BBC Proms promises gender equality by 2022

BBC Proms promises gender equality by 2022


norman lebrecht

February 26, 2018

The PRS Foundation has secured a pledge from 45 international events to achieve a 50/50 male/female lineup.

Among the pledgers are: Aldeburgh Festival (England), Borealis (Norway), Canadian Music Week (Canada), Cheltenham Music Festival (England), Eurosonic Noorderslag (Netherlands), FOCUS Wales (Wales), Granada Experience (Spain), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (England), A2IM Indie Week (USA), Katowice JazzArt Festival (Poland), Kendal Calling (England), Liverpool International Music Festival (England), Liverpool Sound City (England), Manchester Jazz Festival (England), Midem (France), BBC Proms (England), Roundhouse Rising (England), Spitalfields Music (England), Sŵn (Wales), Trondheim Calling (Norway), Waves Vienna (Austria), Westway LAB (Portugal), Wide Days (Scotland), Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival (France).



  • Andy says:

    A 50/50 male/female lineup isn’t gender equality. Gender equality would be securing absolutely the best artists that they can (I know that’s hard to quantify), totally irrespective of their gender.

    • Emil says:

      Except, of course, when there are deep structural factors that cause structural and historical inequality that make your version of equality (‘let’s just ignore gender’) impossible to apply in a fair manner.

      Or are you saying that it is normal/natural that about 95% of top-tier conductors are male?

      • Andy says:

        No I’m not saying it’s normal/natural that 95% of top tier conductors are male. I’m saying that gender equality is securing absolutely the best artists, irrespective of gender. I actually stated in my comment that I know it’s hard to achieve, but it doesn’t change the point.

        • Emil says:

          Well, that policy of ‘securing the best artists’ has led to exactly that outcome of 95%+ of top conductors being male. So, if this ‘policy’ is not to blame, what is?

          Perhaps you’re right, and it’s the way people evaluate ‘the best artists’ that is to change. How do you do that, without first promoting women?

          In classical music, as in many other fields, one receives engagements on the heels of previous engagements (if you conduct the Berlin Phil, you’ll likely get invited to other top orchestras, etc.). So offering those top engagements to women is a crucial step.

          To be clear, no one is suggesting to hire unqualified or incompetent women. Rather, the suggestion is that qualified women exist in more than necessary numbers, and they just need an opportunity to show it.

          • Andy says:

            Agree with some of that, but genuine gender equality is not saying “right we’re just going to go 50/50”. I don’t know how you do achieve genuine equality, but I know that isn’t it.

          • Emil says:

            Of course; it’s only part of the answer. But it’s a key part as long as meaningful equality is not achieved.

            In other words, you need successful female conductors, composers, performers to produce more quality female musicians. So how do you get a substantial crop of female leaders? Well, by giving them opportunities to perform.

        • Una says:

          As a woman born and woman and a professional musician myself, I can only agree with you. And this is Britain where we have a Queen, and we have had two female prime ministers as well – in the case of the prime ministers, whether you like them or not, not chosen because they are women but because they are and were very, very able. The Proms need to employ the best for their concerts otherwise they just get devalued. 50/50 men and women, or 35/35/35 men, women and transgender is not equality. It is quotas and simply doesn’t work in any walk of life, but I’m sure I’ll get shouted down on here!

      • Talia Ilan says:

        Thank you Emil for your clever words! This world needs more people with this kind of wisdom and inegrity.

      • Phillip says:


  • Adrienne says:

    So equality of outcome, not opportunity?

  • Novagerio says:

    What insane nonsens. Gender equality before merit and qualification?…

    • Emil says:

      No one ever has suggested that incompetent women be hired. Rather, these competent women exist, and they just need to be given the opportunity to demonstrate it. And, frankly, if you think an unqualified man has never led an orchestra, well, do I have some news for you…

      • Leo says:

        Already the vast majority of male conductors aren’t that competent. Just ask any professional orchestral musician.
        So for the benefit of both public and orchestras, better conductors should be higher up on the agenda than what a conductor has inside their pants.

        • Emil says:

          Right. So why automatically assume that the women will do worse, or that they’re unqualified?
          Many of the counterarguments complain that many current (male) conductors are incompetent, while simultaneously defending the current merit-based hiring system. Well, which one is it? You can’t have it both ways. Either the best are being hired, in which case that is a big problem given that apparently there are next to no competent conductors of any gender around (also, I’d then like an explanation why it just so happens that nearly all good conductors are male), or the best are not being automatically hired, in which case the main objection to promoting women – that it will take down the current merit-based appointment system – falls apart.

          • Felicia says:

            Emil, stop trying to virtue-signal in a misguided attempt to duplicate curry favor with us women. It’s unbecoming. Inane identity politics.

  • Dave says:

    If you care to read the quote from Proms boss David Pickard on the PRS Foundation website, you’ll see it’s about gender equality between contemporary composers.

    This has nothing to do with performers.

  • Emil says:

    Worth repeating again: ‘Let’s just hire the most qualified one’ does not work when the playing field is uneven. There are significant historical factors in classical music that make access to opportunities significantly unequal, and that cannot be corrected by ignoring what happened before (and still happens, of course).

    And correcting this imbalance cannot be done only from below (ie training more female musicians, conductors, etc.), but must be redressed from above and from below. Otherwise, treating everyone exactly the same while ignoring the inequality in obstacles and constraints – historical and structural – leads merely to perpetuating inequality.

    So what the PRS Foundation does here is not desirable in the long run; but, in the short/medium term, it is absolutely necessary.

    • Sue says:

      How I despise social engineering. Look at what Jordan Peterson says about the temperamental differences between men and women – agreeableness just for starters – which might help explain a few things. On second thoughts, better accuse him of any number of charges and ignore what he says; it’s sure to keep your ideology safer.

      So many of these comments are so, well, ‘teenage’ these days.

      • Emil says:

        Jeez, you quote Jordan Peterson about once a day on this blog. Get over it.
        As for his point on “agreeableness”, It’s mostly BS as a natural characteristic. And if it were true, you have two alternatives:
        1- State that women are therefore naturally inferior to men.
        2- Change the norms which police how women present themselves, and how society judges leadership and qualification.
        I sure know which one of these I choose.

        By the way, how exactly is being ‘agreeable’ a bad thing for a composer, musician, or conductor?

        P-S: You complain about ad hominems on Peterson, and then dismiss people disagreeing with him as “teenage”? Wow.

        • Sue says:

          Do some reading and research. Agreeableness does not mean inferiority. And of course you dislike Peterson – he’s busy destroying the cant and fake narratives of the Left. And gaining millions of followers and enthusiasts in the process. Sorry but you just cannot continue to clutch onto your victimhood and white patriarchy now that Jordan is one the scene; you are bound to look and sound ridiculous. If it quacks like a duck…..

      • Bruce says:

        Who is Jordan Peterson?

    • Anon says:

      „The playing field is uneven.“
      It is not, today. It‘s not enough to claim it, you have to make a convincing case why it is uneven.
      Lack of women in equal numbers by itself proves nothing, except that there are less women.
      Why are there less?
      Have you excluded other factors that could contribute to the status quo, before you conclude gender discrimination against women who want to be conductors today exists?
      Why are there less men as elementary school teachers?

      BBC has fallen for the gender mainstreaming Stalinism, sad.

      • Emil says:

        Ummm…”other factors that could contribute to the status quo” is exactly what I’m talking about. That, by definition, is the perpetuation of an uneven playing field.

        No one is suggesting that any art manager has an explicit policy against hiring women. But the fact that it’s not an explicit policy does not mean that implicit/tacit bias isn’t happening at multiple stages throughout a musical education and career. Otherwise, I am awaiting your explanation why most contemporary composers are male (or else BBC Proms would not need a policy to correct it), why most top-tier conductors are male, etc.

        • Anon says:

          but there is no such thing as an even playing field in nature except nature itself. Maybe in Kindergarten, biut not even there. Grow up.

          • Emil says:

            Funny you say that. Of course, no playing field is ever equal – so why pretend that it is?

            At the Olympics, last week, the commentators in parallel skiing made the same point repeatedly – no two skiing courses are perfectly identical. But, they also repeated that the organisers measured the courses with laser to eliminate nearly all unfair advantage.

            Now, you can just accept that 50% of the population is unfairly disadvantaged and tell them to suck it up. Or you can work to even the playing field as much as possible.

          • Anon says:

            You are not thinking this thorough enough. What does it take to really level all playing fields? It takes the total abolishment of merits and competition. A society that actually implements that, kills itself. It’s a mental delusion by people who have lost touch with reality and nature. People who get money from plastic cards and electricity from wall plugs.

    • I give up... says:

      For various reasons, while more than half the Med school applicants are femals only about 20% of the top surgeons are. (obviously a great deal of this is self-selected) G-d forbid he should have to have life threatening surgery, but I suspect Emil would suddenly not choose to go to a hospital that insisted on hiring its surgeons based on gender quotas rather than skill. I keep trying to lower my standards for how dumb the world can be, but these days the right and the left seem to be in a race to see who can be dumber faster…

      • Emil says:

        No one is suggesting you hire unqualified surgeons. I am pointing out that there are many qualified surgeons, and that many of them are women. Would I be willing to go to a hospital where half the qualified surgeons were women? Sure.

        Nothing in this scheme says the BBC Proms or any other festival will hire incompetent conductors. So why do you assume that women will automatically be incapable of doing the job?

        • Mark Mortimer says:

          I’m all for equality amongst the sexes. But I can only state that I would prefer to be operated on or conducted by a man.

          • Emil says:

            “We must always be able to appoint the best man for the job, regardless of sex.”
            – Yes, Prime Minister

        • I truly give up says:

          If you think there are enough qualified female conductors to fill half the slots, you are on crack. Orchestras everywhere are desperately seeking women and giving them opportunities they never would have had if they were men. You obviously have utterly no idea what’s going on in artistic administration these days. On what basis do you make the assumption that there are enough qualified female conductors and that only discrimination keeps them off the podium, other than that it is what you want to believe? What facts have you to back this up? Women make up a small (though increasing) fraction of the conducting applicants and therefore students. If talent is evenly distributed between men and women, they will make up a similarly small fraction of the most talented conductors, until there are more female applicants. That can’t be changed from the top, only the bottom. Almost anyone would support programs encouraging more female conducting students, but the ones that are already at the career stage suck at the same proportion as the men. Meaning 90+% are awful. So if only 20% of the graduates are women currently, then only 8% of them men and 2% of the women will be worth their food, and that won’t change until there are more females applying to study conducting. This can’t be that hard a concept for you to grasp… Are you just trolling? Have I fallen into that trap?
          And PS the truly good women conductors don’t want to be engaged just because they are women, they want the respect that they have earned, and this cheapens it. And from the musician’s point of view, I assure you we hate all conductors equally regardless of gender.

          • Mark Mortimer says:

            ITGU- very good points- well done. I’m British but I was one of the youngest candidates ever accepted into the Masters programme in instrumental conducting at Indiana University in the mid 90’s & encountered several talented girl conductors who’ve subsequently got absolutely nowhere to the best of my knowledge- (perhaps I’m not one too look down however- enjoying a fulfilling but unspectacular career conducting orchestras/choirs on the amateur circuit in the UK). But enough of me & the ongoing debate over female conductors- why do you hate most conductors- I would really like to know?!

          • Leo says:

            I agree
            Such gender-equality arguments are wonderful on paper, but in this case show total ignorance of the actual situation in the real world.

  • Derek says:

    Is this applicable to soloists and conductors and choirs and orchestras?

    It doesn’t mean much until the criteria and guidelines are defined. I am not sure of the relevance or suitability of such an objective anyway.

    Cannot see that there is much wrong with the opportunities offered at the Proms as it is other than continuing to strive for inclusion of all appropriate talent in a balanced series of events.

  • Anonymous says:

    This is not enough! We have much more genders for ages, e.g.:
    Female to male trans man
    Female to male transgender man
    Female to male transsexual man
    Gender neutral
    Intersex man
    Intersex person
    Intersex woman
    Male to female trans woman
    Male to female transgender woman
    Male to female transsexual woman
    T* man
    T* woman
    Two* person
    Two-spirit person

  • Mike Kelly says:

    Most of today’s “star” violinists that I can think of are female.

    As for pianists – I don’t think anyone would hesitate to hire Martha Argerich, Mitsuko Uchida, Maria Joao Pires or, more recently, Yuja Wang – to name but a few……….

  • YoYo Mama says:

    There are not 50% exactly of each gender in every field which means this will inherently discriminate. While making 50% of the harpists be male, which is unlikely to happen, would be a boon to their struggling in a female-dominated profession, there probably aren’t enough of them to fill the quota. And that’s what this is, a quota system, which absolutely does NOT belong in an art, and classical music is an art, NOT a business, and NOT politics. And no one does anything for males when they are in the minority.

    • Bruce says:

      Actually there has been a movement within the nursing profession (at least in the US) to attract, recruit, and hire more males.

      Interestingly, one of the reasons for this is that male nurses are paid more (yes, that means new male nurses fresh out of nursing school often are paid more than female nurses with years of experience). When men join a profession, the pay goes up. Hospital managements are generally more amenable to paying men and women equally than they are to simply paying women more.

  • YoYo Mama says:

    And why should performer be omitted then? And how can you have gender equality among composers when there certainly are not equal numbers, nor any provable gender bias in the past?

  • boringfileclerk says:

    Unless they include equal representation of at least 8 other gender identities, and those who strongly identify as an animal (furies are a much neglected gender group), true equality will never be achieved.

  • Ben says:

    An quota system is already gender biased and thus, guaranteed to become a vehicle of full-blown gender discrimination.

    It’s all about the cry babies. You know. You could put an single-gender show with all those cry babies — and still — I am 500% sure they will still come up with something else that they want to make things “more equal”.

    Fortunately, any organization in any country does allow relentless discrimination based on look, breast size, attitude, fragrance… and most important of all… talent.

  • Leo says:

    This is another sad case of viewing culture as a political expedient.

    Especially in music, the quality (as hard as it is to define what it is), matters most.

    The ideology from which this kind of statements stem, is one of the reasons for the ever increasing superficiality in this field.

    Another mistake here in my opinion, which is also part of the expediency of music in this case, is the view of the function of the conductor:
    Carlos Kleiber once said: “how wonderful would it be, to be able to conduct without having to conduct”.
    The best conductor makes their strong effect by withdrawing their presence as much as possible to let the music “live”. The conductor is important in that he does all necessary to ultimately make himself superfluous. It is another beautiful case of how art supersedes logic: the conductor is important in that he isn’t.

    By regarding the conductor in this sense as an importantly visible leadership figure (and thus subject to outer-musical considerations such as gender, political ideology, etc.), we increase the importance of the conductor and decrease the importance of the music.

    That women deserve equal opportunity in all fields is obvious, I don’t see any strong argument to oppose it. Yet if one wants to correct gender inequality, I think looking much deeper is necessary, deeper than forced quotas and other cheap media tricks. One might also sometimes reach the conclusion, like in the case of male harpists, that sometimes it is just so that more women/men do some things.

    I believe there are much more important problems in regard to classical music: lost knowledge, the levels of musicianship, the problem of contemporary composition, etc.

  • Sharon says:

    The affirmative action debate which encompass all the arguments on this blog, had raged in the United States from the 1960s into the early aughts, until now we have more racial equality in major fields. I understand both points of view.
    My concern is, how can women be equal to male conductors unless they are allowed more experience in actual concert conducting, experience which will make them better conductors? We do not permit female conductors the experiences needed to improve themselves and then blame the victims by saying that female conductors as a group are not as good. Ideally, affirmative action whether for gender, race, ethnicity. physical challenges, etc. allows people to get their foot in the door and equalize opportunity by equalizing the opportunity to have experiences to reach a higher level of acheivement so that affirmative action will someday (hopefully) not be necessary

    • Anon says:

      “We do not permit female conductors the experiences needed to improve themselves and then blame the victims by saying that female conductors as a group are not as good.“

      That’s simply nonsense. Not in today’s western music world.

  • Hilary says:

    Among living composers , there’s a palpable leaning towards Benjamin, Anderson , Adès, C. Matthews and Turnage, Anna Meredith etc.
    Time to broaden the net, but gender bias isn’t the answer.
    Thankfully there are conductors like Volkov who programme beyond the usual suspects. With all that said, the Proms isn’t a contemporary music festival so one shouldn’t expect too much.

  • James says:

    It’s fairly telling(and damning) that those commenting seem to find it utterly impossible that there could be a 50/50 gender split in any field without sacrificing quality. This is simply not the case. These comments indicate much more about the kneejerk sexism inherent at their core than any well thought-out beliefs.

    • Hilary says:

      To take another non 50/50 split, there’s a disproportionate number of people from fee paying schools at Oxbridge / uk music conservatories ( overseas and EU not included in this ).A marked contrast to earlier generations and a result of successive government policy.
      If you decide to attack this, which would be a good idea, it’s not done at the entrance level but pre- entry level. Ie. raise the overall standard of education throughout the county.
      The same approach applies to the female composer issue. At the point of Prom commisons it’s too late as it can be a meritocracy alone.

    • Anon says:

      False. Take the surgeon example.
      Roughly 50% of med doctors are women. But much less, roughly 20%, are surgeons? Why?
      Within the medical professions, surgeon is particularly taxing on the physical stamina. Many women do not seek that specialization. They are their own inequality. Nature is like that. There are differences between the sexes, and their free choices and ambitions reflect that.

      • Cyril Blair says:

        You’re assuming that free choices come into play at every stage of a female doctor’s career. They don’t. It’s usually men who are the gatekeepers, and although it’s getting somewhat better, even now they’re keeping women out when it comes to hiring and promotion. When young female physicians think about maybe having a family, they might take into consideration which medical specialties will penalize them less for having children. They shouldn’t have to think about this; the men they partner with should be taking up half the burden so the marriage is one of equality. But most men don’t do this.

  • minacciosa says:

    Still waiting for my affirmative action moment. Maybe next year they’ll get around to black conductors.