The letter that became a wake-up call
The newly formed network KVAST wrote its first open letter to the orchestras of Sweden in January 2009:
An Invitation From the New Network KVAST
Upon reading the Swedish orchestras’ general programs for the 2008–2009 season, we were interested to note that of a total of 823 pieces, 813 were composed by men. It is impressive to see that men have been so successful at making their voices heard in the musical conversation on orchestra stages around our country. We must congratulate them!
We wonder, though: is the resulting picture really representative of reality? A repertoire of 98.8% men and 1.2% women – it looks more like 1900 than 2009! And several orchestras this year have programmed a grand total of zero works by women.*
Our conclusion: if we are to achieve gender equality before the next millennium, our orchestras will have to keep commissioning new pieces by women, and also make a conscious effort to include existing works in their repertoire. We believe this would lead not only to more women participating in the musical conversation on Swedish stages, but also to a general renewal. The more artists’ voices we hear, the richer our musical culture!
How can we start things off? How can we help?
This autumn, we formed a new network: the Swedish Association of Women Composers (Kvinnlig Anhopning av Svenska Tonsättare – KVAST). After consulting with orchestra representatives, we have decided to do the following:
– Build a Repertoire Bank of old and new works by women from Sweden and around the world
– Act as a forum and a facilitator for discussing issues that concern women and new music. (Should we talk about composers in terms of gender at all? What factors encourage/discourage composers?)
– Contact orchestras, conduct dialogues, educate. Encourage orchestras to explore the unknown, in addition to cultivating the body of work that already exists.
– Institute the Gold Broom Award (Guldkvasten), to be presented to an orchestra or organizer of orchestral, chamber, or electroacoustic music that has worked to promote and support women composers.
The prize will include a specially composed fanfare! We also hope to find funding to attach a newly commissioned work to the award.
We have applied for and received a gender equality grant from the Swedish National Board for Youth Affairs, who found it “vital to work for gender equality in our target group.” Now we would like to find orchestras interested in working us to put these funds to good use. What features should a repertoire database have, for example, to make it most useful?
What we are doing has never been done before. The possibilities are many. We want to be a sounding board and inspire a revitalization of our musical culture!
The Association of Swedish Women Composers (Kvinnlig Anhopning av Svenska Tonsättare – KVAST) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise awareness for and increase the programming of music by women composers.
KVAST is open to everyone, regardless of gender or nationality, who shares our organization’s purpose and aims.
KVAST was founded jointly in September 2008 by a majority of the women composers then professionally active in Sweden.
Members of KVAST as of January 2009:
Ann Rosén, Anna Cederberg-Orreteg, Anna Eriksson, Camilla Söderberg, Carin Bartosch Edström, Catharina Backman, Catharina Palmér, Eva Sidén, Farangis Nurulla Khoja, Gabriella Gullin, Hanna Hartman, Helle Solberg, Ida Lundén, Inger Wikström, Kajsa Hallhagen, Karin Rehnqvist, Katarina Leyman, Kerstin Jeppson, Kim Hedås, Kristina Forsman, Lei Feng Johansson, Leilei Tian, Lise-Lotte Norelius, Madeleine Isaksson, Malin Bång, Maria Löfberg, Marie Samuelsson, Mirjam Tally, Paula af Malmborg Ward, Paulina Sundin, Stina Lyles, Tebogo Monnakgotla, Ulrika Emanuelsson, Victoria Borisova Ollas, Ylva Nyberg Bentancor, Ylva Q. Arkvik, Ylva Skog, Andrea Lindberg-Tarrodi, Lena Roth, Eva Rehnström, Molly Kien
* The total number of programmed works by living composers was 160. Of these, ten were by women, 150 by men (7% women, 93% men).
A bit of good news: the total number of world premieres was 22, with five by women, 17 by men (23% women, 77% men). These are more reasonable figures.
KVAST’s analysis used the general programs for the 2008–2009 season that were available online as of June 2008. Included in the analysis were the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Gävle Symphony Orchestra, the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, the Västerås Sinfonietta, the Jönköping Sinfonietta, Musica Vitae, the Värmland Sinfonietta, and the Uppsala Chamber Orchestra.