Opinion: do concert programs that group composers by ethnicity or gender move classical music forward?

Posted on: November 22, 2021

“Resonance Works Pittsburgh is a small performing arts company that programs a mix of traditional classical composers … alongside living composers,” writes Jeremy Reynolds in Thursday’s (11/18) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Resonance Works delivered a program of music for string orchestra by living female composers at the Greer Cabaret, Downtown, on Saturday and Sunday. The four composers programmed, Chen Yi, Jessie Montgomery, Missy Mazzoli and Gabriela Lena Frank, are top-notch artists whose work can stand alongside any composer, living or dead…. Resonance Works, founded and conducted by Maria Sensi Sellner, has committed to a quota system of programming wherein at least half of the works performed each season are by women and one-third are by composers who are Black, Indigenous or people of color. Committing to perform music that has been ignored by previous generations is a worthy goal … Presenting such pieces in a programmatic box—touting programs of all-female composers, for example—may be a disservice to the field, limiting audience interest in the same way that only old Beethovenian warhorses can limit interest…. The intention is good, but … seems slightly misguided. Let’s emphasize that these works are wonderful on their own merits instead of emphasizing that they’re by composers from historically underrepresented backgrounds.”