Give women composers a break!

11 August 2017

Sydney Conservatorium of Music's Professor Liza Lim is appealing to festival and concert programmers in Australia for an equal gender split in music commissions and performances.

Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s current Composing Women: Ella Macens, Clare Johnston, Elizabeth Younans and Natalie Nicholas. Photo: @rahkela

Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s current Composing Women: Ella Macens, Clare Johnston, Elizabeth Younans and Natalie Nicholas. Photo: @rahkela

A leading Australian composer, Professor Lim makes the call in her keynote address at the Women in the Creative Arts Conference in Canberra today.

She points to four major European festivals in new music that have recently committed to a 50:50 gender split in programming over the next five years, and calls on Australia to do the same.

“In year 12 and at the beginning of tertiary studies, we see a 50:50 gender split but this dwindles to around 20 to 25 per cent participation by women in the industry, and even less for composers,” says Professor Lim.

“Sexism is structural in our society and as a result, so is the magic ingredient that allows an artistic practice to thrive - what we call ‘luck’.

“For the luck mechanism to kick in, it requires that you’re given a go in the first place. It requires multiple opportunities to try things out, to practice, to fail, to partly succeed and to keep trying.”

During her talk, Professor Lim coins the idea of 'structural luck' as a key factor in determining success in the arts.

“Rather than luck arising randomly, I would like to see luck structured in a way that gives women in music the same opportunity as their male counterparts to be heard and to shine.

“The gendering of access and inclusion in the music business means that women overall make fewer such gains and tend to have less structural luck,” she adds.

Professor Lim notes the recently reported gender inequality problem for women composers locally and internationally, citing the University of Sydney’s ‘Skipping a beat’ report that found women are chronically disadvantaged in the Australian music industry.

“It is heartening to see a number of important shifts in response to statistics and reports on gender inequality, with APRA AMCOS now requiring a split of 40 per cent female, 40 per cent male and 20 percent male/female participation in music projects to be considered for funding.

“Quotas create pathways to careers, skills and to re-imagining legitimacy. Quotas create a space for talent to rise up! If we envision a culturally vibrant future, it’s absolutely imperative that we make space for and invest in a diversity of artists right now,” she says.

Sydney Conservatorium of Music has created its own lucky break for four women composers in the next Composing Women (formerly the National Women Composers’ Development Program launched in 2015), a two-year development program led by Professor Lim.

For the 2018-2019 program, Professor Lim announces new partnerships with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Chamber Opera (with NIDA), the American star flautist Claire Chase, as well as national bodies including Musica Viva, ABC Classic FM, APRA AMCOS and the Australian Music Centre.

Composing Women gives individuals access to leading artists and music and arts organisations as well as financial backing and mentoring. While it may only be four places, it signals moving beyond lip service to redress a gender imbalance,” she says.

Clare Johnston, Ella Macens, Natalie Nicolas and Elizabeth Younan, participants in the inaugural program set up by Professor Matthew Hindson AM during the Conservatorium’s centenary year, had their choral works premiered by the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs in a sold-out concert last Saturday evening at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Since the first program began in March 2016, the four Master in Music (Composition) students have also written music for the Goldner String Quartet, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and percussionist Claire Edwardes, and will have their pieces for harp and flute premiered by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra at the National Portrait Gallery on 31 August.

In another lucky break for a female composer, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music is offering a new composition prize, the Sue W Chamber Music Composition Prize, to support female composers of creative Australian art music.

Mandy Campbell

Media & PR Adviser

Featured articles