Illuminate: Women Composers and Performers
"There’s a wealth of female composing talent out there"
Dr Angela Elizabeth Slater
Illuminate is a project and concert series that I set up in order to shine a light on women composers. In 2018, Illuminate will be staging a concert series across the UK, with new music composed by myself, Gemma McGregor, Blair Boyd, Sarah Westwood, and Carol J Jones. Starting at Goldsmiths, University of London on International Women’s Day (8 March), the series will go on to Oxford, Stafford, Birmingham, Cardiff, Brighton, Liverpool and Nottingham before returning to the capital.
Illuminate will visit Oxford twice, first on 9 March and then again on 1 October (taking place both times at St Michael at the North Gate). The first concert treats audience members to a wonderful performance by pianist Késia Decoté who recently completed a PhD in contemporary arts and music at Oxford Brookes, and has become an integral part of the Oxford classical music scene. There will also be new works by myself and Gemma McGregor that explore the shakuhachi – a traditional Japanese flute. McGregor, one of the Illuminate composers, is also a master of the shakuhachi and will be performing for the concerts. Full of colour and musical expression, this instrument is a must-hear for any music lover. My own ‘Into the Scarlet Sky’ will combine the classical guitar with the sonorities of the shakuhachi, creating a mix of sounds, and combining two different musical worlds.
Illuminate is also passionate about celebrating the works of historical women composers. The Illuminate team will be programming works by Morfydd Owen (1891-1918), Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), Amy Beach (1867- 1944), Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969), Louise Marie Simon (aka Claude Arrieu, 1903-1990), Hilda Jerea (1916-1980) and the more well-known Clara Schumann (1819-1896). Over time this wonderful music has largely been forgotten through the historic and cultural suppression of women’s compositions. This has led to a lack of knowledge about these composers and also to the music itself being more difficult to source than the traditional works from the canon. Through its ten concerts in 2018, and hopefully more in future years, Illuminate aims to reverse this established cycle and bring this great music to audiences across the UK.
The classical music industry is notoriously unbalanced in its representation of female musicians in all areas: performing, conducting and composing. Women in Music’s 2017 BBC Proms survey revealed that female composers accounted for only 7.5% of the total and only 22% of the living composers programmed. These strikingly low figures are unfortunately a familiar story despite being an improvement on previous years. Although there has been some progress, there is still a lot of work to be done before women truly have the same musical opportunities as their male counterparts.
Many concerts end up with entirely male programming. Why is it that we deem this acceptable and normal when such underrepresentation would not be tolerated in other walks of life? There’s a wealth of female composing talent out there just waiting to be heard, so I hope you will come and join Illuminate in some of our concerts this year, to celebrate the work of female composers and performers.
Illuminate Oxford | 9 March, 7:30pm & 1 October, 1pm St Michael at the Northgate
Top Image – Dr Angela Elizabeth Slater, founder and director of Illuminate
Below – Gemma McGregor's shakuhachi © Tom O'Brien
Bottom – Késia Decoté
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