Female composers missing from the BBC Proms | Letters

James Poke says the total playing time of women’s music in this year’s Proms will be less than 6%, though David Hoult adds that proportionally the BBC has it about right

Your editorial (23 April) rightly argues for more representation of female composers at the BBC Proms. As you mention, the BBC last year committed to 50% of commissions for women by 2022 (although without explaining the four-year wait). However, its current programming policy in this regard remains woefully inadequate.

Thirty female composers are featured in this year’s Proms, as against 128 men, so still only about 19% of the total. But the men are frequently represented by multiple pieces, or large-scale works occupying a whole evening, while the works by women are generally fewer and shorter – only four are scheduled to last over 15 minutes, compared with 10 works by men lasting over an hour. Hence the total playing time of women’s music in this year’s Proms will be less than 6% – a pathetic figure.

Also, while it is good to see many living female composers being performed, women from the past continue to be ignored: only six pre-20th-century women are featured. Why not perform Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero, the first opera by a female composer and the first opera of any sort to be performed outside of Italy, or maybe a symphony by Louise Farrenc or Emilie Mayer? There is a growing awareness that there is plenty of music by women from the past which has been suppressed: the BBC has a responsibility to bring this music back into the light and perform it at the Proms.
James Poke
Artistic director, Icebreaker

• Your editorial takes the BBC to task for not having enough music by female composers in this year’s Proms. You point out that the 75 concerts include only about six hours of music composed by women. If we assume that the average duration of the music at each concert is two hours, then that would make a total of 150 hours of music across all 75 concerts. So the six hours of music by female composers amounts to 4% of all the music performed.

The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP), which is used by musicians to access scores online, includes works by a total of 17,370 composers, of whom 744 (4%) are known to be women. Which suggests that the BBC has got it about right.
David Hoult
Mellor, Greater Manchester

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