Music by transgender composer to receive first UK orchestra performance

‘When you’re a woman,’ says Florence Anna Maunders, ‘it’s much harder to get your music performed – the statistics are against you, but when you’re a trans-woman, the odds are astronomical – everyone’s against you!’

On March 14, Bromley Symphony Orchestra will première of Maunders’ work Bacchanal – a revelry that fuses Syrian folk music and techniques of urban electronic dance music. The musicians voted for her piece as their “Orchestra’s Choice” to mark the ensemble’s centenary year.

This is thought to be the first performance by any British orchestra of music composed by a transgender composer.

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  • I suppose this sort of information has relevance in the “trans community” but as far as I am concerned it has none in the “music community.” Any more than the sex of a conductor, whether people are gay or straight, married or single, or what their religion is.

    Is it any good is all that matters.

    • It’s easy to say
      that all that matters is how good a piece is – in one sense that is of course true.

      With that said…

      1. The assumption you seem to be making is that this music is probably less good, and was only chosen because it is by a transgender composer, which is quite unfair. No one knows the quality of the other works, and this piece was chosen by the musicians of the orchestra which is no small feat!

      2. It’s a cliché to say representation matters, but for a very very long time, women and people of color have not seen their faces represented on the classical stage. This has obviously changed for women in the sense of performers, but among composers, it has barely budged. People of color are still extremely rarely seen at classical concerts, and works by POC composers are heard even less often. Transgender people face these issues in perhaps an even more profound way, as trans rights have only recently become mainstreamed. For a person of color, seeing a work of William Grant Still being performed alongside that of Beethoven can be a wonderfully empowering experience. The same goes, I’m sure, for a transgender person seeing this news or attending this concert. It makes these minority groups feel that they can succeed in a world that is still not designed with them in mind.

      Of course, quality matters, and a less than mediocre work by a marginalized composer or performer is detrimental, but representation of the wide swath of diversity that humanity offers is also a beautiful thing, and in my opinion, should be celebrated.

      • You are totally wrong about my assumptions. I assume the piece is good enough to be played by the commissioning orchestra and I think on a classical music site the only relevant factor is whether that is the case. I do not care about any aspect of the identity of the composer, which is what I was saying, while noting that it may matter in the community she represents.

        Back in the bad old days I used to go mad when I read various things posted on this site whingeing about the number of women conductors, women soloists, etc. I don’t give a damn about the sex (or colour, or religion, or sexual identification) of someone on the podium, or in the orchestra, or being a soloist — or composing the piece.

        None of these things makes the slightest difference to my appreciation of a presentation, or an artist.

        My concern when identity politics enters a scene is that it can soon take over. The only issue in a concert hall is how the performance works.

      • James, thank you so much for your comments. As a transgender musician myself, it means so much to see people like me actually represented on the classical stage. It’s very well to mention Angela Morley, but she was composing nearly half a century ago! I’m sure the music is excellent – as you point out, the piece was chosen by the orchestral players themselves, rather than by a jury trying to fill a quota of political correctness.

      • James writes: “People of color are still extremely rarely seen at classical concerts”

        Really? The concerts I go to seem to have quite a few non-white people attending. And no-one seems to particularly notice or care. Perhaps if people like you where less obsessed about color identity, there would be more non-white people in the audience where you go to the concert too.

    • I dont get it. So I wasnt supposed to know about this at all? Ok, Lets just close our eyes then and enjoy some random music by nameless composers.
      How am I supposed to not know the sex of a conductor? They have names that reveal it.

  • ‘When you’re a woman,’ says Florence Anna Maunders, ‘it’s much harder to get your music performed – the statistics are against you, but when you’re a trans-woman, the odds are astronomical – everyone’s against you!’

    Since she references odds and statistics, I would be eager to see them.

    • That the odds of being hit by an asteroid are unavailable doesn’t make them any less astronomical. (Yes, astroid, astronomical, astronomy. I got it.)

    • I can help, but only for opera …
      In the five seasons ending with 2017/18(*):

      Operatic works by 1306 different composers were programmed.
      Of these, more than half are living (692 of them, which is 53%)

      The representation of female composers is low (113 from 1306 is 8.6%)
      but increasing (for living composers: 104 females from 692 is 15%)

      (*from 118,500 opera performances around the world, September 2013 to August 2018)

        • Assorted non-binaries. Librettists are easier, most famously Kimberly Reed for Laura Kaminsky’s As One opera on gender change, which has had a lot of performances.
          (but this is a rare case when a personal history is of some relevence to the art produced).

        • Guest writes: “And the proportion of transgender composers was probably 0%, right?”

          Is this the same proportion as transgender people in the general population (to the nearest 0.1 percent)?

      • Interesting statistics. The fraction of living composers performed is gratifying, but I wonder what the fraction of performances is — Verdi must get many times the number of performances that, say, Heggie does…

  • More significant that the Bromley Symphony Orchestra, just for our American friends on here, is nothing like a State orchestra in the US. It is simply one of many a large, friendly, unpaid amateur orchestra in England, who play for fun. They may play very well – they may not – but it is not a professional orchestra like the Halle or any of our London orchestras or BBC. Transgender? Who cares! Next question: is the music any good and has it been played well?

  • ‘This is thought to be the first performance by any British orchestra of music composed by a transgender composer.’

    I guess if you discount everything that Angela Morley did with the BBC Concert Orchestra, etc.

  • Everyone just take a breath and relax. This is the kind of thing that will cease to be news after awhile.

    • Remember when gay marriages were such a “thing” that they were plastered on the front pages of newspapers everywhere? Now they happen all the time and nobody cares.
    • Remember (or remember reading about) when it was a huge deal for Marian Anderson, one of the great voices of the 20th century, to be invited to sing at the Met — and only then at the tail end of her career? Now black people sing there all the time and it’s not a big deal. (Looking back over time, it’s sort of amusing how, once Anderson sang there, all these really good black singers suddenly appeared — Price, Bumbry, Arroyo et al — as if by magic. As if there had never been any before.)
    •• a side note: remember how black singers like Reri Grist, Mattiwilda Dobbs, and George Shirley had to leave the US to have the careers they deserved? Not to mention the multitude of jazz performers, writers, etc.
    • Remember/ remember reading about Doriot Anthony Dwyer, who made headlines as the first female principal of a major US orchestra?
    • Remember how it was a big deal for Jackie Robinson to start playing major league baseball? Now a huge percentage of players are black, and nobody cares.
    • Remember when a female Prime Minister of Britain (or president of Germany) was unthinkable? Then it was a novelty, and now it’s ho-hum. (A black US president is still unthinkable to a lot of Americans… but never mind)
    • And on and on. Female conductors are gradually becoming less of a “thing,” for example.

    So for those of you who would like to stop hearing about this kind of thing: just wait. You will.

  • No one will perform my works either. Because I’m a no-talent composer. Why do people feel that it’s acceptable to discriminate against those who have no talent? It’s so unfair!

    • I sent-in some scraps from the dustbin I found here, as an experiment, to the [redacted] orchestra who play a lot of new stuff, and lo and behold they immediately accepted it. Of course I was not allowed to follow that up. There’s not much freedom for women in this place!

      Sally

  • In the interests of accuracy, I should point out that at the time we chose Florence’s work (I am a member of Bromley Symphony Orchestra), she had not yet transitioned, at least publicly, and so the name on our instrumental parts was that of her earlier male identity. Thus, there was never any question that Bacchanale was chosen for any reason other than its musical qualities, which the orchestra greatly admired.

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