the Feminists, although it was successful enough to cause an extra, all-female programme of solo piano music to be added to Composing the Island.

There was evidence earlier this year that the movement had not gone away. At the end of March, the Royal Irish Academy of Music hosted a Saluting the Feminists day with public performances and discussions tying in with the first production at Smock Alley Theatre of Siobhán Cleary’s opera Vampirella, to a libretto by Katy Hayes after the radio play by Angela Carter.

And now the movement has been restructured and renamed. Sounding the Feminists (soundingthefeminists.com) describes itself as “an Irish-based collective of composers, sound artists, performers, musicologists, educators, students, critics, promoters, industry professionals, organisations, and individuals committed to promoting and publicising the creative work of female musicians”.

The intention is to champion “the principles of equality, fairness, inclusivity, and diversity” and the group affirms “the need to take conscious steps to ensure that these principles inform Irish musical life”. What they want is for audiences “to hear the voices of those who continue to be marginalised due to their sex, gender identity, sexuality, race, and class”.

A new six-person steering group is chaired by composer Karen Power, and the group has announced a public meeting to be held at the offices of Imro in Copyright House on Pembroke Row in Dublin from 5.30pm to 7pm on Wednesday, September 13th.

The Minister for Arts, Heather Humphreys, has already intervened. She hosted a gender-policy workshop attended by representatives of the national cultural institutions, the Irish Film Board, the Arts Council, Culture Ireland, and senior officials from her Department. And she asked the national cultural institutions to “put gender policies in place in time for the centenary of women’s suffrage in 2018”. So any doors that Sounding the Feminists need to push can reasonably be expected to be that little bit less resistant in the future than they clearly have been in the past.

It may well be coincidence, but there have been some significant developments since the beginning of last year’s Composing the Feminists campaign. The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra has appointed Nathalie Stutzmann as its principal guest conductor. She will make her début in that role in a programme of Beethoven, Brahms and Prokofiev on September 29th.

Tomorrow night’s opening of the NCH’s new International Concert Season sees the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mirga Gražinyta-Tyla in works by Peteris Vasks, Elgar and Rachmaninov. Emmanuelle Haïm conducts her Le Concert d’Astrée in Rameau and Charpentier on February 8th. And the hall has also set up a female conductor programme “to coach, mentor, encourage and promote talented female conductors at the outset of their careers”.      None of that, of course, is likely to dissuade Sounding the Feminists. Just a single work by a woman has made it into the NSO’s 2017-18 subscription season – Deirdre Gribbin’s The Binding of the Years on February 16th. And the NCH’s International Concert Season also features just one – Galina Grigorjeva’s Nox Vitae in the concert by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir on January 21st.

The hall’s Chamber Music Series runs to 32 concerts split over nine strands. The RTÉ Contempo Quartet’s Beethoven cycle, running on Sunday afternoons between September 24th and May 20th, interleaves Beethoven with pieces by Irish composers, including a new commission from Deirdre McKay and works by Ina Boyle, Jane O’Leary and Deirdre Gribbin. There are also commissioned works by Raymond Deane and Andrew Hamilton, and pieces by Brian Boydell, Kevin Volans, Ian Wilson and John Kinsella.     Pianist Thérèse Fahy’s Debussy 2018 celebration – three concerts on May 31st, June 7th and June 14th – will include new works by Jane O’Leary, Siobhán Cleary and Gráinne Mulvey as well as Raymond Deane, Sebastian Adams and Benjamin Dwyer. Outside of the concerts by Contempos and Fahy there’s just a single work by a woman, Nadia Boulanger’s Nocturne, in a violin and piano recital by Gwendolyn Masin and Håvard Gimse on March 8th.       

Irish bid for 2021 Europa Cantat Festival

The Association of Irish Choirs has made a bid to host the European Choral Association’s 2021 Europa Cantat Festival. The festival has been held every three years since 1961 and these days brings around 4,000 participants from around Europe to “listen to invited choirs, eat, sleep and have fun together”. The last three festivals were held in Utrecht (2009), Turin (2012) and Pécs (2015), and the 2018 festival will take place in Tallinn.

Dublin has made it to the shortlist for 2021 and officials from the European Choral Association will visit Ireland to see for themselves what the Irish capital can offer. Their itinerary includes a concert by the award-winning New Dublin Voices choir under Bernie Sherlock, at Christ Church Cathedral on September 11th. The Irish representation will run to works by Seán Doherty and arrangements by David Mooney and Mark Armstrong, though there’s not a female composer in sight.

mdervan@irishtimes.com

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