London’s South Bank seeks women musicians but won’t pay them

London’s South Bank seeks women musicians but won’t pay them


norman lebrecht

January 14, 2015

Stand by for Women of the World Festival at London’s South Bank.

wow festival

Southbank Centre is pleased to announce that we are once again recruiting female musicians to join the Women of the World Orchestra.

That’s the top line.

Here’s the small print:

The WOW Orchestra is not able to offer any fees to its players and is designed as an exciting, unique and fun professional development opportunity, celebrating great women in classical music and advocating and campaigning for equal and fairer treatment for the female musicians of the future.

Oh, ffff’s sake, SB bosses Jude Kelly and Gillian Moore. Respect what you pretend to respect.

jude kelly gillian moore




  • Hilary says:

    Outrageous. SB bosses should be ashamed of themselves.

    • Peter says:

      Ashamed for thinking that a women’s orchestra does anything for anyone. People want to compete professionally on equal terms, with no discrimination of any kind. And in that respect the UK does extraordinarily well. This is just cheap (very cheap) political fluff.

      • Hilary says:

        I should clarify: ashamed of the shoddy concept as well as the paltry renumeration. Women don’t need this kind of patronization as it’s fairly evident that some of the most successful instrumentalists are female.

  • NYMike says:

    Words fail…….

  • SVM says:

    This is disgraceful, especially considering just how many millions of public money the Southbank Centre receives. Where is it all going, and why are they not budgeting for performers’ fees? I would quite like to know how much the protracted “Festival Wing” campaign against the skaters — with all its PR gloss, design consultancy, architects’ blueprints, &c. — cost.

    • elliot says:

      I urge everyone to go to the website and fill out the form with your contact info, instrument, and where it asks why you want to be a part, explain that you have no interest in playing with them, rather in spreading the word that this mistreatment of female musiciansis taking place.

  • Anon says:

    That said, if you pay people enough, plenty will agree to turn up to almost anything. So an orchestra comprised of well-paid folks doesn’t have the same drive and impact as a demonstration of purpose, solidarity, or what-have-you as an orchestra of willing volunteers. If everyone turning up to “play for Charlie” the other night in Trafalgar Square had been paid to be there, would it have meant as much as people giving up their time to go and play together in the freezing cold?

    • Susan Bradley says:

      So you think that I, as a woman musician, won’t play as well if I’m being paid? Bulltish!
      By that logic we should stop paying all musicians. I suggest you go tell the LSO that they’re no longer going to be paid, for their own good.

      • Rebecca Bell says:

        I don’t think anons point was that you would play less well if you were paid, he/she was pointing out that for example if the Trafalgar Square musicians, of which I was one, had been offered a fee to turn up, the reason for playing becomes about the money rather than what it stood for. The same goes for the WoW orchestra, which I have applied to purely because I want to , I think it’s a good idea and because I enjoy playing good music with like minded people. The people doing it are signing up because it’s a good opportunity and because they believe in recognising female talent, and in equal opportunities in areas such as leadership and conducting, which are not currently equally represented.

        • SVM says:

          That would be well and good if the Southbank Centre were a parish church with genuinely no budget, where the stewards &c. were all volunteers. In the context of a large arts institution that receives millions in public funding, and where many of the people working behind the scenes for this project *are* getting paid (unlike the Trafalgar Square performance, from which *nobody* was profiting), I struggle to see how they can justify not budgeting for performers’ fees. And yes, it does say something (negative) about the Southbank Centre’s underlying attitude towards women.

          • Rebecca Bell says:

            They aren’t asking players to do it for absolutely zero reward. Each successful applicant gets 3 CPD opportunities of their choice, including workshops with world class leaders and conductors and tickets to events. Personally this seems far more valuable and relevant than monetary contribution. I also find it a little sad that this has to be made about money. The people signing up aren’t doing it begrudgingly because they have to despite no pay, they are doing it because they are excited about the event and want to take part. Those who don’t want to do unpaid gigs at all simply won’t sign up.

  • Bviolinistic says:

    It would appear that grave sexual discrimination is not only confined to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra…

  • NessCello says:

    A Women of the World Orchestra held in the Musikverein, live streamed during WOW and I’m not only signing up; I’m happy to play for free and I’m self-funding my own (and my cello’s) airfare.

  • NessCello says:

    I don’t doubt Southbank Centre’s good intentions.
    I can’t seem to find out about the WOW orchestra on their website but on the facebook page for the festival it is ambiguous as to if the professional development opportunities are specifically related to progressing in the field of music. The first event being a leadership workshop with the conductor Marin Alsop. However, you do have to be grade 8+ to apply for the orchestra and have had some experience of orchestral playing – it’s a shame it can’t be more inclusive.
    Either it is a badly conceived idea or just poorly explained. From reading the advert it’s insulting to the orchestras and music organisations around the world that are entirely fair and equal in terms of gender equality. It only allows in (and therefore access to their professional development events) those who have achieved a set standard – potentially sparking an elitism debate. It excludes men who might like to celebrate women in music by joining in too. The whole thing makes me go “wow!” for all the wrong reasons.
    I usually love Southbank Centre but this is poor work.